A couple of readers have expressed interest in reading more by Zygmunt Bauman.
Bauman's most important book, the one that introduced themes he has since explored in many that followed, is Modernity and the Holocaust. Bauman argues that the Holocaust was a by-product of certain features of modernity: the extreme specialisation, the breaking down of work into small narrowly defined tasks whose relation to the whole is not evident, the incorporation of these tasks into highly hierarchical structures (so that part of doing a good job is not simply performing the task but facilitating the smooth transmission of commands and responses up and down the hierarchy) - all these appear to be necessary to a particular kind of rationality, that which enables a society to provide goods and services for very large numbers of people and to direct the labour of these people effectively.
These features, however, are precisely those which made possible the abdication of personal responsibility documented in Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority. Milgram's series of experiments is probably best known for the brute fact that subjects, told to administer a test and to punish wrong answers with what they were told were electric shocks, in a large number of cases proceeded to administer shocks which would, if genuine, have been fatal; for Bauman's purposes, however, the point of interest is the fact that results varied dramatically depending on the distribution of authority, the visibility of resistance to authority. (If there were two 'scientists' administering the experiment, and they appeared to be in disagreement over whether the shocks could continue, many more subjects refused to go on; if two subjects were in the same room and one resisted, the second was likelier to do so; and so on.)
When I was in school the Holocaust was THE event in modern history that everyone was expected to study - but as far as I can remember no attention was paid to the machinery which makes such an event possible, or how one might put safeguards against abuse into the institutional structures of one's own society. I'm afraid no school or university I ever attended showed any awareness of the moral implications of its bureaucratic structures; I've never dealt with a government agency anywhere that showed any such awareness; never dealt with any kind of health facility that showed any such awareness. So, yes, a book everyone should read.
The problem with being an obsessive reader is that one's response to reading a book is likely to be to read more books. If one reads Modernity and the Holocaust, one's immediate response is to rush out and pick up Liquid Modernity, Modernity and Ambivalence, Life in Fragments, Wasted Lives: Modernity and its Outcasts (I could easily go on, but you get the picture). It would probably be better to rush out and join one's local LETS (Local Exchange Trading System), for example, but old habits are hard to break.
Madeleine Bunting's profile of Bauman in the Guardian in April 2003 was the piece that introduced me to his work, here.
The Guardian has also published a couple of interviews of ZB:
April 2007 (Aida Edemariam)
November 2005 (Stuart Jeffries)