The ambient chatter. The soul-revealing choices of desktop paraphernalia. Even the proprietary tension over coffee mugs — all the more vicious, as Henry Kissinger said of campus politics, for the stakes being so low.

There are people who cannot do without the human tableau of office life. The typical workplace can be society in miniature (literature’s indifference to it is its abiding failure) and a place where millions find kinship and even a sort of meaning.

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