Cottle's approach demonstrates that unemployment cannot be examined strictly in statistical terms, but that ultimately it must be explored in human terms, for it affects both the unemployed worker and his family. Instead of treating long term unemployment as simply another social problem, Cottle argues that it must be treated as a serious, often life-threatening, disorder, whose cure is clearly discernible. By reading the words of these men, the reader will understand how, even in this time of shifting gender roles, men in large measure still define themselves by the work they do, rather than the relationships that they cultivate. This unique approach to the problem of long term unemployment gives a human face to the problem and encourages readers to rethink the nature of working and not working and its special importance to men.
The first part of the book explores the idea of the life course in its various contexts: the community, the historical, the narrative, and the theoretical. The second part introduces and reproduces verbatim the life history of Tony Santangelo, an ordinary, working-class man. The third part discusses and analyzes the life history presented. Because most life histories are edited, this book, unique in its exact reproduction of the subject's narrative, makes it possible for the reader to use the information in the life history in ways different from Handel's use.