Behemoth – Joshua B. Freeman


I’ve spent the majority of my working life in manufacturing, so I had high hopes for this book – thought it would be interesting to read.  It tells the history of factories starting with British textile mills in the 1600s all the way through to the giant factories in China today.  It’s a large book and obviously well-researched by the author.  And I’d like to say it was a good read, but while it certainly had some interesting facts, it was overall pretty dry (and I’m guessing there are more than a few of you who are thinking, “Wow – a book about factories was dry!  Who could’ve predicted that??”).  I know – but it didn’t have to be, it really didn’t.

I didn’t dislike all the book.  There were gusts of interesting stuff.  I’ve read quite a bit about Henry Ford, but reading about his different factories – especially River Rouge, which I didn’t realize is still functioning today – is always fascinating.  And reading about what’s happening in Southeast Asia today was pretty mind-blowing.  Did you realize there are factories in China with over 200,000 employees in ONE location?  These factories include their own towns (one has its own fire department and TV network) where the employees live.  At one of these – Foxconn, a company that assembles iPhones for Apple – they’ve had to set up netting around all the rooftops to prevent their employees from committing suicide (I don’t know if that’s in the company’s promotional material or not).

So there are some good parts.  But to get to them you have to wade through some desert-like sections (especially when he discusses the philosophy of factory work and its effects on workers) and fight to stay alert.  I guess I was looking for more history and narrative, not philosophy and perspective.  Overall, I probably wouldn’t recommend the book unless you’re really hardcore into manufacturing.  It’s 427 pages of perseverance.

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