AMERICAN MADE

WHAT HAPPENS TO PEOPLE WHEN WORK DISAPPEARS

A worthy but at times stilted portrait of the lasting effects of job losses on factory workers.

A Pulitzer Prize winner’s first book tallies the social, emotional, and financial costs of a company’s decision to shut down an Indiana factory.

Stockman shows the shattering effects of globalization on the unskilled workers sometimes called “the precariat” for the precariousness of their jobs. In this immersive account, she follows three former employees of the Rexnord bearings plant in Indianapolis after the company’s 2016 announcement that it was moving its operations to Mexico and Texas. Each worker’s life was upended by the shutdown and, the author argues in mostly persuasive fashion, represents a larger cause. Shannon Mulcahy, one of the first female steelworkers at the plant, embodies the women’s movement; Wally Hall, a descendant of slaves, the struggle for civil rights; and John Feltner, a vice president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, organized labor. Stockman examines the steep price the workers paid for the closure, which included having to train their Mexican replacements in order to get a severance package. Behind their stories lay the stark realities of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has led to a loss of 700,000 U.S. factory jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and of Trump’s failed promise to bring jobs back. The author notes that her research altered her view of free trade: “Supporters of free trade say it generates enough wealth to compensate losers. But we don’t.” Throughout, Stockman “re-created” scenes in ways some readers may sometimes find confusing or cringeworthy, as when she writes that one woman had “skin the color of a freshly unwrapped Hershey’s kiss” and another “had silky skin the color of salted caramel gelato.” She appears to be trying to capture a subject’s point of view, but she doesn’t enclose them in quotation marks, and it’s hard to be sure whose thoughts they reflect. The stylistic awkwardness aside, this book gives a valuable account of the many things work means to Americans.

A worthy but at times stilted portrait of the lasting effects of job losses on factory workers.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984801-15-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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