BEHEMOTH by Joshua B. Freeman


A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World
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Wide-ranging study of the world’s factories over the last three centuries.

The birthplace of the factory may have been England, as Freeman (History/Queen’s Coll.; American Empire: The Rise of a Global Power, the Democratic Revolution at Home 1945-2000, 2012, etc.) writes, but the idea of concentrated labor spread quickly throughout the world, with changes befitting local conditions as it went. For example, whereas the British countryside was crowded and full of employable men, the hinterlands of New England were not, leading capitalists there to find “a brilliant solution in the recruitment of young women” who, coming and going into marriage and their family households, would be a constantly changing cast of characters and not a “permanent proletariat.” With workers came management theories such as Taylorism, named for Frederick Winslow Taylor, who, of a liberal and educated Philadelphia family, defied expectations to become first a factory worker and then a consultant on factory labor—and whose practices “meant a loss of autonomy and an attack on craft pride” in the eyes of many workers and activists, lending credence to Marxist ideas of labor value and alienation. As Freeman notes, industrial work has fallen off considerably in the U.S., which has led to wholesale re-evaluations of the political place of unions, the role of workers in mass progressive movements, and so forth, even as manufacturing work has remained mostly steady worldwide, with about a third of the workforce engaged in industry, most employed in factories. The author also notes that factories have life cycles just as does everything else, though these are recognized differently from place to place. In China, for instance, tinkering with the industrial mix and downsizing for efficiency would run the risk of igniting political opposition, with the result that “the Chinese government moves gingerly in its prolonged effort to shut down unneeded or inefficient state-owned factory giants.”

We are all implicated in the world of the giant factory, but students of economic history and geopolitics in particular will find much of value here.

Pub Date: Feb. 27th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-393-24631-5
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2017


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