Behemoth: Book summary and reviews of Behemoth by Joshua B. Freeman

Behemoth

A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World

by Joshua B. Freeman

Behemoth by Joshua B. Freeman X
Behemoth by Joshua B. Freeman

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Book Summary

A sweeping, global history of the rise of the factory and its effects on society.

We live in a factory-made world: modern life is built on three centuries of advances in factory production, efficiency, and technology. But giant factories have also fueled our fears about the future since their beginnings, when William Blake called them "dark Satanic mills." Many factories that operated over the last two centuries - such as Homestead, River Rouge, and Foxconn - were known for the labor exploitation and class warfare they engendered, not to mention the environmental devastation caused by factory production from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution up to today.

In a major work of scholarship that is also wonderfully accessible, celebrated historian Joshua B. Freeman tells the story of the factory and examines how it has reflected both our dreams and our nightmares of industrialization and social change. He whisks readers from the textile mills in England that powered the Industrial Revolution and the factory towns of New England to the colossal steel and car plants of twentieth-century America, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union and on to today's behemoths making sneakers, toys, and cellphones in China and Vietnam.

The giant factory, Freeman shows, led a revolution that transformed human life and the environment. He traces arguments about factories and social progress through such critics and champions as Marx and Engels, Charles Dickens, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Ford, and Joseph Stalin. He chronicles protests against standard industry practices from unions and workers' rights groups that led to shortened workdays, child labor laws, protection for organized labor, and much more.

In Behemoth, Freeman also explores how factories became objects of great wonder that both inspired and horrified artists and writers in their time. He examines representations of factories in the work of Charles Sheeler, Margaret Bourke-White, Charlie Chaplin, Diego Rivera, and Edward Burtynsky.

Behemoth tells the grand story of global industry from the Industrial Revolution to the present. It is a magisterial work on factories and the people whose labor made them run. And it offers a piercing perspective on how factories have shaped our societies and the challenges we face now.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. This wide-ranging book offers readers an excellent foundation for understanding how their possessions are made, as well as how the factory system affects society. " - Publishers Weekly

"Freeman has provided an ambitious, sweeping, and well-researched history of factories, which remains accessible and relevant to general readers." - Library Journal

"Ranging from the early industrial revolution in England to the factories in modern-day China that produce iPhones, with stops along the way in New England mill towns, Henry Ford's Detroit and Stalin's Russia, this remarkable book traces the history of the giant factory and the people - capital, labor, consumers, and fascinated observers - whose lives it shaped. If you want to know where the world we live in came from, this is a good place to start." - Eric Foner

"A tour de force…Taking us on a whirlwind tour of giant factories from Lancashire to Detroit, from Wolfsburg to Nova Huta, from Mahalla al-Kubra to Shenzhen, Freeman charts the rise and spread of this peculiar form of organizing production. Behemoth is an extraordinary book that offers countless insights into the global history of the past two centuries." - Sven Beckert

"Behemoth is a wonderful book - capacious, beautifully written, and filled with brilliant historical insights that help shed light on why the future of manufacturing is of such tremendous political importance today." - Kim Phillips-Fein

"A bracing, morally insightful account of how modernist dreams have so often turned into the nightmares that entrap millions of workers and debase whole societies. Joshua B. Freeman writes history of the boldest and most provocative sort." - Nelson Lichtenstein

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Author Information

Joshua B. Freeman

Joshua B. Freeman is a Distinguished Professor of History at Queens College and the Graduate Center of CUNY. His previous books include American Empire and Working-Class New York, among others. He lives in New York City.

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