Cover Image: American Made

American Made

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

American Made is the story of three (former) employees of the Rexnord factory in Indianapolis that moved to Mexico in 2017, in similar fashion to many American factories that have relocated to save money in this post-industrial era. I had hoped from the description of the book that it would be more the history of and research surrounding closures of Rexnord and similar factories but the book ended up being much more sociological and first-person perspective. 

Perhaps if the perspective reader hasn't had much discourse about the shifting American economy and class in America, then this is a an interesting primer with a cross-section of the "types" of people that this issue affects, but I feel like this is pretty common-sensical. Yes, Americans of all creeds, colors, gender, are affected by the limited economic opportunities in our globalized world. Yes, people like the author live in a bubble of sorts, not exposed to the variety of perspective that is included in the population suffering from the globalized economy. If you've never had that discussion, maybe this book is revelatory but for me it just comes across as a flat rehashing of what has been obvious for a long time.
Was this review helpful?
This book was so eye opening. With so many jobs lost during the pandemic, this hit home. I cared so deeply for the members of this community of which I've never visited.
Was this review helpful?
Thank you, NetGalley, for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review,
I was very surprised at how much I liked this book, Stockman's attempt to understand the people behind the closing of the Rexnord/former LinkBelt factory outside Indy, one of the two (the other was Carrier) that drew president-elect Trump's ire. This was also a really solid, in -depth look at the current & diminishing role of the union, something I found interesting against the current IATSE negotiations, although white collar v. blue collar is in play there as well.

After speaking with a number of people, Stockman focused on three: Raleigh (Wally) Hall, Shannon Mulcahy and John Feltner. These were not one-dimensional Trump voters who truly believed he'd directly prevent their jobs from moving to Mexico, but rather folks disillusioned by the failures of the past and willing to give him a try. Through Feltner, Stockman really explored what white privilege looks like to someone who has lost a home in bankruptcy, has ancestors who were coal miners and doesn't feel as if he's ever had an advantage. With Hall, she explored the impact of a felony conviction, as well as the lack of access to healthcare, which unfortunately lead to his premature death before the end of the book. And with Mulcahy, the layers of privilige even within poor white working class. As Stockman said, as different as these three were, they had way more in common with one another than she did with them, coming from Cambridge and becoming a mother at the time they were nearly all grandchildren and caretakers to more than just the nuclear family.

A really layered look at working class middle America and how Trump was able to get more than a toehold. Good references to other books throughout, while reading as if a work of fiction.
Was this review helpful?
Most of us read or hear news stories about unemployment and plant closings and think something like "what a shame" or "to what country did they move this one." Stockman's book places the closing of one manufacturing plant in the context of the impacts on the human beings who lost their jobs, three people in particular. Her writing style, that of a journalist, is terse and clear. She was able to secure the trust of the three people to the extent that she shares intimate details of their lives before their employment at the plant, and in the immediate days before and after the closing.

Stockman puts a very human face on the rationale for the closing and its effects on blue collar workers who lost not only their jobs but their sense of community and camaraderie.  The closing was to reduce costs and remain competitive in a global market in which firms offshore, with lower labor costs and government subsidies, can outcompete a U.S. union labor force. The downside of NAFTA and global competition, something that has only recently become a popular topic for politicians of both parties, is described by detailing the financial straits, job search efforts, frustrations and feelings of three individuals - one African American and two white, one woman and two men. 

That each of them were imperfect and made some poor decisions is apparent as Stockman traces their lives leading up to their employment at the plant and their efforts thereafter. Yet she tries very hard not to  judge, letting the readers reach their own conclusions. The lives of these three people were filled with harshness, events that deeply affected their ability to survive. Yet they persevered in the face of feeling that the system was rigged against them. 

Stockman also uses the story line to address how each of the three main characters dealt with politics, their attitudes toward President Trump, and why many blue collar workers voted for Trump, thinking him to be a rich guy who talked liked many of them did and who had their backs. She also uses examples from the work and life  experiences of the three to address racism and sexism. While these discussions were informative, I personally found them to detract from the main story line, one which has received far less attention and needs to be addressed to provide a future for the tens of millions of young Americans of today and tomorrow who are not interested in going to college and who long for a career that they can enjoy and from which they can  get satisfaction and security. While Stockman provides many notes and did a considerable amount of research, the time spent on politics, racism and sexism, could have been more productively used to discuss possible solutions to the offshoring of jobs, efforts that have worked and failed and why. Perhaps that was not an area in which she felt comfortable given that the book was about a plant closing and its effects on workers. 

Overall the book is a valuable contribution to the discussion of this issue, as it makes clear the value of work and fellowship provided on the job as well as the economic stability people need. Our politicians should vigorously revisit "free trade" as it is not free, not when millions of American jobs have been lost with little thought to the impacts on the unemployed workers and their families. Our economic system needs to about more than profits and lower prices.
Was this review helpful?
This book will open eyes to what is happening in our country. I lost a job when it was relocated to Peru so I have a little bit of understanding as to what can happen. Every American should be reading books like this one. It certainly won’t allow you to bury your head in the sand. This book is very well written and easy to read. Some books like this are so dry or boring you close it up in the first few chapters. This one kept my attention and I was reading parts to my husband and grown sons. Very good book on a very hard subject
Was this review helpful?
5 stars
American Made
What Happens to People When Work Disappears
By Farah Stockman
I had to sit and ponder on this book for a day or so just to process the realities of what I just finished reading. I am still not sure I can do American Made justice. Farah Stockman has written an inspiring, infuriating, and educational look at the mess left behind when a plant closes; as well as the limited options blue-collar workers have in the wake of losing their jobs.
Wally, Shannon and John desperately search for jobs that will pay as well as Rexnord while struggling to keep their families afloat. Stockman follows this trio for three years and has utterly managed to capture their personalities, their lives, and their struggles. 
American Made needs to be required reading in every economics class taught across the country as this is a book that has the ability to make a reader question their viewpoint on the realities of free trade and the world economy. 
I highly recommend this book!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley.
Was this review helpful?
This book was a helpful and accessible window into the current realities America is facing around factories and labor but more importantly around jobs and the human consequences of unstable employment. The intersecting vignettes of working Americans provided a variety of perspectives into day-to-day realities. I left wishing there was a simpler answer to this crisis of career jobs that provide dignity, meaning, adequate pay, and the social safety nets that once were but felt more informed about the reality of the situation.
Was this review helpful?
Well, I have to hand it to Farah Stockman: she really succeeded. It's like she got up one day and said, “Hey, I think I will attempt to explain my nation to itself by devoting years of my life to writing a non-fiction book as a labor of love. I'll try to cross the American class divide and challenge all my preconceptions. I'll take time off my perfectly comfortable and prestigious job in the big city, leave my family and friends, spend hours in airports commuting half-way across the country to interview my subjects and research their histories, and spend more hours attending their parties, dinners, family funerals, days at work, court appearances, and so on. I'll read fat, serious, and angry books about the apparently insoluble problems afflicting my country. I'll try to integrate the reading and journalism into a seamless whole. While doing so, I'll criticize myself and expose the hypocrisy and comfortable self-deceptions that members of my own class have told themselves to ease their consciences. And then, when I'm done and the book is published, people with no other qualification than high self-regard will accuse me (without providing evidence) of looking down on and condescending to the subjects of my book, apparently because, as a Manhattan-residing, Harvard-educated mixed-race child of academics (oh, and also, a woman), I cannot possibly possess the imagination and empathy to understand the sufferings of others. As a bonus, they'll also accuse me of being an anti-white racist and a supporter of bogus historical theories! That'll be fun!”

Life is hard these days. Although a great deal of rigorous research and observant reporting went into this book, it may be difficult to read about the unwarranted and unremedied misery visited on good people by apparently unstoppable forces of history and economics. If you can, then do it, because the people being left behind by the changes in the world are worth remembering, and even helping.

I got an advance electronic review copy of this book for review from Penguin Random House via Netgalley. Thanks for the generosity.
Was this review helpful?
By Farah Stockman
Random House, 432 pages.

The subtitle of "American Made," Farah Stockman’s look at blue-collar work, is "What Happens to People When Work Disappears." Labor historians speak of “deindustrialization” to describe exporting factory work out of the United States. Alas, it’s an antiquated label given that far more than factory labor is outsourced. 

Capital flight is a more accurate term. It has long been linked to negative social indicators: drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, divorce, suicide, medical woes, early death, homelessness, psychiatric problems, imprisonment…. In today’s service industry-driven economy, displaced workers seldom replace income lost to capital flight. Not many non-white-collar jobs pay $26/hour, the starting wage at Rexnord in Indianapolis, a shaft bearings manufacturer. Do the math. At $26/hour, a Rexnord worker made $54,000 per year—without overtime. If laid-off workers are lucky enough to find another job paying half of that, their annual income is $27,000—25 percent below the nation’s median individual income. 

Few who have studied worker displacement will be surprised by the data in Stockman’s book. Stockman instead puts human faces to capital flight. Many workers are given voice in "American Made," but she spotlights three: Wally Hall, an African American who dreams of operating his own barbecue business; Shannon Mulcahy, a white single mother and skilled machinist; and John Feltner, a white family man and union activist. By focusing on a factory in Indianapolis, Stockman highlights how the American Dream was battered in the American heartland. Blue-collar work has declined in such places to the point that those who punch time clocks have become out-of-sight/out-of-mind forgotten Americans. In 1972, sociologists Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb published The Hidden Injuries of Class. It was meant as a warning, but is now an unintended harbinger of what continues to happen to those falling behind in income and social clout.

Because professional classes no longer “see” the working class, they are baffled by the 2016 election and the propensity of working-class voters to support politicians whose policies are antithetical to their best interests. Stockman provides uncomfortable explanations for the rise of Donald Trump: free trade and elitism. She traces how the Democratic Party shifted from the ideals of New Deal and Great Society to modified Reaganomics coupled with support for the social concerns and stock portfolios of educated bourgeois elites. In this sense, blue-collar anger toward the Clintons makes sense. Stockman writes, “The Democrats had gotten into bed with corporations when no one was looking.” Tim, a Rexnord worker, put it more graphically: “The dirty bastards sold us out. They allowed millions of jobs to leave the country … good jobs with benefits. They sat on their asses and did absolutely nothing.” Many of those whose jobs fled to Mexico—like Rexnord workers—turned their backs to a party tone deaf to job loss.  

Stockman observes, “The Republicans were no better about free trade. They were worse. But at least the Republicans had never pretended to be faithful to the working class.” Parse that and you get a vast segment of American workers that indeed feels sold out. Trump at least acknowledged that blue-collar labor exists, though his vow to stop outsourcing was unfulfilled. (For the record, 58 percent of American workers are non-salaried.) Thus, many Rexnord workers liked the fact that Trump, “didn’t talk like a college boy. He cursed. He bragged. He threatened…. Trump was a hillbilly in a suit. Trump had a chip on his shoulder, like the steelworkers did.” Such perspectives also explain why many wage earners express contradictory admiration for both Trump and Bernie Sanders.

A unique twist in "American Made" lies with Stockman’s admission of her class privilege. This grabs our attention because Stockman identifies as African American. She has much to say about white privilege, but also incisively compares herself to Shannon. Stockman grew up in bourgeois comfort, graduated from Harvard, lives in tony Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has worked at the Boston Globe and the New York Times. Shannon overcame sexual abuse, an abusive husband, raised kids on her own, suffered workplace discrimination, and was ordered to train a Mexican to perform complex tasks on a machine that was about to be disassembled and shipped out of ther country. Is it any wonder Shannon hasn’t been an avid supporter of NAFTA, middle-class feminism, #MeToo, or Hillary Clinton? The kicker is that Shannon is not racist. She did not lash out at the Mexican man about to take her job. Shannon blames Wall Street for her dilemma, not Mexicans hoping to build a better life. 

"American Made" is filled with such insights. Another eye-opening observation is that people of color often cope better with job loss than whites. To put it starkly, they have fewer reasons to believe in the American Dream and aren’t shocked when its promise is betrayed. By contrast, Feltner was staggered when union solidarity disintegrated among workers given a choice between refusing to cooperate with plant relocation or collecting a few more paychecks from a company hell-bent on squeezing greater profits from lower-paid brown workers south of the border. 

Stockman is a lucid writer who knows how to personalize capital flight and make stories live. A review such as mine is by necessity formal and academic in tone. Stockman also culls labor history and sociological studies, but because she got close to her subjects, she writes from the heart. Read her words to see what happens to Rexnord workers, especially Wally, Shannon, and John. Warning: no fairy tales. Stockman references Sherry Lee Linkon, who compared economic “right-sizing,” restructuring,” and other such euphemisms to what really happens when a plant closes. It’s akin to a nuclear detonation that leaves misery and destruction in its wake.

Robert E. Weir, Ph.D.
Was this review helpful?
American Made by Farah Stockman is an enthralling and engrossing read with a great plot and characters! Well worth the read
Was this review helpful?
Strong Case Studies Marred By Author's Biases. Overall, this is a strong case study following three people the author somewhat randomly stumbled into when tasked with reporting on the closure of a particular factory and its implications on the 2016 and 2020 elections. The author openly admits in the very first chapter that she is a fairly typical New England Liberal Elite, and that flavors much of her commentary and several of her observations - but also provides for at least a few hints of potential growth along the way. But once her own biases are accounted for, this truly is a strong look at a deep dive into the three people she chronicles and their histories and thoughts as they navigate both their personal situations over these few years and the national situations as they see and understand them. At times funny but far more often tragic, this is a very real look at what at least some go through when their factory job closes around them, to be moved elsewhere. (Full disclosure, my own father living through this *twice* in my teens in as Goodyear shut down their plants in Cartersville, GA has defined my own story almost as much as a few other situations not relevant to this book. So I have my own thoughts on the matter as someone whose family underwent similar situations a couple of decades before the events of this book, but who saw them as the child of the adult worker rather than as the adult workers chronicled here.)

Ultimately, your mileage on this will vary based on whether you can at minimum accept the author's biases for what they are or even if you outright fully agree with them. But I *do* appreciate the flashes of growth she shows, particularly in later sections, as she learns just how fully human these people are, even as her prejudices early in the book somewhat openly show that she didn't fully appreciate just how fully human people like this could be before actually spending considerable time with them. Indeed, the one outright flaw here is that there is at least a hint of impropriety when the author begins engaging perhaps a bit too much with the lives of her subjects - but again, that ultimately comes down to just how sensitive your own ethical meter is. 

Overall a mostly strong book, and very much recommended.
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this book. The author weaves three people's stories about factory work in Indiana to her personal experience, to what is happening nationally and globably.
The author wove this story with seamless effort.
I enjoyed learning about Shannon, Wally, and John. I really liked learning about their likes, their dreams, their hopes and most importantly their struggles as they try to navigate where they fit into the post Industrial world.
I finally learned just how the NAFTA agreement affected the workers directly, the rise of Donald Trump in the working class, and how detailed and demanding their jobs were/are. 
The author was great at showing how all the workers were affected by ONE plant closure, the struggles they faced, and the bureaucracy that would keep some from being "retrained'.
This is a great book that should be read by anyone wanting to know more about factory jobs/disappearing middle class/and the struggles of Americans everywhere.

Get tissues at the ready for the conclusion of Wally's story. I bawled my eyes out.
Was this review helpful?
Excellent reporting bringing us into the lives of these factory workers who through no fault of their own lost their jobs when their factory closed.Each of them had worked hard paid their bills then the worst happened to them.The author who really gets to know three of them shoes us the effects on their lives their daily struggles.Reading about these people whose lives are disrupted their stress  is actually very eye opening to the world of workers who lose their livelihoods.Excellent reporting will be recommending. #netgalley#randomhouse
Was this review helpful?
American Made is the story of what happens to employees when the factory they've been working at is closed down and moved out of the country. 
Stockman chose three people to follow closely and we get a very good picture of their lives, beliefs, dreams and realities. We also get a very good picture of what the factory means to these workers and the pride they have in their jobs. We can also see the sense of community that is fostered in the factory and the kind of ties that are made amongst workers--often entirely regardless of color. Stockman addresses racial issues and compares and contrasts politics and economic issues between blue class and liberal wealthier folks. Class issues are addressed in both Stockman's words and the words of her three interview subjects.
 This book does a good job of busing stereotypes and giving us liberals a better idea of why trump succeeded, at least initially. I hope a lot of people will read this book.
Was this review helpful?
“American Made What Happens to People When Work Disappears” is, at its best, a story about factories closing in the Midwest and work disappearing to Mexico and China. It is the story about what happens to the proud people who work the heavy machines and are forced to train their foreign replacements as the factories in their hometown close and work disappears like water circling and then washing down the drain. Indianapolis, where the story takes place, was a center of manufacturing where people with a high school education could get a high-paying job and take care of their families. But, in a story all too familiar, those factories keep closing and the jobs keep going away.

The story centers around three workers in a ball bearing plant, Rexnord, where Shannon, Wally, and John find themselves, each one of the three having faced struggles through life such as having children as teenagers, jail time, broken marriages, and domestic abuse. None of the three are priveleged and none have ever had it easy. Shannon, for instance, got a factory job in a male-dominated environment as a means of escaping a violent domestic abusive relationship. Wally and John similarly fought their way to be accepted at the factory and in the union (for John).

The author is obviously talented and her craft is evident throughout these three interlaced stories that all end with the factory closing and no equivalent work available. However, unlike Mike Rowe, the author here does not simply let these three stories speak for themselves and that is where the narrative falters. The author, a Harvard-educated New York Times reporter, left the Upper Westside of Manhattan to journey to Indiana and find out why blue-collar Americans voted for Donald Trump in 2016. It is evident from the start that the author looks down on these uneducated people as hillbillies and can’t fathom why unionized workers who have seen their jobs moved offshore for cheaper labor or find themselves now competing with illegal immigrants who are willing to undercut union wages to survive would vote for someone who seemed to understand their plight. Thus, at times, the book was more about the author’s political leanings than about the three people who were supposed to be at the center of the story.

The other point where the book falters is that the author constantly refers to the three people by their races even when it is not necessary to the narrative. John is constantly referred to as a White man and Wally as a Black man rather than simply as individuals. Ultimately, the author argues in the final chapters that, no matter what these people struggles are dealing with poverty, job losses, domestic abuse, or raising a special needs child, those struggles are unimportant in comparison to their skin color and the lessons on critical race theory that the final chapters convey.

What could have been a top-notch book about how tough life is when the factory closes and the jobs go away becomes nothing more than a New York Times editorial page that focuses on other issues, not on the difficulties that come with the loss of high-paying skilled factory jobs.
Was this review helpful?
"American Made" by Farah Stockman follows the story of several people in Indiana as the deal with the blow of pending and eventual unemployment due to factory closings. Stockman spends a lot of time immersed in the lives of the people featured in this book and their families. Stockman uses the stories of people like Wally, Shannon, and John to illustrate the upheaval caused in towns where it is no longer possible to live a comfortable, secure middle class life as factories shutter and other local jobs offer significantly lower wages. The author also uses her research to understand and explain how people, especially white people, in once booming factory towns found an ally in the 45th president of the United States. It is also interesting to see how opinions changes as the former president's platform conflict with how policy plays out for those most affected by factory closures. Stockman also dives a bit into labor history and how unions were, but still can be, one of our workforce's true strengths. This is a really excellent book!
Was this review helpful?
So interesting! Good read.

Thanks to author, publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free, it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.
Was this review helpful?
Terrific book with top-notch reporting and storytelling.  A perfect time capsule for people in the future to look back on the swirling tumult that was this time.  I was particularly taken by how well the author is able to convey what it is like to work in a factory.
Was this review helpful?