Once in a storytelling career, if one is very lucky, a character like John Bassett III comes along. JBIII is brash. He is inspirational. He’s a sawdust-covered good-old boy from rural Virginia, a larger-than-life rule-breaker who for more than a decade has stood almost single-handedly against the outflow of furniture jobs from America.
“He’s an asshole!” more than one of his competitors barked, when they heard I was writing a book about globalization with him as my main character. Over the course of researching this book, over the course of hearing his many lectures and listening to him evade my questions by telling me the same stories over and over, there were times when I agreed. …
[from Chapter One. . . ]
I first wrote a feature on him for The Roanoke Times as part of a series on the impact of globalization in southside and southwest Virginia. More than 19,000 textile and furniture factory workers lost their jobs in Henry County and Martinsville, but two hours away in Galax, John Bassett fought back to keep his 700 factory workers employed.
“Factory Man” is the patriotic story of a family legacy, a relentless work ethic that includes 1 a.m. phone calls to factory managers and remarkable grit. As my agent likes to call it, this book is “Moneyball” — with furniture. It’s the book you can give to your mom, and she’ll understand, finally, why it is that the once-thriving little factory town she grew up in looks the way it does now.
As JBIII likes to say: “Americans used to have confidence. We’d take on anybody — the moon, Hitler, the Panama Canal. We’d kick their asses and give ‘em nine cents change.” Click here to see a video of the Factory Man himself, produced by Ryan Loew.
The same week President Obama spoke of “re-sourcing” jobs to America, JBIII announced he was expanding his Vaughan-Bassett Furniture into the vacant plant next door and hiring 115 more workers. Beaming over sawdust-covered glasses, he told me, “When you never went cheap with the woman down the street, you don’t have to come drag-assin’ back.”
So I’ve written a book called “Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local — and Helped Save an American Town,” and, Lord willing and the Smith River don’t rise, Little, Brown & Co. will publish it on July 15, 2014. Columbia and Harvard journalism programs awarded it the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress prize last year, and the reviews so far (fingers and toes crossed) are starting to come in. For the latest in FACTORY MAN news, please “like” my Facebook author page.
BESTSELLER DEBUT STATUS
• No. 10 on New York Times hardcover nonfiction list, featured on “Inside the List,” Sunday Book Review, July 25, 2014, by Gregory Cowles, “Broken Furniture“;
• No. 4 on Wall Street Journal business book list;
• No. 13 on Publishers Weekly hardcover nonfiction list;
• No. 15 on IndieBound nonfiction list.
• New York Times Book Review, “Still Made in the U.S.A.” by Mimi Swartz: “It is impossible to read Beth Macy’s ‘Factory Man’ without casting the inevitable movie version to come. …Macy cares more about ordinary Americans in the same way [John] Bassett does, and in the same way so many Wall Street players and corporate shareholders do not.”
• Fortune, “A furniture mogul’s tireless quest to protect his workers’ jobs,” by Ethan Rouen: John Bassett’s “story, masterfully told in ‘Factory Man’ by journalist Beth Macy, is one of alternating bouts of selflessness and ego, a riches-to-slightly-less-riches tale of a man who had everything and was willing to sacrifice some of it to preserve the dignity and livelihood of the people who built that fortune.”
• Financial Times, “When Chinese competition threatened his business, one man refused to accept defeat,” review by Shawn Donnan: “Factory Man deserves to be read for anyone wanting to wrap their heads around the present-day dynamics and politics of globalisation. Macy’s book is an important read, whether or not you agree with its premise and economics.”
• Tom Hanks on Twitter (holy cow!): Factory Man is “Great summer reading. I give it 42 stars. No, I give it 142 stars. Yeah, it’s THAT good. Hanx.”
• Christian Science Monitor, Janet Saidi, “‘Factory Man’ wonderfully recounts the David-and-Goliath story of a Virginia furniture maker fighting Chinese imports,” July 15, 2004: “To say that Beth Macy’s new book, Factory Man, is about the impact of globalization on rural communities in the American South might be a little like saying the television series “Mad Men” is about advertising or “The Sopranos” is about the mafia. It may be true, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the essence of the thing. And capturing the essence is what Macy is all about.”
• New York Times, Bryan Burrough (Sunday Business): “Mr. Bassett is a character out of Faulkner, a benevolent patriarch who modernizes his new realm while cajoling his employees in a syrupy drawl that Ms. Macy likens to that of the cartoon rooster Foghorn Leghorn. … Oh, if only we had more business writers like Beth Macy, and more business books like her debut. You don’t need to care a whit about the furniture industry or free trade or globalization to fall under the spell of Ms. Macy’s book.”
• Vulture, “7 Books You Need to Read This July“: Macy’s first book, ostensibly the story of John D. Bassett III — furniture heir, Virginia good old boy, and unlikely savior of domestic manufacturing — is better thought of as an Appalachian Random Family. In the course of narrating Bassett’s efforts to fight China’s underhanded underpricing, Macy digs in all directions, visiting company towns without companies, unearthing family secrets, and explaining the economic forces that determine our lives.
• Janet Maslin, from “Thinking Locally, So Fighting Globally,” New York Times: “This is Ms. Macy’s first book, but it’s in a class with other runaway debuts like Laura Hillenbrand’s “Seabiscuit” and Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”: These nonfiction narratives are more stirring and dramatic than most novels. And Ms. Macy writes so vigorously that she hooks you instantly. You won’t be putting this book down.”
• Carl Hays, Booklist: “Macy’s down-to-earth writing style and abundance of personal stories from manufacturing’s beleaguered front lines make her work a stirring critique of globalization.”
• Janet Maslin, from her summer reading roundup story in The New York Times: “Ms. Macy zeroed in on a family-run Virginia furniture company that was being put out of business by cheap Chinese knockoffs, and happened to find an owner determined to fight back. Ms. Macy got to know the factory town, its workers, the facts behind offshoring and the tactics that might keep it at bay. Early warning: ‘Factory Man’ (coming July 15) is an illuminating, deeply patriotic David vs. Goliath book. They give out awards for this kind of thing.”
• Starred review in Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2014: “… Drawing on prodigious research and interviews with a wide range of subjects, including babysitters, retired workers and Chinese executives, Macy recounts how Bassett, now in his mid-70s, mobilized the majority of American furniture manufacturers to join him in seeking U.S. government redress for unfair Chinese trade practices. The author’s brightly written, richly detailed narrative not only illuminates globalization and the issue of offshoring, but succeeds brilliantly in conveying the human costs borne by low-income people displaced from a way of life. Writing with much empathy, Macy gives voice to former workers who must now scrape by on odd jobs, disability payments and, in some cases, thievery of copper wire from closed factories. … A masterly feat of reporting.”
• Garden & Gun magazine, by Jamie Gnazzo, June/July 2014 issue: “In a compelling and meticulously researched narrative, Macy follows the story from the Blue Ridge Mountains to China and Indonesia, chronicling John Bassett’s tireless work to revive his company, and with it, an American town.”
• Starred review in Publishers Weekly, March 17, 2014: “Macy’s riveting narrative is rich in local color. … Macy interviews the Bassett family, laid-off and retired workers, executives in Asia, and many others, providing vivid reporting and lucid explanations of the trade laws and agreements that caused a way of life to disappear.”
• Rick Bragg, Pulitzer-winning author: “In a world of blue-collar victims, where logging chains seal forever the doors of mills and factories from the Rust Belt to the Deep South, Beth Macy’s award-winning look at one furniture maker’s refusal to give in is a breath of hope-and a damn fine story to read. The book tracks John Bassett’s fight to keep American jobs on this side of borders and oceans, and keeps one American town from becoming a place of empty storefronts and FOR SALE signs.”
• Jonathan Alter, author and producer of “Alpha House”: “Beth Macy has done a masterful job in personalizing the biggest American economic story of our time–how to save American jobs in the 21st Century. John Bassett III is a cinematic figure and quintessential American, battling for his company, his town and his country.”
• Alex S. Jones, Pulitzer Prize winner and Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy director: “The unlikely hero of Factory Man is a determined, ornery, and absolutely indomitable…business man. He’s the head of a family furniture company and damned if he’s going to be pushed around. Beth Macy has given us an inspiring and engaging tale for our times, but not the expected one.”
• Lee Smith, novelist/author of “Guests On Earth”: “The epic struggle of Virginia furniture manufacturer John Bassett III (JBIII) to save his business has given crackerjack reporter Beth Macy the book she was born to write. Longtime champion of the downtrodden and the working American, Macy brings globalization down to a human scale, giving a real voice and a recognizable face to everyone involved, from factory worker to government official to Chinese importer. Thorough reporting and brilliant writing combine to make FACTORY MAN an exciting, fast-paced account of a quintessentially American story that affects us all.”
• Bret Witter, co-author of “Monuments Men”: “John Bassett’s story has everything. An extraordinary dynasty, a relevant and inspiring message, and one of the best heroes I’ve read about in years. It works on every level, from the most personal betrayal to the realities of the global economy, from the struggle of one worker in a small Appalachian town to the future of our cultural as a whole. Part of me wishes I’d found John Bassett III, because this is powerful stuff, but it’s obvious the story is in excellent hands with Beth Macy. Sometimes the right writer comes along with the right story at the right time. This is clearly that book.”
• Martin Clark, author of “The Legal Limit”: “Beth Macy sees twists and subtleties that other journalists can’t see, and she writes about the world around her with grit, honesty and remarkable grace. She has a police detective’s diligence and determination, a poet’s way with words, and a born storyteller’s gift for spot-on narrative.”
• Q&A, Associated Press, by Christopher S. Rugaber, “How One U.S. Factory Owner Fought Cheap Imports,” Aug. 19, 2014.
• Minnesota Public Radio, interview, “Beth Macy on ‘Factory Man,’ industrial globalization, Aug. 19, 2014.
• “Book Discussion on ‘Factory Man,’ “ C-Span2, “BookTV,” first airing Aug. 17, 2014, with John Bassett III, taped at St. John’s Episcopal Church reading/discussion on August 5.
• New York Times Book Review podcast with editor Pamela Paul, Aug. 17, 2014. (Second story of three.)
• “And the Factory Girl,” WVTF interview with Tab O’Neal, Aug. 14, 2014.
• WYSO, interview with Vick Mickunas, Aug. 17, 2014.
• Slate (excerpt, Chapter 12), “How Asian Companies Took over the U.S. Furniture Market — Before One Virginia Man Fought Back,” Slate, July 28, 2014.
• “Inside the List,” July 25, 2014, “Broken Furniture,” The New York Times Book Review: Beth Macy’s “Factory Man,” about the decline of the American furniture industry and the efforts of one man to bring it back, enters the hardcover nonfiction list at No. 10. Macy appeared on NPR’s “Fresh Air” recently to promote the book, and cited the town of Martinsville, Va., to illustrate how bad things had gotten.
• The Tavis Smiley Show on PRI, posted July 25, 2014.
• The Leonard Lopate Show, July 17, 2014.
• “Author to Author: Lee Smith asks Beth Macy about Factory Man,” The Daily South, SouthernLiving.com, July 15, 2014, wherein I get interviewed by the first Southern writer whose work I fell deeply in love with.
• “Factory Man by Beth Macy,” Q&A with my great friend and former editor (a really awesome one!) Madelyn Rosenberg, July 15, 2014.
• “‘Factory Man': How John Bassett III Fought for His Furniture Business,” an adaptation from Chapter One of “Factory Man” published in The Wall Street Journal blog, July 15, 2014.
• “A Tale of Two Furniture Towns,” by Beth Macy and Jared Soares, The NewYorker.com, July 10, 2014.
• “Portrait of a Furniture Maverick,” by Pat Kimbrough, High Point Enterprise, July 11, 2014.
• Q & A with Diane Molleson of Publishers Weekly, about the complexity of race issues, the return of American manufacturing and how I came to write “Factory Man,” May 5, 2014.
• Q & A with Ochberg Society of Journalism and Trauma, on Robert Caro’s “time equals truth,” and coaxing reluctant sources to open up, by Sarah Kess, February, 2014.
• Harvard Kennedy School essay on FACTORY MAN, “America, Decoupled,” by Brian Chiglinsky, Kennedy School Review, October, 2013.
• Why and how the national media missed the big story of globalization — its aftereffects, published in Acts of Witness, October 2013.
• Talking Biz, Q&A with Chris Roush, “Turning a Business Feature Into a Book,” October 2013.
• “Beth Macy Talks Upcoming Book on Globalization,” by Mary Ogilvie, The Daily Collegian, Penn State University, Oct. 3, 2013.