Factory Man (excerpt and press)

John Bassett III is from the Bassett Furniture Co. family, a dynasty begun in 1902.

[From Chapter One. . . ]

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. …

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.

It’s 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. Click here to view a video produced by my hugely talented colleague Ryan Loew.

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.”

John Bassett III gathered the media, politicians and his factory workers together in January to announce that he was  expanding his factory into the vacant plant next door. Photo by Jared Soares

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 Book-in-Progress prize last year, and the early 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.

REVIEWS

• 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.”

INTERVIEWS:

• 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, 2014.

  • Advance praise for “Factory Man”:

    "Beth Macy's extraordinary reporting and narrative skills, and her deep affection for the people of the rural Blue Ridge Mountain region, come together in a compelling story about a gritty Virginia furniture maker who refuses to allow his family's company and its workers to become victims of globalization." — J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress citation
  • Tweets

  • Lee Smith on “Factory Man”:

    "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." — Lee Smith, author of "Guests On Earth"
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