Deborah Cohen is Peter B. Ritzma Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University. She is writing a book about American foreign correspondents who reported from interwar Europe and Asia, including John Gunther, Vincent Sheean, Dorothy Thompson, and H.R. Knickerbocker. (September 2018)
Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World
by Joshua B. Freeman
With nostalgia for manufacturing jobs now thoroughly weaponized in American politics, Joshua Freeman’s Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World is timely. Freeman takes as his subject huge factories, the behemoths of his title: River Rouge; the Soviet steel complex Magnitogorsk, east of the Urals; and China’s Foxconn City, with its hundreds of thousands of workers, arguably the largest factory ever in operation. Focusing on these giants, Freeman suggests, reveals what happens when concentrated production and economies of scale are taken to the showiest extreme. It also helps to explain the hold that factories have had on the imagination over the past 250 years.
Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First
by Frank Trentmann
Even if you think yourself a reluctant shopper, consider all of the resources used to create our material world: the steel to build our homes, the natural gas to fire our furnaces, the aluminum in our smartphones and tablets. In the world’s richest countries, consumption has ballooned by over a third in the past few decades to the point that in 2010, each person in the thirty-four richest nations consumed over 220 pounds of stuff every day. How did we come to be such voracious, irrepressible consumers? And how has all of this consuming changed the world? Those are the questions at the heart of Frank Trentmann’s Empire of Things, each of its nearly seven hundred pages of text jam-packed with telling facts and counterintuitive provocations.