If they gave awards for the most comprehensive business books of the last ten years Factory Man by Beth Macy would be an unlikely–but worthy contender. It isn’t a TED ready think piece about the flattening of the world. Nor is it a feel-good call to revitalize American industry through disruptive innovation. Instead, it is a deeply reported narrative on the rise and fall of the American furniture industry. Told through the viewpoint of the Bassett Furniture Company, Macy explains how a manufacturing empire was created and systematically eroded. At first glance, the culprits of the decline are predictable: globalization and technology. Globalization because cheap Asian imports flooded the market at a fraction of the cost. Technology because advances in communications allowed businesses to build a supply chain that exported lumber from North Carolina to China, and the finished product back to American store shelves.
A lesser author would have ended the analysis there, but Macy peppers Factory Man with background and context allowing the real culprits emerge: systematically narrow management driven by orthodoxy and bad economic policy. The decline didn’t have to happen.