'Janesville: An American Story'
Amy Goldstein, Simon & Schuster, 351 pages, $27. Perhaps the most illuminating business book of the year is Amy Goldstein's "Janesville: An American Story." If you really want to understand what's going on in today's real economy — beyond the headlines about new stock-market highs, tax policy or the latest list of billionaires — spend some time with this true tale of what happened in the middle-class town of Janesville, Wis., after General Motors closed a factory there. Goldstein admirably shows all sides of this story, capturing in microcosm all of the issues that so many communities across the United States are facing. You will probably be left doing some hard thinking about what is driving the politics of the moment, although Goldstein brilliantly, and respectfully, paints the book's characters with such nuance that readers from across the ideological spectrum are likely to arrive at different conclusions about heroes and villains. In crafting this deeply reported and riveting read, Goldstein spent considerable time in Janesville. As a result, you get a palpable sense of what life is like there; of the financial and psychological impact that a major plant closing has; and of the knock-on effects such an event has on other businesses and institutions. She paints vivid portraits of characters who include laid-off workers seeking retraining, union officials and local politicians, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., among them. Like J.D. Vance's "Hillbilly Elegy," "Janesville" makes the issues central to the decline of the industrial Midwest real in a new and compelling way.
NEW YORK TIMES