Business bookshelf: 'Factory Man'

  • Updated: July 5, 2014 - 2:00 PM

FACTORY MAN

Beth Macy, Little, Brown and Co., 451 pages, $28

Beth Macy, a longtime reporter for the Roanoke Times in Virginia, understood how lucky she was when she accidentally uncovered the great, gripping story told in “Factory Man.” This is 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.

Macy went looking for mountain families who had spent generations working for the region’s furniture giants, until the whole industry was walloped by imports from China. She found all that and more in the battling Bassetts, a feudal family of factory owners who controlled a string of these companies and the bank, hospital, school, and housing their workers used.

John Bassett III, with whom Macy spent a lot of time, is the grandson and namesake of the company’s founder. In the irresistible prologue, it is 2002 and JBIII, as the book calls him, has found his way to a furniture factory in northern China that is making exact knockoffs of furniture his company makes.

Once JBIII realizes that Chinese manufacturers are in violation of World Trade Organization regulations, he helps instigate an extremely complicated and expensive lawsuit not destined to win him any popularity contests. His furniture-industry colleagues, along with many an economist, opposed tariffs.

“Factory Man” celebrates JBIII as both a populist and a canny businessman. His bullheaded attitude, as someone in the book admiringly says to Macy, was always: “Boys, you better get in the wagon with me, or I’ll make you wish you had.”

NEW YORK TIMES

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