In This Review

Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World
Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World
By Joshua B. Freeman
Norton, 2018, 448 pp

This fascinating book is a history of the large factory’s importance as a symbol of modernity from early-eighteenth-century Europe to early-twenty-first-century Asia. It tells the stories of companies (mostly private but also some state-owned enterprises), offers sociological portraits of factory workers, and considers the portrayal of factories in art, literature, and films. The earliest large factories were established in England in the 1720s, produced silk yarn, and employed around 300 people. By 1945, Ford’s River Rouge facility in Dearborn, Michigan, employed 85,000 people, who mainly worked on building bombers. Today, some factory complexes in China employ over 100,000 workers. Building factories on a large scale has sometimes involved erecting whole cities for their employees, which has introduced a myriad of logistical problems; this was often the case in the Soviet Union. In their heyday, big factories signaled and celebrated the arrival of a modern technological age and new opportunities for laborers. Later, they facilitated the organization of dissatisfied workers. In recent decades, factories have declined in size in Europe and the United States, not least because large and densely concentrated facilities increase the risk of disruption to value chains owing to human events or natural phenomena such as earthquakes and storms.