Really this is probably only a 3 on the enjoyment scale for me, but it gets an extra star for being a really good concept for a book. Clemens gives an...moreReally this is probably only a 3 on the enjoyment scale for me, but it gets an extra star for being a really good concept for a book. Clemens gives an account not of the last operating days of the plant, but of the aftermath, the dismantling and shipping off of the plant to Asia, Mexico or South America, where the machinery will be put back into service again, often for the same companies who used it in its original home in Detroit. He spends time with the people who performs this work, and goes to great pains to understand and humanize them.
I'll confess to being one of those artsy types Clemens makes fun of in the early part of the book, who from time to time sneak into old abandoned factories and warehouses, taking photographs and wondering at what once went on inside. But this experience for me (in my case the old railyard buildings in Albuquerque back when they were abandoned ) also added to an understanding of the sort of vast spaces, massive machinery, and wooden floors similar to the ones in this book, that he's talking about. It's hard to really grasp the scale unless you've see them yourself, but I definitely understand first hand something of the awe he tries to create when writing about the auto plants.
Clemens' account goes beyond this one plant, to cover some of the deconstruction of the American auto industry. Thankfully it avoids a lot of the political and emotional overtones and instead keeps a fairly solid documentarian tone. If you're looking for a story, there isn't too much of a narrative, but there are characters and history galore. Just the history of the Budd auto plant and the innovation behind the switch from wooden to steel automobile bodies made the book worthwhile for me in a historical context.
By the end of the book Clemens acknowledges that he doesn't know what he'll do when he doesn't have the plant to go to every day, the routine, the friends he has made there, the simple, regular act of work (or in his case observing people work). And that more than anything I found touching. I look forward to seeing what Clemens turns his hand to next.
I feel like this book could have benefitted from some more aggressive editing and focus.
Some of the premises Dawkins advances here are valuable, in p...moreI feel like this book could have benefitted from some more aggressive editing and focus.
Some of the premises Dawkins advances here are valuable, in particular his criticism of fence-sitting agnostics and his examination of the general climate of public discourse in the US where religious groups are permitted to criticize anyone on religious grounds in public debate, yet it is somehow forbidden to criticize the underlying premise of a religious argument.
Where things fall down is that the various sections seem disjointed, and where I feel Dawkins could have composed a much tighter central argument against God, we have him instead jumping from very high level philosophical arguments, to anecdotal examples, to somewhat lame attempts at wittily pointing out the irrationality of religious beliefs.
Dawkins is no Malcolm Gladwell, and I think he would have done better had he stuck to the series of core premises which served his central thesis rather than wandering off towards the wilderness of pop journalism. Dawkins is remarkably well equipped to turn the discussion to focusing on which of the central arguments about religion actually matter, but instead he somewhat tiringly works his way through the standard list of religious debates, debunking each one.
Perhaps the main benefit of Dawkins' aggressively atheist stance is that it should serve to make those atheists out there (and some fence-sitting agnostics) feel that they are justified in speaking out about and against religious intrusions into civil society. If reading this book makes more people feel comfortable with openly saying saying "Hang on, you cant use God or religion as an argument for setting public policy..." rather than biting their tongues (as I admit I have in more than one public discussion) then it will certainly be a good thing.(less)