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Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant

3.39  ·  Rating details ·  238 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
An elegy—angry, funny, and powerfully detailed—about the slow death of a Detroit auto plant and an American way of life.

How does a country dismantle a century’s worth of its industrial heritage? To answer that question, Paul Clemens investigates the 2006 closing of one of America’s most potent symbols: a Detroit auto plant. Prior to its closing, the Budd Company stamping
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 17th 2012 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2011)
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Jonna Higgins-Freese
This was an unexpected delight. I came across this after a family trip to Detroit.

Clemens has an ear for dialogue and the way people talk, and I loved hearing that, the stories of working people that don't usually get

His turns of phrase, and quotations of those of others, were often gorgeous and sharp:

"The arty delectation of Detroit's destruction -- 'ruin porn' as it's called" -- I hadn't heard the phrase "ruin porn" before, but it's perfect -- one of the things I found most mesmerizing, on a d
Gnarly Authenticity .
I was going to give this one an extra star just for covering a topic dear to my heart, but this is no "Monkey's Wrench" or even "Rivethead" or "Gulf Star 45". "Punching Out" isn't really about the closing of a factory at all--it's Part Two of Paul Clemens' mildly interesting "How A Relatively Overachieving Lower-Middle Class Catholic Boy Became A Nonfiction Writer" saga. We follow Paul, the main character of the book, as he drives around Detroit, looks up old business directories at the library, ...more
Sep 26, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urbanism
Enjoyed the idea of this book (and still do), but it really should be one year in a "closed" auto supply plant. Having grown up in Janesville, WI, home of the GM Suburban, Tahoe, Yukon, I am well acquainted with what it an automobile plant can mean to a town. Having left just a few years before it closed I was looking forward to a story of the plant employees on the way out, what they would miss, what they wouldn't, what they're doing next, and how they feel about it.

This book actually deals wit
Jun 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
IF you're from Michigan or a Rust Belt state, you're likely to find this book incredibly sad and wistfully funny. It shows how complicated the forces are behind the crumbling of Michigan's manufacturing base, and the inevitability of the emptying of it's cities. It's an important read, and you'll understand your neighbors and towns the better for it.

If you're not from Michigan, you'll probably just think it's too bad, and you'll move on. And you don't need to read it.
Mar 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book describes the disassembly of the Detroit Budd Plant, part of the decades-long disassembly of a city, class, skill set, culture, and language. That does seem like something we at least ought to record (doesn't it?), this shift from the America of 100 years, much of the nation's lifetime, as creator and producer of goods with a large middle class as a point of pride to... something else to be determined. But very few people are documenting and writing about it, aside from ruin porn, and ...more
Mar 03, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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 ...more
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Mar 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Detroit Dreams Disassembled: Paul Clemens’ Punching Out

I own a “Say Nice Things About Detroit” T-shirt — colored gray, appropriately enough. It plaintively asks us to remember, please, that the city needs our help. The Motor City, which once brought to mind Chevy muscle cars and Stevie Wonder, now makes many think of rust, racial animosity, and murder, when they think of it at all. Paul Clemens, the author of Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant, would say that we can’t afford to ignor
Neil Pierson
Nov 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting to read about an auto plant that was scheduled to close and about the impact on its employees. After all, the subtitle is One Year in a Closing Auto Plant. But the plant (Budd Company’s Detroit stamping plant) is already closed when most of the book takes place. After the plant closed, none of the workers were Budd employees, although a couple were former employees. The author connects with some of the workers, but they come and go without much explanation. The author says, “Mora ...more
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book to be a great account of what happens when an auto plant in Detroit closes. Paul Clemens takes you inside the Budd Auto Plant right after its closing. The first part of the book is a history of various Detroit plants and then a meeting with the UAW representative who represented the workers in the Budd Plant who describes what happens at that point to the workers. He then moves on to hanging out with the riggers and the cleaning crew who take apart the machines and parts of the ...more
Patrick Sprunger
One of Paul Clemens's subjects put it this way:

"We the willing, led by the unknowing are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much with so little for so long, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing."

That pretty much sums up the pathos and resignation captured in the author's snapshot of our industrial heritage in tatters. Personally, I have no idea why Clemens wrote this book. I get the feeling he doesn't either. It's observations are variegated and lacking in any u
Sep 20, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd feel like a douchebag if I gave this book less than 3 stars. It's a valid story that needs to be told, yet I found myself headachey and skimming large chunks of it. In ways this was just an overlong magazine article.

Yes, I saw the clear irony of closing a plant, only to have its parts disassembled and brought to a plant that does the same exact work in Mexico. [Insert outsourcing rant here! I just wish that the Mexican workers made better wages and the companies had better environmental rest
Jan 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is going to have special appeal for people from the rust-belt areas, particularly Detroit.
(I am from Detroit, but my life was mostly sedentary and when I needed money I was lucky to find computer work.)The book gave me a vicarious look into the factory milieu, and nostalgically into the lives of industrial workers. This had a somewhat romantic tinge to it. These are people who took a roller-coaster ride while the country's industrial base went downhill.

This is not a passionate book wit
This was a book with so much potential. There is little more poignant, especially to someone like myself of strong working class, Middle American, labor-and-Democratic Party origins, than the collapse of industry and the transformation of Detroit from the "Arsenal of Democracy" into a synonym for decrepitude. And here we have not only a factory closing (something we see on the news every night), but a company specializing in factory closings.

Clemens is a capable writer, but not a great one. He l
Jun 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When it comes to factory closings, everyone wants to blame someone - evil companies, unions, foreigners. But it's hard not to like the union guys we meet, or fault the company for closing a plant that had never really been profitable and that made mostly parts for a vehicle that was no longer selling, or blame people in other countries for being willing to work hard to feed their families.

Punching Out follows which follows the closing of Budd Stamping's Detroit plant, which stamped body parts fo
Jul 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I hope that the fact that some of this book bored me did not lead to the decline of manufacturing in America. Clemens spends pages lovingly chronicling the history of the Budd stamping plant on Charlevoix Avenue in Detroit. While I know that this is important industrial history, I can only muster so much interest in what are essentially metal boxes. I appreciate the immense amounts of manpower and machinery that went into the building of 20th Century Detroit, but I think the relentless focus on ...more
Feb 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Paul Clemens made the dismantling of Budd's Detroit plant seem poetic. This was a fascinating book and an open window look into the working class of Detroit in the auto industry.

As someone who has worked in both the manufacturing end as well as the production end, I could totally relate to the people who "went down with the ship" at this particular stamping plant. The slow death of Budd Detroit took a toll on the building, the equipment, the people and the city. The transformation of the plant s
Nov 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This non-fiction account of the 2006 closing of a Detroit auto plant, the Budd Company on the East Side, is a painful look at the demise of our industrial city. Built in 1919, this stamping plant was one of the oldest active auto plants in Detroit. As the plant is slowly dismantled piece by piece, you realize Clemens is describing the demise of the working class and an American way of life. With an interesting cast of characters on the dismantling crew, at times, Clemens inflects dark humor into ...more
Feb 07, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was born and raised in Michigan. I know several friends, classmates and relatives that worked in the auto industry. I tried to get a job there too but was turned away for health reasons. I left the state in 1968 but have always kept attuned to the auto industry.

Reading this book was truly informative and enjoyable. There was so much history in this Budd plant. The early thunderbird bodies were made there. So many of the cars in our past, and now in museums etc, had ties to this plant.

Closing t
Mar 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Это Детройт - некогда столица американского автопрома с двумя миллионами белого населения, а ныне развалившийся мегаполис без надежд на будущее с 800 тысяч чернокожих лоботрясов.
В книге много интересных фактов не только о Детройте и его истории, но об американской промышленности и истории профсоюзного движения в целом.
Очень интересны рассказы о жизни простых американских рабочих и о причинах развала американской тяжёлой промышленности.
В общем, книга - своего рода трибют белой Америке. Читать все
May 31, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Two stars might be a little harsh but I expect more from a Jon Stewart recommendation. The premise is really interesting- the industry that revolves around shutting down the Detroit plants and shipping all the parts to different factories around the world. The book is full of colorful characters- proud third generation UAW members and recent immigrants who are considered pinkertons and scabs. The author just had a hard time getting a flow or narrative to the book which seems like a long article ...more
Jul 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book about a year spent in an auto supplier plant when it was closing down in Detroit. The author tells the story from the perspective of a number of different employees. The plant was closing and had sold off most of its machinery to other plants who sent folks to disassemble the equipment in Detroit to later reassemble at the other plants. The book provides good detail about the decline of the auto industry in the US, particularly in Detroit. Its a good book about the decline of De ...more
Jan 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this for work so I could review it on our website. The author is an assistant dean at Wayne State, and his wife is my colleague here at the archives. The book is really great, though. Fascinating and well written. Paul was on the Daily Show the other night talking about it, which is pretty cool. If you are interested in the decline of American industry and manufacturing, this is a must-read.
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I happened across this book at the library and it sounded like an interesting read. the author jumps around a lot and there is a lack of flow, which made it hard to follow at times. I was expecting more interactions with people who worked at Budd while it was in operation, but the focus was on what happened at the plant after Budd stopped operating. Overall an interesting read, but could have been better written.
Apr 01, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I can barely get through half this book. First of all, Clemens is not a story teller, he is a list maker. Second, the lists he makes describe very physical objects - photographs might have saved his story, yet he included only a few. The website for the book has a video and cache of images for the Budd factory that support the book incredibly well, but unless you think to look it up you'd never know.

I do not recommend anyone reading this book - especially if they are a visual person.
Feb 19, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was eager to read this book after I heard Paul Clemens on the Jon Stewart show. Bu, it was a big disappointment. It seemed to be more about Paul and his reaction to the loss of a factory he remembered from his youth. The men he introduced seemed very one-dimensional since you never heard about their past or how they were going to survive this loss. The one high point was when he visited the factory in Mexico and found it cleaner and better run. I do not recommend this book
Amy Wochos
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. The subject was compelling, and many of the people he encounters could probably write great memoirs, but there was something off putting about how this was organized. It wasn't exactly in chronological order, so he mentions some people early on, then describes meeting them later in the book, which was confusing. I also wanted more of a comparison between what day to day life was like in the glory years and the dismantling of the plant.
Oct 10, 2012 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
I am abandoning this book. I only got about 85 pages in before my book club meeting (partly this was because a shady Amazon retailer ignored my order and I had to order it again; partly it was because I take forever to read non-fiction) and most people at the meeting hated it. So oh well. Life's too short.
Not recommended for reading over the holidays if you're a citizen of the Rust Belt because it is so heartbreaking. Research is good but I didn't like some of the descriptions of the men in this book. I know it may be difficult to convey the modern manufacturing "shop rat" to outsiders, but Clemens' depictions reek of privilege despite his attempts to understand these men and their values.
Jan 21, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Clemens comes at the all-too-familiar tale of an auto plant shutdown from a unique perspective. I enjoyed the insights into the workers' lives and learned a *lot* about stamping equipment. I just wish he would have used a few of those 1000s of pictures he kept saying he took to illustrate the story.
Wow. So sad. The author spends about a year observing a crew dismantle the Budd auto plant in Detroit. You feel like you're witnessing a death. He does a great job of including little tidbits about what the company newsletter bragged about in 1987 or how the UAW used to be this force of nature. Not anymore. So well-written, but depressing.
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