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Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant Hardcover – January 18, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Born and raised in Detroit, Clemens has witnessed firsthand the decline and death of manufacturing in that city. So when he pondered writing about the decline of the American working class, he figured a good place to start was the closing of Budd Detroit Automotive Plant, built in 1919 and employing 10,000 workers at its peak. He captures the sights, sounds, emotions, and economics of closing the plant, which made the roofs, doors, and other body parts of cars, trucks, and sports utility vehicles, offering an intimate portrait of what happens to people and a manufacturing town when the doors are closed. Clemens details the nuts and bolts, including how machinery is disassembled and shipped for reassembly in Mexico and elsewhere, as well as the human element of union reps fighting for worker benefits and former workers pondering a grim future. Clemens looks beyond the dire statistics of tens to hundreds of thousands of plant closings each year to portray the individuals involved and the loss of jobs and social bearings in the community. --Vanessa Bush



“Rewarding. . . . [Clemens] is a lovely, mournful observer of Detroit’s people. . . . [Punching Out] is a lament for a dying city and a dying way of being a man in America.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Clemens . . . paints the definitive portrait of a strange, resonant feature of the contemporary American landscape: the defunct factory . . . [this book] is an elegiac reminder of a scary truth lurking behind those abstract-sounding business headlines.”
—Carlo Rotella, The Boston Globe
“Out of the painstaking job of dismantling industrial America, a story emerges. Clemens closes the book on one venerable factory, but leaves us wondering about the future of American work.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Clemens has the street cred and old-school journalism chops to deliver a first-rate piece of deep reportage.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Superb practitioners of immersion journalism older than Clemens include John McPhee, Gay Talese, Madeleine Blais, Susan Orlean, Walt Harrington, Mike Sager, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc and Tracy Kidder. Based on Punching Out, Clemens is a worthy addition to the list and an example for journalists not just in the United States, but around the globe. His story of another closed auto factory is sadly familiar. But it has never been told this well.”
—Steve Weinberg, author of Taking on The Trust

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; Complete Numbers Starting with 1, 1st Ed edition (January 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385521154
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385521154
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,224,702 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm fascinated by old buildings, especially factories. When looking at or inside them, I can't help imaging earlier days when our nation and workers were the kings of the world. Author Paul Clemens is a kindred spirit - his "Punching Out" reports on the sad closing of the Budd Company stamping plant, built in 1919 and one of the oldest active factories in Detroit. Somehow it made sense to end operations there supporting Ford (at one time it had 10,000 employees, 350 at the end), disassemble its massive stamping mills (up to four-stories high), ship them to Mexico, and there resume production for two Chrysler plants that it was situated between. The new reality - there's more money to be made tearing Detroit down than restoring its former glory; it's now become the world capital of closed and torn down auto plants.

Unfortunately, neither Detroit nor the Budd Stamping plant are unique - the twice-monthly "Plant Closing News" has reported on more than 5,000 industrial closures and re-locations since February, 2003. In its first year of publication, 983 plant closings were reported, and the number has risen every year since.

Why these closings and job losses haven't upended American politics is beyond me. Regardless, Clemens' book provides excellent reading and perspectives - even if the title is misleading. The book is actually about the year after the closing, not its last year of production. In any case, readers will be haunted by its unanswered question, "Why are we allowing this to happen?"
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Format: Hardcover
Having read Paul's previous tome, Made in Detroit, and enjoying it, I felt compelled to at least take a quick look at Mr. Clemens' most recent work, and I am awfully glad I did. Paul has matured as a writer. This book would probably be most interesting to a reader interested in American industrial history, probably centering on the US auto industry. Those, like me, who also have an abiding interest in Michigan history in the 20th century, would also find it very much worth the while. Those lamenting the fates of Rust Belt cities, like Detroit, Cleveland or Gary would also find it to be illuminating. A reader trying to ascertain just what did go wrong w "The Arsenal of Democracy" might read Paul's book hoping to find some rationale for our nation's manufacturing malaise and fall from grace.

Reading Paul's bio puts me at about 15 years his senior, although our professional, and life, trajectories are somewhat similar. I grew up near Gary, IN, another former boomtown that has fallen on hard times. Some of my neighbors worked at the Gary Budd plant. I worked two summers @ US Steel. Some of the characters in charge of the tear down of the Budd plant in Detroit sound a lot like some of the men I rubbed shoulders with in the masonry department @ US Steel. I was a green horn college kid who took the brunt of quite a few practical jokes. It was one of my first encounters with crude blue collar humor. I have to admit to this day, even as a US History and Civics teacher, I still like to mix it up with people like those Paul associated with, and find my vocabulary can be a bit "too spicy" for my West Michigan born & bred wife.

Paul never resorts to union bashing as an explanation for the downward spiral of the US auto industry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A poignant look at the dismanteling of an auto plant and what it means to the country where it's being shipped. It's a sad reminder about the changing landscape of American jobs. A good read.
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By StepUp on September 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Another great book by Paul Clemens. For many of us the post industrial economic decline in the united states is the story of our lives. It's the backdrop for our individual life experiences as we struggle against economic forces greater than ourselves. Few writers have Paul's honesty to tell the story like it is. No finger pointing, political ideologies, or happy endings. Just the grinding reality of the global economic machine hard at work.
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Format: Hardcover
It's curious and ironic to note that, as American schoolchildren were being taught Duck and Cover drills in their classrooms, if a nuclear war *had* occurred in the 1950s or even during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the USA would've suffered less of a loss to its manufacturing capability and infrastructure than it has lost voluntarily and by design since the advent of the miracle of Free Trade. I mention this because, like author Paul Clemens, I come from the East Side of Detroit, and there is as much left of Detroit as there was of Nagasaki on the afternoon of August 9, 1945.

On the face of it, this seems like an absurd and vulgar exaggeration, but it happens to be true, and as Clemens points out, the entire city of Boston would easily fit into an area equal to the area of vacant land in Detroit. Our parents often remarked that if a nuclear war did occur, Detroit (the erstwhile "Arsenal of Democracy") would be the first place to be targeted. Now, although we're not radioactive, our factories are burned-out shells, tumbleweeds blow down vacant streets, and the land is quickly reverting to the condition of when the Ottawa Indians were its only inhabitants. As Clemens points out at length, this catastrophic collapse is occurring not just in Detroit, not just in the other cities --Philadelphia, Gary-- where the former Budd Company has suspended operations, but throughout the entire nation, including Spring Hill, Tennessee.

The most fascinating part of this book is made possible by the fact that Clemens spent so much time visiting an actual site where this slow catastrophe is occurring.
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