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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the 2017 Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award!

A Washington Post reporter's intimate account of the fallout from the closing of a General Motors assembly plant in Janesville, Wisconsin - Paul Ryan's hometown - and a larger story of the hollowing of the American middle class.

This is the story of what happens to an industrial town in the American heartland when its factory stills - but it's not the familiar tale. Most observers record the immediate shock of vanished jobs, but few stay around long enough to notice what happens next, when a community with a can-do spirit tries to pick itself up.

Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Goldstein has spent years immersed in Janesville, Wisconsin, where the nation's oldest operating General Motors plant shut down in the midst of the Great Recession, two days before Christmas of 2008. Now, with intelligence, sympathy, and insight into what connects and divides people in an era of economic upheaval, she makes one of America's biggest political issues human. Her reporting takes the listener deep into the lives of autoworkers, educators, bankers, politicians, and job retrainers to show why it's so hard in the 21st century to re-create a healthy, prosperous working class.

For this is not just a Janesville story or a Midwestern story. It's an American story.

©2017 Amy Goldstein (P)2017 Simon & Schuster, Inc.

What listeners say about Janesville

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The definitive story of losing blue collar jobs

Excellent reporting about the effect of plant closings on a proud blue collar community. I waited for news of a turnaround, but perhaps it will take much longer than the nine years covered in this book. Heartbreaking stories of personal loss when families must deal with job instability, the need for assistance, and disappearing opportunities.

2 people found this helpful

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How did I miss this one in 2017?

This is literary nonfiction/journalism at its best: great story, writing, structure, and very informative. I think this is probably my favorite nonfiction read of 2018.

I read this right after Sarah Smarsh's memoir Heartland (which I also loved) and was looking for something in a similar vein. This is written by a journalist (it's not a memoir), which I often prefer because it takes a wider view: the people, the place, the politics, the time, the history, different POVs (the people who were laid off, business people, people in government, children, teachers, etc.) Smarsh's book did that more than most memoirs, but when it's not a first-person story, and Janesville isn't, you LEARN much more.

Goldstein had just the right amount of each category and told a pretty straight-ahead story with minimal flashbacks. I appreciate that even more because the book I'm listening to now (Dopesick) is such a structural nightmare with so many people and places, I can't keep anyone or anywhere straight.

4 people found this helpful

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Narrators pronunciation

It would help if the narrator learned how we pronounce certain city and people names in Wisconsin. It was annoying to hear things pronounced incorrectly, especially Governor Bob La Follette.

1 person found this helpful

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Microcosm of American economy now

This is a great story of the changes in American economy, especially in the Great Lakes states.

Strikes the right balance of optimism and reality.

1 person found this helpful

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An account of the 2008 recession.

Great stories for the people and towns that were destoryed by the 2008 recession. Eye opening perceptive on how the stock market effects the working class.

1 person found this helpful

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Wow! Just wow!

What an amazing depiction of this American jewel called Janesville. I just couldn't stop listening, so engrossing was this true tale of fortune and misfortune, invention and reinvention . . . and we know the story is ongoing. Amy Goldstein does an exquisite job of portraying the impact of the G.M. plant closing individuals as well as on the community. By the time she's through, we feel like we know many of these individuals personally. Warning: parts of this story were so difficult, so sad, that I literally cried. I had regain my composure before continuing. Alternately, parts were so inspiring as to reaffirm my faith in mankind. If you're looking for a compelling, this is it!

Lastly, I would be remiss to omit the fact that Ms. Goldstein 's writing ability is formidable. Take this turn of phrase for example: "Pulling on this skein of worry . . . " When I read these words, I saw yarn - warm and wooly, tangled and unmanageable. I imagined a labyrinth of frustration and confusion. I even felt itchy and uncomfortable. Outstanding work, Ms. Goldstein! Bravo!!

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Such a great read!

As I read the stories which were woven together to create a picture of the town, I couldn’t help but think about the impact the “Great Recession” had on all of us, beneath the surface. The trickle-down effects of a plant closing are ripples that reach out for decades. It put my own town of Lebanon PA in a new frame for me, having suffered the closing of the Bethlehem Steel plant in the mid-1980’s.

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A Human Portrayal of the Recession

I thought Amy Goldstein did a fantastic job of showing the human side of political policy and corporate decisions. The stories she told were emotional and often very moving.

Joy Osmanski did a great job narrating.

While I may disagree on a political level with the conclusions reached in this book, I am happy that I listened to it.

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Yes, to all of this book

I realize I’m behind here, reading this in early 2022, but glad I finally did. As a newish part of the Janesville community, I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot in my 4 years as a pediatrician here. The vacant GM lot still sits, and the families directly or indirectly connected to it are still suffering. Kids I take care of and their parents have unbelievably high average ACEs scores, adverse childhood events like being in the home of a drug user, knowing poverty, being abused, or worse. There is no doubt the large migration from middle class down is still impacting this community. Amy Goldstein choosing to highlight this town shined light on many things, and as in her epilogue things have changed for the better some, but it sadly feels this town will never be the same.

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Lucid, sobering, and relatable economic analysis

We learned about this book in the Pitchfork Economics podcast. We read it right after Thomas Frank's Listen Liberal. This book dovetails nicely with it. Both of these are very accessible to a general audience.

The setting is the heart of former Speaker Paul Ryan's congressional district (Wisconsin's 1st).This books lays bare the many failures our current economic system. It also exposes the shocking lack of effective support available to our former manufacturing communities. Alas, neither party has made a difference. The stories were intimate and relatable.

1 person found this helpful

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  • rikki
  • 08-17-20

excellent and sad story of a town

so this is what happens when a major car plant closes , local business close, people cant afford repair men etc on top of the plant workers who cant pay the rent or food bills .
the author did well in showing the knock on effect on the community but it was also inspiring to see people pull together and donate to food banks.
A similar situation to the coal mining towns that closed in England in the 80/90s. The youth are still feeling the effects decades later.

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  • Fred
  • 05-09-20

Anecdotes on contemporary industrial history

This is a collection of stories loosely interwoven onto the closure of a US car plant. It describes the human side of a company's failure to innovate and adapt. It's interesting but not hugely engaging or enlightening. The narration felt weak also.

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  • simon cooke
  • 03-17-18

Excellent glimpse into a changing community.

fascination longform look at the devastation of a community following economic change. Essential reading for a better understanding of the challenges working class people face and the lack of control from major economic shocks. This is as relevant to many parts of the UK as it is to the US.

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  • Flink
  • 11-11-17

Interesting and humanizing

Gives names and faces to the residents of towns where major employers stop operations. Very interesting. Wish we could have gotten a better understanding of rescue relations between Janesville and the other town that made up the Rock 5.0. But, that's a small gripe.