Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town (Paperback)
Of the myriad of books describing the devastation of working class towns across America, perhaps none better describes the societal and economic failures of late capitalism's transition from industrialism to financialization than Glass House does. Alexander's reportage brings the fight to the doorstep of the people and systems truly responsible: the depraved neoliberal economic policies promoted by Milton Friedman that inspired a generation of politicians and enabled a class of pirating financiers. For much of the 20th century, Lancaster, Ohio, was a quintessential company town essentially run by the locally owned and managed glass factory that hired a large union labor force. With regulations stripped in the 1980s, Anchor Hocking and the people of Lancaster became the prey of a dizzying succession of green-mailers, debt-chasing hedge funders, and distant private equity raiders. Some of the names of the predators that sized-up Lancaster for its stripping apart are all too familiar today: Romney ("consulted" but couldn't close), Icahn (tragically did close on the company's future), Gallo (the ex-Amazon.com President crushed the local schools by extracting an exchange of school funds for a huge corporate tax abatement). The strength of Glass House is its description of each successive generation's further loss of opportunity and education and the resulting deep fall into the traps of poverty, drug addiction and imprisonment. Unlike the more facile and self-serving Hillbilly Elegy, Alexander shows that in Lancaster, "it's not the culture of the people that's the root problem, it's the culture of those who've broken faith with them."— Will
For readers of Hillbilly Elegy and Strangers in Their Own Land
*A New York Post Must-Read Book*
*A Newsweek Best New Book*
*One of The Week's 20 Books to Read in 2017*
*One of Bustle's 16 Best Nonfiction Books Coming in February 2017*
*Best Non-Fiction/2017 Books by the Banks*
The Wall Street Journal: "A devastating portrait...For anyone wondering why swing-state America voted against the establishment in 2016, Mr. Alexander supplies plenty of answers."
Laura Miller, Slate: "This book hunts bigger game. Reads like an odd?and oddly satisfying?fusion of George Packer’s The Unwinding and one of Michael Lewis’ real-life financial thrillers."
The New Yorker : "Does a remarkable job."
Beth Macy, author of Factory Man: "This book should be required reading for people trying to understand Trumpism, inequality, and the sad state of a needlessly wrecked rural America. I wish I had written it."
In 1947, Forbes magazine declared Lancaster, Ohio the epitome of the all-American town. Today it is damaged, discouraged, and fighting for its future. In Glass House, journalist Brian Alexander uses the story of one town to show how seeds sown 35 years ago have sprouted to give us Trumpism, inequality, and an eroding national cohesion.
The Anchor Hocking Glass Company, once the world’s largest maker of glass tableware, was the base on which Lancaster’s society was built. As Glass House unfolds, bankruptcy looms. With access to the company and its leaders, and Lancaster’s citizens, Alexander shows how financial engineering took hold in the 1980s, accelerated in the 21st Century, and wrecked the company. We follow CEO Sam Solomon, an African-American leading the nearly all-white town’s biggest private employer, as he tries to rescue the company from the New York private equity firm that hired him. Meanwhile, Alexander goes behind the scenes, entwined with the lives of residents as they wrestle with heroin, politics, high-interest lenders, low wage jobs, technology, and the new demands of American life: people like Brian Gossett, the fourth generation to work at Anchor Hocking; Joe Piccolo, first-time director of the annual music festival who discovers the town relies on him, and it, for salvation; Jason Roach, who police believed may have been Lancaster’s biggest drug dealer; and Eric Brown, a local football hero-turned-cop who comes to realize that he can never arrest Lancaster’s real problems.
About the Author
Brian Alexander has written about American culture for decades. A former contributing editor to Wired magazine, he has been recognized by Medill School of Journalism's John Bartlow Martin awards for public interest journalism, and by other organizations. He grew up in Lancaster, with a family history in the glass business. He lives in California. Brian is the author of Glass House.
"Lays out a step-by-step account of Anchor Hocking’s slide, benefitting not only from Alexander’s strong reporting, but from candid interviews with key players. What is revealed is a complex system – Alexander argues it is deliberately complex - that allows savvy investors to make relatively small, highly leveraged bets on companies like Anchor Hocking...A valuable contribution." —Forbes
"A devastating read...For anyone wondering why swing-state America voted against the establishment in 2016, Mr. Alexander supplies plenty of answers." —The Wall Street Journal
"[The book] really comes alive in Alexander’s portraits of the people caught up in the town’s unraveling...If you want to understand the despair that grips so much of this country, and the love of place that gives so many the strength to keep going, Glass House is a place to start." —Christian Science Monitor
"An examination of a town in Ohio that quite literally fell apart—and how that town in and of itself serves as a microcosm of the most pressing issues being faced in America today. From drug dealers to cops, from industry to finance, Alexander goes deep into the heart of what ails us and takes no prisoners." —Newsweek
"Lancaster, Ohio, was declared the All-American Town by Forbes in 1947; its Anchor Hocking Glass Company was the foundation of a healthy, booming community. The town began to crumble as the factory shut down, as with too many other once-vibrant American hubs, leaving its citizens dreaming of the good old days. This well-reported book is all the stronger given the author’s connection to it: Lancaster is Alexander’s hometown. Shades of JD Vance’s 'Hillbilly Elegy.'" —The New York Post
"For those still trying to fathom why the land of the free and the home of the brave opted for a crass, vituperative huckster with an unwavering fondness for alternative facts instead of the flawed oligarch Democrats served up, Brian Alexander has a story for you." —The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Reads like an odd—and oddly satisfying—fusion of George Packer’s The Unwinding and one of Michael Lewis’ real-life financial thrillers." —Laura Miller, Slate
"Gripping...There are those who argue that leveraged acquisitions and restructurings of the sort that Anchor Hocking has endured make companies more efficient and steer capital to better uses...Alexander makes a persuasive case, though, that from the perspective of Lancaster, it’s been one big fleecing... leaving behind a city with a weakened economic base and a shredded social fabric—and precious few resources to repair them with." —Bloomberg Businessweek
"Provocative." —The Columbus Dispatch
"Alexander deftly shows how Lancaster represents the collapse of the American dream in microcosm. The other Ohio. The other America. No New Deal awaits them. Their predicament is not covered on the evening news. But they have Trump." —Inequality.org
"A well documented examination of how this once flourishing Ohio town became something else altogether." —Dayton Daily News
"A particularly timely read for our tumultuous and divisive era." —Publishers Weekly
"Those mystified by the election of Donald Trump could well start here...A devastating and illuminating book that shows how a city and a country got where they are and how difficult it can be to reverse course." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Brian Alexander’s Glass House dramatizes vividly how a half-century of economic ‘progress’ dismantled America’s once-sturdy middle class. By focusing his narrative on the inhabitants of Lancaster, Ohio, Alexander personalizes this familiar story in a compelling, often surprising, and utterly heartbreaking way.”—Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It
"Brian Alexander’s Glass House reads more like a great novel. But I’ve driven by the Anchor Hocking plant (the Glass House of the title) at least several times a year since the mid-70s and seen its decay firsthand. Glass House is a fascinating, multi-layered, and superbly written account of how politics, corporate greed, low wages, and the recent heroin epidemic have nearly destroyed a once prosperous Midwestern city. This is a must read for anyone interested in really understanding the anger and frustration of blue collar workers and the middle class in America today." —Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Heavenly Table and The Devil All the Time
"So few journalists today spend time in America’s small towns, even though the people residing in them represent roughly half of the American population. In his remarkably nuanced Glass House, Brian Alexander gives readers an imbedded, close-up view of one iconic Ohio town — his hometown — that illuminates the lives that most politicians and urban dwellers seem to have forgotten. Part sociological study and part investigative business reporting, this book should be required reading for people trying to understand Trumpism, inequality, and the sad state of a needlessly wrecked rural America. I wish I had written it." —Beth Macy, author of Factory Man and (forthcoming) Truevine
"Glass House is a compelling and harrowing look at the corrosion of the social and economic institutions that once held us all together, from the corporate boardroom to the factory floor. It's the most heartbreaking tale of a city since Mike Davis's City of Quartz." —Victor Fleischer, Professor of Law, University of San Diego, and New York Times columnist
"A compassionate but clear-eyed description of how deindustrialization, financial speculation, union-busting and deregulation undermined the social fabric of Alexander's home town, illustrated with gripping personal stories." Stephanie Coontz, author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap
"An an extraordinarily important book at the exact moment it is most needed...Glass House concludes that, rather than some ill-explained and spontaneous decision of working people to suddenly become shiftless and lazy, there are actual real, straightforward and understandable institutional reasons for Lancaster's decline...Please, read Glass House. Read it especially if you read Hillbilly Elegy... a smart, sensible, approachable and eye-opening book that treats a complex topic with necessary sophistication while treating the real human beings at its center with the respect they deserve." —Craig Calcaterra