First line: "The profit-sharing plan of the Ford Motor Company is after all but a development in harmony with the march of education; a practical expression of a correct conception of the truest Christianity."
Tony Grams is an Italian immigrant who finds himself working for the Ford Motor Company at the inception of a plan to minimize the sky-rocketing turn over in the auto industry. Ford is gaining momentum as the demand for cars rise. But the only way to keep his assembly line moving and his cars affordable is to keep his workers in their jobs. So he devises a plan to increase wages and offer profit-sharing, but the trade-off for this is that the workers have to lead moral lives: no gambling, no drinking, no cheating on your spouse, save money and keep a clean, respectable home. The theory is that this immoral behaviors would only be distractions to their work on the line: coming in hung over or not at all, not paying attention because they're worried about gambling debts, etc. So Ford has a whole division specifically to verify that its workers are staying on the straight-and-narrow. Tony Grams is one of those "advisers." He has to go into people's homes and determine if they are worthy of the profit-sharing.
"In the foundry, they make parts. On the line, they make autos. But in Sociological, we make men."
As the first World War pulls America into its clutches and issues of Socialism and Communism, labor unions, Women's Suffrage, and racial integration all bear down on Detroit, Michigan, Tony finds his role as "Education Adviser" becomes increasingly complicated and his own moral compass has difficulty finding true North.
With a large family depending on him and his income, doing the right thing isn't always clear and it is rarely easy.
I was very intrigued by the idea of this book after having read Bill Bryson's One Summer and learning about Henry Ford's moral code for his workers. Enfield's idea to take the perspective of one of these investigators was too good to pass up.
Much of the well-researched history was fascinating; not your average history class facts. From Ford's Peace Ship to the American Protective League (APL), I felt as though I was learning about a whole world I never knew before. The added element of the immigrant's viewpoint throws more complexity in the mix.
While The New Man isn't written as a suspense novel, there is a strong tension in the plot as colleague turns on colleague. Grams mentions at one point in the novel that he suspects Ford purposefully pits his employees against each other to see what they will do.
Ford was obviously the driving force behind this employment concept, but he plays a very insignificant role in the novel. Instead, the focus is on those who are most affected--the men on the front line.
The early Twentieth Century was indeed a time of change and advancement in the United States, but The New Men is a reminder that many people paid dearly for that change.
The prose was often broken up with quoted/italicized sections. I sometimes found these sections a bit confusing; Either I didn't readily know where they were coming from or they seemed out of place for what was going on at the time. This may have been due in part to reading my advance .pdf copy on an ereader. The formatting translations aren't always the best.
All in all, I found The New Men to be an enlightening read and would recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the auto industry and/or early Twentieth Century American history. Or, if you are like me and the idea of this moral standard being tied to wages in our Capitalist society piques your interest, check out The New Men.
The New Men is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 978-1938757129) from Wayzgoose Press.
My review of The New Men is part of the blog tour with TLC Book Tours. You can see what other bloggers have to say about the book by visiting the website.
Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work does not involve this tour or any other tour I would agree to be a part of here at the blog. Nor does my work with them obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.