Umbrex has developed this list of the best books on the manufacturing industry based on input from the management consultants in our community, our clients, and other professionals.
We believe that to serve a client effectively, it is helpful to have a deep context on the history of the client’s industry, including prominent companies, individuals, and technologies.
This list of best books on the manufacturing industry is a work in progress, not a final answer, and we invite you to submit your recommendations on our Contact page.
We also invite you to check out our list of the best podcasts on the manufacturing industry.
Joshua Benjamin Freeman
“Freeman’s rich and ambitious Behemoth depicts a world in retreat that still looms large in the national imagination.…More than an economic history, or a chronicle of architectural feats and labor movements.” —Jennifer Szalai, New York Times
In an accessible and timely work of scholarship, celebrated historian Joshua B. Freeman tells the story of the factory and examines how it has reflected both our dreams and our nightmares of industrialization and social change. He whisks readers from the early textile mills that powered the Industrial Revolution to the factory towns of New England to today’s behemoths making sneakers, toys, and cellphones in China and Vietnam. Behemoth offers a piercing perspective on how factories have shaped our societies and the challenges we face now.Read moreRead less
An epic account of the decades-long battle to control what has emerged as the world’s most critical resource—microchip technology—with the United States and China increasingly in conflict.
You may be surprised to learn that microchips are the new oil—the scarce resource on which the modern world depends. Today, military, economic, and geopolitical power are built on a foundation of computer chips. Virtually everything—from missiles to microwaves, smartphones to the stock market—runs on chips. Until recently, America designed and built the fastest chips and maintained its lead as the #1 superpower. Now, America’s edge is slipping, undermined by competitors in Taiwan, Korea, Europe, and, above all, China. Today, as Chip War reveals, China, which spends more money each year importing chips than it spends importing oil, is pouring billions into a chip-building initiative to catch up to the US. At stake is America’s military superiority and economic prosperity.
Economic historian Chris Miller explains how the semiconductor came to play a critical role in modern life and how the U.S. become dominant in chip design and manufacturing and applied this technology to military systems. America’s victory in the Cold War and its global military dominance stems from its ability to harness computing power more effectively than any other power. But here, too, China is catching up, with its chip-building ambitions and military modernization going hand in hand. America has let key components of the chip-building process slip out of its grasp, contributing not only to a worldwide chip shortage but also a new Cold War with a superpower adversary that is desperate to bridge the gap.
Illuminating, timely, and fascinating, Chip War shows that, to make sense of the current state of politics, economics, and technology, we must first understand the vital role played by chips.Read moreRead less
The industrial revolution, mechanization, water and steam power, computers, and automation have given an enormous boost to manufacturing productivity. “Faster, Better, Cheaper” in the History of Manufacturing shows how the ability to make products faster, better, and cheaper has evolved from the stone age to modern times. It explains how different developments over time have raised efficiency and allowed the production of more and better products with less effort and materials, and hence faster, better, and cheaper. In addition, it describes the stories of inventors, entrepreneurs, and industrialists and looks at the intersection between technology, society, machines, materials, management, and – most of all – humans.
“Faster, Better, Cheaper” in the History of Manufacturing follows this development throughout the ages. This book covers not only the technical aspects (mechanization, power sources, new materials, interchangeable parts, electricity, automation), but organizational innovations (division of labor, Fordism, Talyorism, Lean). Most of all, it is a story of the people that invented, manufactured, and marketed the products.
The book shows how different developments over time raised efficiency and allowed production of more with less effort and materials, which brought us a large part of the wealth and prosperity we enjoy today. The stories of real inventors and industrialists are told, which includes not only their successes but also their problems and failures. The effect of good or bad management on manufacturing is a recurring theme in many chapters, as is the fight for intellectual property through thrilling tales of espionage. This is a story of successes and failures. It is not only about technology but also about social aspects. Ultimately, it is not a book about machines but about people!Read moreRead less
An overview of the state of manufacturing in America—both past and present—and how this sector and the jobs it creates are essential to the American economy.
In Made in the USA, Vaclav Smil powerfully rebuts the notion that manufacturing is a relic of predigital history and that the loss of American manufacturing is a desirable evolutionary step toward a pure service economy. Smil argues that no advanced economy can prosper without a strong, innovative manufacturing sector and the jobs it creates.
Smil explains how manufacturing became a fundamental force behind America’s economic, strategic, and social dominance. He describes American manufacturing’s rapid rise at the end of the nineteenth century, its consolidation and modernization between the two world wars, its role as an enabler of mass consumption after 1945, and its recent decline. Some economists argue that shipping low-value jobs overseas matters little because the high-value work remains in the United States. But, asks Smil, do we want a society that consists of a small population of workers doing high-value-added work and masses of unemployed?
Smil assesses various suggestions for solving America’s manufacturing crisis, including lowering corporate tax rates, promoting research and development, and improving public education. Will America act to preserve and reinvigorate its manufacturing? It is crucial to our social and economic well-being; but, Smil warns, the odds are no better than even.
“There’s no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil.” —Bill GatesRead moreRead less
3D Robotics co-founder and bestselling author Chris Anderson takes you to the front lines of a new industrial revolution as today’s entrepreneurs, using open source design and 3-D printing, bring manufacturing to the desktop.
In an age of custom-fabricated, do-it-yourself product design and creation, the collective potential of a million garage tinkerers and enthusiasts is about to be unleashed, driving a resurgence of American manufacturing. A generation of “Makers” using the Web’s innovation model will help drive the next big wave in the global economy, as the new technologies of digital design and rapid prototyping gives everyone the power to invent–creating “the long tail of things.”Read moreRead less
Stephen B. Adams and Orville R. Butler
Manufacturing the Future: A History of Western Electric is the first full-length history of the Western Electric Company, the manufacturing arm of the Bell System. As a manufacturer in the communications revolutions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Western Electric made new products such as telegraphs, telephones, an early computing machine, radios, radar, and transistors. The book demonstrates, through Western’s 1882 acquisition by Bell Telephone, that vertical integration was a lengthy process rather than a single event. It also shows the coming of age of industrial psychology and describes the advent of civil rights in corporate America.Read moreRead less
William D. Cohan
The dramatic rise—and unimaginable fall—of America’s most iconic corporation by New York Times bestselling author and pre-eminent financial journalist William D. Cohan.
No company embodied American ingenuity, innovation, and industrial power more spectacularly and more consistently than the General Electric Company. GE once developed and manufactured many of the inventions we take for granted today, nearly everything from the lightbulb to the jet engine. GE also built a cult of financial and leadership success envied across the globe and became the world’s most valuable and most admired company. But even at the height of its prestige and influence, cracks were forming in its formidable foundation.
In a masterful re-appraisal of a company that once claimed to “bring good things to life,” pre-eminent financial journalist William D. Cohan argues that the incredible story of GE’s rise and fall is not only a paragon, but also a prism through which we can better understand American capitalism. Beginning with its founding, innovations, and exponential growth through acquisitions and mergers, Cohan plumbs the depths of GE’s storied management culture, its pioneering doctrine of shareholder value, and its seemingly hidden blind spots, to reveal that GE wasn’t immune from the hubris and avoidable mistakes suffered by many other corporations.
In Power Failure, Cohan punctures the myth of GE, exploring in a rich narrative how a once-great company wound up broken and in tatters—a cautionary tale for the ages.
The New Yorker Best Books of 2022
Financial Times Best Books of 2022
The Economist Best Books of 2022
James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones
The classic, nationally bestselling book that first articulated the principles of lean production, with a new foreword and afterword by the authors.
When The Machine That Changed the World was first published in 1990, Toyota was half the size of General Motors. Twenty years later Toyota passed GM as the world’s largest auto maker. This management classic was the first book to reveal Toyota’s lean production system that is the basis for its enduring success.
Authors Womack, Jones, and Roos provided a comprehensive description of the entire lean system. They exhaustively documented its advantages over the mass production model pioneered by General Motors and predicted that lean production would eventually triumph. Indeed, they argued that it would triumph not just in manufacturing but in every value-creating activity from health care to retail to distribution.
Today The Machine That Changed the World provides enduring and essential guidance to managers and leaders in every industry seeking to transform traditional enterprises into exemplars of lean success.Read moreRead less
The acclaimed author of Strategic Capitalism presents a provocative new vision of global industry in the age of 3-D printing: “essential business reading” (Kirkus, starred review).
With books like Hypercompetition and Strategic Capitalism, Richard D’Aveni has established himself as a business strategist of uncanny prescience. In The Pan-Industrial Revolution, he demonstrates how the advent of industrial‑scale 3‑D printing is already happening under the radar, and that it will have a far‑reaching impact that most corporate and governmental leaders have yet to anticipate or understand.
3-D printing, now called additive manufacturing, has moved far beyond a desktop technology used by hobbyists to churn out trinkets and toys. In this eye-opening account, D’Aveni reveals how recent breakthroughs have been secretly adapted by Fortune 500 companies to revolutionize the manufacture jet engines, airplanes, automobiles, and so much more.
D’Aveni explains how this technology will transform the landscape of manufacturing, and the dramatic effect this change will have on the world economy. A handful of massively powerful corporations—what D’Aveni calls pan‑industrials—will become as important as any tech giant in re-structuring the global order.Read moreRead less
New York Times Bestseller: “A historical overview of the auto industry in the United States and Japan [and] the gradual decline of U.S. manufacturing” (Library Journal).
After generations of creating high-quality automotive products, American industrialists began losing ground to the Japanese auto industry in the decades after World War II. David Halberstam, with his signature precision and absorbing narrative style, traces this power shift by delving into the boardrooms and onto the factory floors of the America’s Ford Motor Company and Japan’s Nissan. Different in every way—from their reactions to labor problems to their philosophies and leadership styles—the two companies stand as singular testaments to the challenges brought by the rise of the global economy.
From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Fifties and The Coldest Winter, and filled with intriguing vignettes about Henry Ford, Lee Iacocca, and other visionary industrial leaders, The Reckoning remains a powerful and enlightening story about manufacturing in the modern age, and how America fell woefully behind.Read moreRead less
The future of the American economy is hiding in an unlikely place: the manufacturing sector.
While Silicon Valley titans dominate headlines, many of the fastest-growing, most profitable companies in the United States are firms you’ve likely never heard of, such as HEICO, Trex, and Casella. These booming companies belong to a burgeoning sector—industrial tech—that offers surprising hope to workers, consumers, and investors alike.
Their role: to make a range of products—aerospace parts, for example, or recycled plastic lumber—that quietly form the backbone of America’s biggest industries.
In an age of instability, industrial tech is a cornerstone of our economic future. In this book, McKinsey veterans Asutosh Padhi, Gaurav Batra, and Nick Santhanam reveal the “titanium economy,” a modern, reinvented industrial sector complete with high-paying, domestic jobs;, soaring stock prices;, and critical infrastructure. They dispel the myth that the best of American manufacturing is behind us and illuminate an opportunity for a brighter future—if we can seize it.
A Wall Street Journal bestsellerRead moreRead less
Richard J. Schonberger
In his best-selling book Japanese Manufacturing Techniques, Richard J. Schonberger revolutionized American manufacturing theory and, more important, practice. In that breakthrough book, he revealed that Japanese manufacturing excellence was not culturally bound. Offering the first demystified explanation of the simple techniques that fueled Japan’s industrial success, he demonstrated how the same methods could be put to work as effectively in U.S. plants. Now, in World Class Manufacturing, Schonberger returns to tell the success stories of nearly 100 American corporations — including Hewlett-Packard, Harley-Davidson, General Motors, Honeywell, and Uniroyal — that have adopted the famed just-in-time production and “total quality control” strategies. Based on his firsthand experience as a major consultant to American industry, he examines how they did it — and illustrates how the same concrete, specific steps used by these top companies can be implemented in any factory today. What’s more, Schonberger shows that his bold concepts and reforms apply equally to all industries, whether the product is computers, pasta, or trucks, and to all divisions — from manufacturing and engineering to accounting and marketing. According to Schonberger, world-class manufacturing depends on blended management — rather than domination by a separate group of managers — which marshalls resources for continual rapid improvement. To achieve world-class status, companies must change procedures and concepts, which in turn leads to recasting relations among suppliers, purchasers, producers, and customers.
Acknowledging the difficulty inherent in such changes, Schonberger stresses that employee involvement and interaction, both on the shop floor and in the decision-making/problem-solving process, is key. Wary of those who view improvement in terms of modernizing equipment, he points out that making maximum use of people and current machinery is a company’s first priority; automation, if necessary, should come much later. World Class Manufacturing also includes Schonberger’s 17-point action agenda to guide innovators toward manufacturing excellence, from getting to know the customer to cutting the number of suppliers, reducing error in production, and deciding when and how to automate. Indispensable for all manufacturing innovators who aim to keep ahead of the competition, this inspiring, groundbreaking volume does much more than just recommend or theorize about the new manufacturing approach. Plainly, realistically, and logically, it explains how it’s done.Read moreRead less