Book Reviews

‘The Human Costs of iPhone’

 It was interesting to see the Chinese workers provide an answer to management that was the same used by Wobblies in the U.S. in the early 1900s!

This book is a major contribution to understanding the situations of Chinese workers and it is extremely well done.

—Kim Scipes, CounterPunch, 29 Sep 2021

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Journal of Asian Studies: a new Book Review of Dying for an iPhone

Dying for an iPhone by Jenny Chan, Mark Selden, and Pun Ngai is a detailed unpacking and deconstruction of the tales that Foxconn and Apple spewed to the world…. We learn of the use of student interns, of the differential ways in which young men and women negotiated their loves and desires, and of the near-impossible business of marriage for a young worker. We learn as well of factory explosions, disabled workers, electrical shocks, neurological defects from toxins such as n-Hexane (used to wipe the screen of the iPad), of inadequate workers’ insurance, of struggles for compensation through the legal system, and of financially ruined families…. Dying for an iPhone … should be studied as a model for how to do long-term collaborative research, which arguably has not been practiced enough in the study of contemporary China…. Finally, the book is addressed to all of us—to the consumers of Apple’s machines. It is especially useful for a critical pedagogy of the tech industry.’

—Ralph Litzinger, The Journal of Asian Studies

August 2021, 80(3), pp. 707-8 

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Book Review from Dr ZHOU Yang, Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong

Global Media and Communication

First Published August 7, 2021

“Overall, with its historical and theoretical in-depth, global and comprehensive in scope, Dying for an iPhone represents a landmark contribution to debates about Chinese labour politics. It also adds new threads to critical communication scholarship as it enriches our understanding of the relationship between communication and labour, by charting the labour politics underlying the expansion of global digital capitalism and embedded in the material base of digital communications infrastructure. It is recommended reading for anyone who wishes to reflect on the underlying human sufferings when digital technologies become mundane.”

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Book Review: Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and the Lives of China’s Workers

Charlie Smith, University of Leicester, UK

Work, Employment and Society

First Published 23 Jul2021

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The China Journal, Vol.86, July 2021

‘Factory investigations have a distinguished history stretching from Friedrich Engels’s Conditions of the Working Class in England to Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, to the sweatshop exposés of the late 1990s and early 2000s. In Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and the Lives of China’s Workers, Jenny Chan, Mark Selden, and Pun Ngai add to this tradition with an in-depth study of the manufacture of iPhones…’

—Manfred Elfstrom, The China Journal

Vol. 86, July 2021, pp. 116-18

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Book Review: Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and the Lives of China’s Workers;

Strategizing against Sweatshops: The Global Economy, Student Activism, and Worker Empowerment

—Chris Tilly, Humanity & Society

23 June 2021 (online first)

Dying for an iPhone and Strategizing against Sweatshops (henceforth Dying and Strategizing) each studies a particular supply chain and a particular set of social and economic actors.… Dying is a masterful work of muckraking, one that catalogues in painful detail the suffering of Chinese workers in Apple’s supply chain, above all in the plants of the Taiwanese-owned Foxconn (the world’s largest manufacturer), while consistently humanizing those workers and their aspirations…. Dying’s analysis of political economy and Strategizing’s analysis of, well, strategy point to both the challenges and the opportunities for an internationalist approach to labor.’

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The Real i in the Apple Universe—The State of Workers in a ‘Workers’ State’

Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. 56, Issue No. 23, 5 June 2021

By Anand Parappadi KRISHNAN

Divided into 12 chapters, along with four appendixes, the book covers all the different aspects related to the ecosystem of Foxconn and its intertwined relationship with Apple, exploring the experiences on the factory floors and assembly lines on the one hand, and the lives of young workers in working as well as living spaces on the other.

One of the two important hallmarks of the book is how the authors have throughout persevered relentlessly in bringing to relief the intertwined business models and relationships of Apple and Foxconn…. The other equally important hallmark of the book is the symbiotic relationship between Foxconn and the Chinese party-state, especially provincial and sub-provincial governments.

The book truly covers a vast canvas and travels through the worlds of work in China and shows how workers are integral to the large ecosystem of corporations that transcend territorial boundaries; and whose profit maximisation is at the cost of dehumanising the workers who manufacture their state-of-the art, hi-tech products.

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Dan V. Hirslund, The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies

March 2021

Dying for an iPhone is an important book.…why iPhones continue to kill despite the advances made in ‘fair trade’ and other solidarity movements… Workers and disenfranchised populations all over the globe are feeling the brunt of capitalism’s advances in the past decades. But what sort(s) of movement(s) would it take to confront the unequal accumulation of profits and behind-the-scenes political alliances that spur the continued success of companies like Apple and Foxconn?’

A Chinese Dystopia: Designed in California
Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn and the Lives of China’s Workers
By Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn and the Lives of China’s Workers
Reviewed by Nelson Lichtenstein

New Labor Forum

First Published February 15, 2021 

New Labor Forum Editorial Board member Nelson Lichtenstein, in a review of Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn and the Lives of China’s Workers, recounts how authors Jenny Chan, Mark Selden, and Pun Ngai went undercover to interview scores of workers at Foxconn, the Chinese firm at the bottom of the Apple supply chain.

China’s Workers Battle Apple and Foxconn

By: Nicki Lisa Cole Winter 2021 (New Politics Vol. XVIII No. 2, Whole Number 70)

Le livre nous replonge dans cet univers grâce à des témoignages détaillés et à des documents inédits.’
(The book takes us back to this universe with detailed testimonies and unpublished documents. )

Work, Globalization, Asia, China

Jordan Pouille, Le Monde diplomatique (December 2020)

How to Do Case Study Research,” by Professor Tony Dundon (University of Limerick),

1 November 2020 (28’20”)

Powering Digital Transformation in the Built Environment: a Discussion on Digital Twin Technology dotLAB Radio

How are digital technologies transforming the construction and renovation industries? Which projects are working towards making our buildings, facilities, and public spaces smarter? Host Patrick Haughey (Founder and MD of Audiobrand) sits down with Kieran Mahon (Smart DCU Projects Facilitator Manager), Richard Kelly (Estates Manager at DCU), and Sarah Ingle (Secretary General of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland) to discuss how digital tech is making Europe's built environments more energy efficient and sustainable. Tune in to the latest dotLAB Radio episode and learn more about how deep renovation efforts are shaping our cities – and universities! – by applying technologies like 3D digital twin models to inform infrastructure development, accelerate standardisation processes, increase citizen engagement, and drive decarbonisation to better reach 2030 climate goals. This episode of dotLAB Radio is sponsored by RINNO, a Horizon 2020 project that aims to deliver a set of processes for managing deep renovation projects.
  1. Powering Digital Transformation in the Built Environment: a Discussion on Digital Twin Technology
  2. The Irish start-up experience: PeachyLean & FizFit

RNZ (Radio New Zealand), “The Politics and Harsh Realities behind our Technology,”

by Dr Brian Roper (Associate Professor at The University of Otago), 8 September 2020
(total run time: 15 mins 48 secs)

A Book review by Dr Joe Buckley

British Journal of Industrial Relations: An International Journal of Employment Relations
Published date: 23 August 2020

‘Putting aside the title’s glib pun — a reference to the suicides of some factory workers in China who make Apple products — this book is a thorough overview of an important topic. Despite best efforts to “decouple” tech supply chains between US firms and Chinese factories, our iPhones and other gadgets are still largely made in China, and we have a responsibility to know their human and environmental, as well as pecuniary, price. This exposé — dramatically written, but chock full of statistics — chronicles the deaths, unpaid overtime, and other abuses of factories, with a special focus on Apple partner Foxconn. Drawing on interviews with both workers and managers, it will make you look twice at your phone.’

— Alec Ash, The Wire China, 20 Sep 2020

Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and the Lives of China’s Workers

Elaine Lu, Labor Notes, September 11, 2020 

Complete Book review

A damning indictment of Apple’s labor and supply practices.

Chan, Selden, and Pun persuasively argue that the relationship between Apple and shadowy Chinese manufacturing giant Foxconn epitomizes the brutality of globalized late-stage capitalism. “In summer 2010,” write the authors, “we collaborated with researchers from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to conduct undercover research at Foxconn’s major manufacturing sites….Our effort to engage the corporations in discussion of labor responsibility produced only corporate rationalizations and platitudes.” The authors investigate Foxconn’s aggressive rise, propelled by mysterious CEO Terry Gou, seemingly determined to create a Maoist workers’ cult complete with slogans and surveillance. Still, “while Foxconn carved out a niche as the exclusive final assembler of the iPhone, the lion’s share of the profits was captured by Apple.” The authors merge deep dives into data with chilling testimonials from workers, including some who attempted suicide. “All of us log long hours of overtime with only two rest days in the entire month,” said one worker regarding the demands for iPad production. Due to such pressures, “fire hazards and metallic dust explosions had put workers’ lives at severe risk, with Apple complicit along with its supplier network.” Although their focus is the corrosive effect of Foxconn on China’s labor market, the authors address subtopics including exploitative internship programs, environmental issues, and workers’ efforts to organize for better treatment, opposed by the company and the government. This contrasts uncomfortably with Apple’s hip, progressive public image. “We can speak of a veritable cult of Apple,” write the authors, “with tens of thousands of consumers tracking each corporate unveiling of a new design.” Although their tone is dry, they harness disturbing and varied evidence, including anecdotes, corporate communications, and first-person accounts, creating a compelling exposé of what lies behind one of the most recognizable icons of consumerism.

A valuable contribution to an overdue discussion about technology and privilege.


Dying for an iPhone is deeply researched, comprehensively annotated and fuelled by anger. The globalised system, in which corporations subcontract responsibility alongside manufacturing, leaves enormous gaps in accountability and justice.”

Mike Cormack, The South China Morning Post, 30 April 2020

“Dying for an iPhone, by sociologists Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai, tackles head-on the unsavoury practices associated in the Chinese factories that produce Apple’s bestselling product.”

Olicer Farry, The Irish Times, 23 May 2020

Ultimately, are Foxconn’s factories in China an outlier, or representative of labour conditions? As Foxconn reaches to other jurisdictions, will the same labour practices also be exported, or will international and domestic law be enforced to curb the abuses? To the first question, China Labour Bulletin (CLB) can emphatically answer that the specific problems researched and studied in the book are representative of broader labour conditions, from limits on freedom of association and collective bargaining, to employers dodging labour laws with impunity, and workers being given the run-around across the bureaucracy when attempting to enforce basic rights. As for the second question, Dying for an iPhone powerfully shows that international attention and consumer awareness are not enough momentum for systemic change. The solution lies in empowering workers themselves to participate at the factory level. Indeed, international solidarity is more important than ever to support workers in finding representation to hold responsible parties accountable.’

By China Labour Bulletin, 7 September 2020

 Steve Hanson

Manchester Review of Books, 5 June 2020

China’s workers unionise and militate for better conditions.’

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Eli Friedman

Co-editor of China on Strike

“Dying for an iPhone is far and away the most comprehensive account of the lives and working conditions of the people who produce what is perhaps the iconic commodity of the 21st century—the iPhone. But it is much more than that. We also see how Apple and Foxconn, working within a neoliberal trade regime promoted by the US, Taiwanese, and Chinese governments alike, transcended national boundaries to develop a brutally exploitative system of labor discipline. It is an incisive account of the social dislocation, but also the resistance, wrought when capitalists of many nations unite against workers. Global in outlook while still presenting fine-grained and highly engaging accounts of workers’ lived experiences, this book is a shining example of public scholarship.”

Nicole Aschoff

Author of The Smartphone Society:Technology, Power, and Resistance in the New Gilded Age

“Holding a sleek new iPhone in our hands it is difficult to imagine the brutal work lives of the people who assemble our smartphones. In Dying for an iPhone Jenny Chan, Mark Selden, and Pun Ngai make this reality visible. Drawing on in-depth field work and a deep knowledge of the global electronics industry, the authors demonstrate not only the steep human cost of our love affair with smartphones, but also the fierce struggles by Chinese workers to improve their working conditions.” 

Emily Kenway 

The Times Literary Supplement (TLS),
17 July 2020

‘While the book tells the story of the strategic exploitation of a million-strong workforce, at its heart are the individual struggles of the workers themselves, conveyed in their lyrics, poetry and statements. “Each screw turns diligently / but they can’t turn around our future”, writes one. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has said that his mission, and that of the company, is “to serve humanity”; Dying for an iPhone calls into question that aim and the ethics of our globalized economy as a whole.’ 

Jenny Hamilton


‘The runaway success of products like iPhones and iPads have made Apple one of the most preeminent tech firms of the twenty-first century. Yet much of the company’s profitability depends on cheap labor to assemble its products, and the Taiwanese company Foxconn is among their chief suppliers. Chan, Selden, and Pun draw on financial reports, news media, and interviews with Foxconn workers to examine the true cost of the gadgets so many Americans carry in their pockets and purses. As the Chinese government resists enacting or enforcing worker protections, Foxconn employees are forced to work grueling hours at low pay, under conditions that threaten their mental and physical health. Although Apple touts its commitment to ethical business practices, it continues to permit Foxconn to bust unions, set unrealistic work and quality quotas, and take advantage of vulnerable workers through exploitative contracts and “internship” programs. Dying for an iPhone balances heartbreaking worker interviews with carefully compiled employment and financial data from Apple and Foxconn to present a compelling case against the tech giant and its suppliers.’

What other reviewer Say

“When reading chapters describing the assembly line experience of workers, and the scientific management system, I could only compare it to the chapter in Marx’s Capital, when we are taken into the hidden abode of production. Dying for an iPhone is truly a great achievement to present such incisive description and analysis in a highly readable and accessible form.”

Jeffery Hermanson,
International Union Educational League

“Critical, accessible, and rigorously researched, this book offers the most comprehensive analysis of Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics factory: its bleak landscape, dire consequences, and inspiring efforts to change it for the better.”

Wendy Liu
Author of Abolish Silicon Valley: How to Liberate Technology from Capitalism

Dying for an iPhone takes readers deep inside the dark Satanic mills of Foxconn’s industrial empire. Drawing on the words of the workers themselves, the book offers an invaluable portrait of the Chinese working class as it pumps blood (sometimes literally) into the productive heart of world capitalism.”

Ben Tarnoff
Co-founder of Logic Magazine

“A deep dive into exploitation and labour struggle in the world of high-tech electronics manufacturing in China during the past decade. Dying for an iPhone is an expose of the human suffering behind the brands. Everyone should read this.”

Hsiao-Hung Pai
Taiwanese journalist

“A sobering investigation into the human, social and environmental costs of producing the devices we have come to rely on, a process in which both corporations and we, the consumers, are complicit.”

Nick Holdstock
Author of Chasing the Chinese Dream

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