Book Reviews


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Review of Dying for an iPhone by Young-Suk Lee (in Korean, with English translation)

Why did 18 Foxconn Chinese workers commit suicide?

Young-Suk Lee

Professor Emeritus, Gwangju University (25 November 2021)

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‘In contrast to treating migrant workers as factorial resources, the three authors with sociological and historical backgrounds provide a bottom‐up perspective, focusing on the economic, social and political exploitation of migrant workers.… Dying for an iPhone coagulates the efforts of labour activists and scholars under an increasing authoritarian state over the past decade, which is truly inspiring. It is a must‐read for academics and also wider audiences.’

—Hui XU, New Technology, Work and Employment

First Published 20 Oct 2021

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‘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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 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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