“In the 20's, Henry Ford was at the very height of his powers; prophet and proponent of a New Era of wealth and progress based on his principles of industrial efficiency and the dignity of labor. Ford and Fordism were the 3ave of the future.
At just this time Ford came up with the idea of starting his own rubber plantation in the heart of the Amazon. Not only would he control his own source of precious latex, but he would show the world the kind of model community he believed in: a community in which a man was paid a fair wage for an honest day's labor and could go home to his own home and family and garden and farm his own plot of land, eschewing the modern vices of liquor, sloth, and sensual indulgence.
So the stage was thus set for the battle: Henry Ford's brand of Midwestern virtue and can-do attitude versus the rank, untamed wildness of the Amazon jungle.
It seems like a set-up for a farce, a tale of the utter failure of Ford's naive assembly-line philosophy when pitted against the mercilessness of the Amazon jungle -- and the project did finally end in failure -- but the story's actually more nuanced that that. Certainly Ford's Michigan engineers made some jaw-droppingly stupid mistakes in setting up this jungle community -- constructing Cape Cod cottages with tin roofs for the workers under the blazing Amazon sun; requiring workers to attend weekly square-dance sessions; insisting each home had a flower garden out front; and never even consulting experts in latex cultivation, which resulted in their planting their trees too close together so they were all wiped out by leaf blight -- but that would miss most of the complexity of the story.
Ford, for all his faults (and there were many), was the first and maybe only "industrial humanist" of his era. He honestly believed that his methods of industrial production along with the generous benefits he gave his workers -- free cradle-to-grave health care, good wages, quality housing and recreational facilities -- were the model for a new, edenic future for mankind. They weren't, of course, and Ford's assembly-line technology actually dehumanized his workers and turned them into cogs in a machine, something Ford could never bring himself to admit.
The failure of Fordlandia wasn't a matter of hubris, though. It was more like a series of engineering blunders that finally resulted in a very inferior product. The land was finally returned to the Brazilian government, who now grow soybeans on it, using techniques that encourage the horrific rates of deforestation we see today.
Grandin's book is thorough and exhaustive, and that's maybe its worst fault. We _want_ this to be a tale of hubris, of Henry Ford getting his comeuppance for trying to conquer the Amazon with time clocks and assembly lines, but the story's more complicated than that, and more nuanced. Instead of getting a parable about the futility of man against nature, we get an account of bad luck and bad engineering.”
“Too self-serving!!!!!”Sally B wrote this review Sunday, July 11, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Very solid history of the bizarre attempt of Henry Ford to create a midwestern city in the mist of the Amazon jungle. Brazil once was the leading producer of rubber in the wold, but an Englishman smuggled out rubber tree seeds and the plants were taken to Southeast Asia and the bottom fell out of the market. In the 1920's Ford was pursuaded to buy land in Brazil the size of the state of New Jersey and try to rebuild the rubber industry there. The jungle won.”Nils M wrote this review Saturday, June 5, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Latex for tires was the only component of the auto manufacturing process that Henry Ford could not make in his plants. So when Ford bought a parcel of land in the Amazon jungle, his plan to build a rubber plantation was hailed as a triumph and the launch of a "new and titanic fight between nature and modern man." Fordlandia, as it would be called, was a planned community, with New England style houses, running water, and rules of behavior for its inhabitants. Ford's intention was to bring civilization to the jungle and its inhabitants and "the dawn of a new day for Brazilian prosperity." But as Ford soon learned, taming the jungle was a daunting job. ”Suzanne F wrote this review Tuesday, March 16, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Remember when "Fordism" was a force for good. It didn't last and this account of Henry the First's jungle adventure forms part of the argument against....oh yeah there was also that pesky anti-Semitism.”geko a wrote this review Friday, March 5, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“i need a 2 1/2 star rating - i did like it i guess but it was hard to get a grip on all the names of the people who worked for Henry Ford & all the problems of bugs, disease, the topography of Brazil & so on. Fordlandia was a place that FOrd built in Brazil, envisioning an American town in the middle of the Amazon whose economy would revolve around his rubber plantation & supply him with cheap rubber. it never worked out & FOrd appears to be somewhat of a madman & a contradiction, in this, & in many of his endeavours.”elspbeth wrote this review Sunday, January 17, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“...rather dry read. Interesting but booged down by turgid reporting and relentless detail. ”gary h wrote this review Friday, October 30, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“If the author's purpose was to convince people to hate Henry Ford more, then he may have succeeded with some who live on one coast or the other, or humanities professors at public universities. The book truly is well-researched, well-documented and well-written. Once I got into it, it was actually fun to read. But it took me a while to get used to the author's cheap pot-shots, condescending sarcasm and intellectually dishonest, dissembling analyses. The attempt to parallel Ford's jungle adventure with the war in Iraq is a prime example. Another one was: Ford claimed his foremost concern was the welfare of his workers and their families; however he opposed unionization. This, apparently, is supposed to speak for itself. But does it mean that Ford did not really care for his workers or does it mean that he was a moron? Did Ford actually think that giving workers good jobs with full benefits entitled him to run his own company?? After that point in the book, I began to enjoy how the fascinating and very scholarly historical presentation alternated with laugh-out-loud absurdity. For example, Ford was able, 20 years posthumously, to control the conduct of the Vietnam War through the person Robert McNamara; Ford is revealed as world-class evil villain by his accepting a medal from Adolph Hitler, which the author insinuates was a reward for Ford’s approval of Hitler’s as-of-then unhatched plan to incinerate 6 million people whom Ford didn’t like either; Ford, with his ill-fated rubber plantation is continuing to destroy 'our' rain forest (and hence in years to come all life on earth as we know it) because crooked loggers are milling lumber 60 years after his death at a sawmill built on the site of Fordlandia; changing the landscape, if undertaken by a private individual such as Henry Ford, is evil. However if his plan to do so, (including extensive planning and engineering) is later used by the U.S. government and implemented as planned (with an important government name like Tennessee Valley Authority instead of a dumb farm-boy name like Fordville) then that is nothing less than heroic. Indeed, the author's reverence of the Roosevelt government is overshadowed only by his glee over the fact that the evil, illiterate, racist, anti-semitic .... CAPITALIST was not paid a dime for all the money, time and effort he and many others put into creating the plan. The juxtaposition of the U.S. government using Ford's idea for this social experiment, after dismissively rejecting it as stupid, and humiliating Ford to boot against pre-war Germany giving him a medal for creating manufacturing processes which were used with great success by the Third Reich could have been used to much greater effect. I'd like to think that the author considered it and then rejected it as too ridiculous, but it wouldn't have been the most ridiculous thing in the book. ”Gregg wrote this review Thursday, October 8, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Interesting when it discusses Henry Ford's eccentricity and the settlement and life there. Not so interesting when it describes the vicissitudes of Brazilian logging permit acquisition and mercantile diplomacy.”Joshua G wrote this review Monday, September 14, 2009. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No