George's Reviews > Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City

Fordlandia by Greg Grandin
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Nov 28, 2009

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Read in November, 2009


“For most purposes a man with a machine is better than a man without a machine…”
—Henry Ford (pg. 246)

Greg Grandin’s, ‘Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City’ is an academic look at the sociological history of Henry Ford’s industrial empire, particularly during its waning decades (1928-1948), with particular emphasis on its failed efforts to develop a commercially viable rubber plantation / American village in the Brazilian Amazon.

The story does contain many interesting asides. To whit: Henry Ford’s longstanding regard for (his elder) Thomas Edison as a mentor and a friend; his friendship with Charles Lindbergh (having actually been taken on a ten minute flight in Lindbergh’s world-famous ‘Spirit of St. Louis’ airplane) (Pg. 3); and the fact that Walt Disney, himself, once visited Fordlandia (although Henry Ford never did), in 1941 (Pg. 346), perhaps gleaning some early inspiration for Disneyland’s Jungle Boat ride, to come a decade and a half later. It was also interesting to learn that the turn in the Ford empire’s fortunes where accompanied, in early 1932, by the publication of “Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World,’ with its forecast of a future made perverse by Fordism.” (pg. 244)

I was surprised to learn that Henry Ford might have been nearly illiterate, that he considered that “reading was like a drug habit,” is quoted as having said that “book sickness is a modern ailment,” and wondered aloud, “why should [he:] clutter [his:] mind with general information?”. (Pg. 55) Maybe he had a point. Reading is an addiction with which I can relate and it certainly does clutter the mind. [Good thing? Bad thing? :]

Recommendation: More accurately a ‘two-and-a-half star’ read, I would not suggest ‘Fordlandia’ for the top of your ‘to-read’ list, but it should be, at least, worthy of a spot on your ‘someday-aisle’.

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