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

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  3,262 ratings  ·  439 reviews
The stunning, never before told story of the quixotic attempt to recreate small-town America in the heart of the Amazon.

In 1927, Henry Ford, the richest man in the world, bought a tract of land twice the size of the U.S. state of Delaware in the Brazilian Amazon. His intention was to grow rubber, but the project rapidly evolved into a more ambitious bid to export America i
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published June 9th 2009 by Metropolitan Books
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Petra X in quarantine again with her kitties
I gave this up. Rating 3-4 star for the author's writing and reportage. I just couldn't stomach the subject. The book had got as far as Ford deciding to build a city - Fordlandia - in the Amazon and kick out Indians who were in the way, employ others who looked docile and might learn, and import other workforce as needed. He wanted to cut out the middleman for rubber and have the cheapest manufacturing possible. He also wanted to utterly control the lives of all his workers.

He paid well. He expe
Patrick Gibson
Nov 15, 2009 rated it liked it
“What happened here?”

I say that a lot.

For a person who likes decay and ruin, New Mexico is an entropy-enthusiasts wet dream. My hobby is exploring ghost towns. Love ‘em, and can’t explain why. You want to find a town taken off the maps a century ago? Chances are I can take you there.

The other morning, I was getting my hit of and came across a picture of an abandoned street of perfectly preserved clapboard houses complete with porches and picket fences. The caption read ‘For
Susan (the other Susan)
UPDATE: Rereading (relistening to the excellent audiobook) and finding it fascinating the second time around. As with a lot of information-rich books, this one has a great deal to absorb.

This reads like dystopian fiction, but it's the true story of Henry Ford's maniacal ego, as evidenced by his ill-fated attempt to create a sort of Main Street USA on the banks of the Amazon - complete with MANDATORY square dancing. Yikes, people. Ford hated his own son, admired Hitler, hired armed thugs to put d
Jim Fonseca
Oct 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fordlandia tells the story of Henry Ford's settlement in the Amazon, a model of inept planning and design. Even by pre-green standards, the arrogance and ignorance is shocking: chop down the rainforest; plant rows of rubber trees that couldn't thrive as monoculture; plank down Cape Cod bungalows on a suburban style street grid; dress the kids in scout uniforms and send them to American-style schools named after Ford's sons. Basically the plan was to "convert the natives" to the American lifestyl ...more
May 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
The subject matter of this book is interesting, but unfortunately it was a real slog for me. I think it was just that Grandin put in SO MUCH detail and information that it was overwhelming. I mean, it's really good to be thorough in your research, and to back up what you're saying, but no one should EVER have to write another book about this subject EVER AGAIN, because they can't possibly find any more information that Grandin didn't include.

That said, my overall impressions were that Ford was a
Dec 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
When I started this, I thought there was far too much bio of Henry Ford. I was impatient for the Fordlandia adventure to begin. Later I realized how the introductory biography was necessary. Grandin shows how this project defined and reflected the can-do spirit and utter naiveté of Henry Ford.

While not the first of Ford's company towns, Fordlandia was surely his biggest project. The text and photos show the tremendous scale. It was planned to span a region the size of the State of Connecticut. T
Simon Wood
Sep 26, 2013 rated it really liked it

Ford's emblematic Model-T automobile and his pioneering production methods made him a very rich man in the early part of the twentieth century. He was also a man of contradictions. On one hand he was talking up combined agricultural-industrial small communities, promoting pacifism and "freedom", paid high wages and was very critical of concentrated economic power whether on Wall Street or in the Energy Trusts. But at the same time his company was one of the biggest i
Hmm. At times, I really liked this story of the Ford Motor Company's Brazil rubber plantation--it is an interesting story, well told. The management and other problems that plagued the plantation make for good reading. What I have a hard time swallowing is author Grandin's assertion that the story proves somehow that capitalism is bad. This really isn't a story about capitalism, even. I'm puzzled at many of the author's assertions. For example, the author seems to believe that because parts of c ...more
Derek Emerson
Jul 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009-books-read
This sounds like an urban legend gone bad (do any go good?), so I had to read about Henry Ford's attempt to build "the American Dream" in the jungles of Brazil. The financial impetus was to grow rubber for tires and other auto parts, but by the time he started rubber prices were low and the need was no longer there. But Ford still decided to create a town to help civilize the jungle and bring American happiness worldwide. It failed of course. The most interesting part of this book is the issue o ...more
John Gurney
Dec 24, 2014 rated it liked it
This look at the quirky, little-known venture of Henry Ford's business into the Amazon is interesting and fairly well-written. Readers very familiar with Ford may find it frustrating that a lot of pages are invested in information about Henry Ford and his company in Michigan. Readers less attuned to Ford will benefit from the large amount of background that helps frame the story.

Henry Ford was an enigma, a man of unexpected views. Ford was a pacifist, though one whose company converted to wartim
Nov 16, 2009 rated it liked it

“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
Your Excellency
Jun 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2013
This was an interesting and well-written examination of Henry Ford's experimental Fordlandia community, carved out of the Amazonian jungle at the start of the twentieth century. Ford was looking to create his own rubber supply, and at the same time put some of his ideas of a better society into action.

The author provides a well-balanced view of the creation, development and decline of Fordlandia, and also of Ford's life, work and ideals. Henry Ford saw more in his factories' success than just ec
Feb 07, 2013 rated it really liked it

This book is about a little-known facet of Henry Ford’s career — his attempt to establish a Ford-owned rubber plantation in the Amazon. The plantation wasn’t just intended to ensure a reliable source of rubber, however; it was also an extension of his “industrial village” paradigm into the rest of the world. It was nothing short of an attempt to establish a self-sufficient, Midwestern-style American town in the middle of the jungle. Ford believed so strongly in this aim that he continued to pour

Clark Hays
Nov 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Dense, like the rainforest, and just as rich

Note: this review first appeared on Amazon

I don't normally believe in reincarnation, but it's hard not to think I've spent some previous life in the Amazon given my favorite books - of which I now rank Fordlandia - focus on Brazil. It was great to see the other three - Thief at the End of the World, the River of Doubt, The Jungle and the Sea - all mentioned in this fascinating look at Henry Ford's failed experiment in the jungle.

This was a well-researc
Bill Laine
Nov 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Henry Ford was the Bill Gates of his day - a man who took a good idea, and himself, to the heights of public consciousness. He was also a man with some quirky ideas about social engineering and the power and wealth to realize just about any project that came to his mind.

This book is a chronicle of one of those projects. A high-minded concept poorly realized. But the author puts Fordlandia, the project, in the context of the times and of the Ford empire. We learn about the incredible River Rogue
Lauren Hiebner
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Fordlandia is the story of Henry Ford attempting to recreate an American factory town that would produce rubber, in the Amazon jungle in the late 1920s. It shows how naive Ford was about the jungle trying to subdue rather than adapt. Ford was as much about manufacturing cars as he was about making employees conform to his ideas. His philosophy was that if it worked in Michigan it can be duplicated anywhere! He tried to turn the Amazon into the Midwest of his imagination. He believed that hard wo ...more
Todd Stockslager
Jun 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Not sure where you should file this one in your library; we have to pick one place to put it, so lets compromise on "cautionary tale," as this is what Grandin has crafted out of this Gothic-comic horror-history "encroaching jungle" tale. He even invokes Heart of Darkness (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century), certainly an apt comparison, with the difference that the real-life Henry Ford had millions to spend sending many not-from-these-parts employees down the river in search of Kurtz. In th ...more
Mike Prochot
Apr 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: americana
I never really understood why, when growing up as a Boomer, all my elders were "Ford Men". After reading this book, I now know how influential, popular and ahead of his time Henry Ford was to so many people growing up during the heyday of the Ford empire. He was a superstar before the word was invented - a charismatic celebrity who backed up his talk with action. His company the model of a success at so many levels. Eventually of course, succumbing to gross overreaching and finally degrading int ...more
Jan 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
The real history of a people is not expressed in wars but in the way they lived and worked. The history of America wasn't written in Washington, it was written in the grass roots. Any history book that celebrates guns and speeches but ignores the harrows and the rest of daily life is bunk. Henry Ford

Except that this book totally celebtates the poilitics surrounding Fordlandia and completely ignores the people who lived there! Fascinating subject (that makes up for every Star), but what a boring
Ford was the god of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, which I just finished, so this seemed like a good way to learn more about the context of Huxley's book. And it was, but it's about 100 pages too long. Much of the information is repeated; the story of the genesis of the town of Alberta, for instance, pops up twice, a couple hundred pages apart. And Bennett is described at least three times. editor and some tightening would have done wonders here.

Jun 17, 2009 marked it as to-read
Ford made a little city in the South American jungle to produce rubber. Apparently the lifestyle was a bit controlled. Henry Ford made everyone listen to square dance music. Oddly enough they did not revolt until he tried to force everyone to eat whole wheat. How is whole wheat WORSE than square dance music?!?!??!?!?!?!!??!!?!?!?!?
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
rubber is quite the metaphor! a well-written capitulation of a corporate banana republic reflecting 20th century American themes and trends
This sums up working with Henry Ford by Charles Lindbergh.

"Their policy is to act first and plan afterward, usually overlooking completely essential details. Result: a tremendous increase of cost and effort unnecessarily.”

Ford in a lot of ways transformed manufacturing and the work force, but he wasn't great at conforming to something he didn't understand. From the very start of his grand experiment in the Amazon was a disaster. He sent people who had never seen a jungle to plant and build citie
Bill Wallace
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recent reports say that Werner Herzog is going to direct a TV series based on this remarkable book and the choice could not be more apt. The story of Henry Ford's quixotic attempt to transplant Michigan values to an Amazon rubber plantation reverberates with echoes of Fitzcarraldo and a touch of "Heart of Darkness." Although the story of Ford's two Amazon colonies is the main event here, much of the book is a primer on Henry Ford himself, exploring the contrasts if not outright contradictions of ...more
A Parable of Arrogance

This tale of a utopia gone wrong gets bogged down in detail at times but is ultimately worth the effort to finish. I'd run across references to Fordlandia in books I'd read about the rubber and banana trades and was intrigued to learn more about Henry Ford's quixotic attempt to build a model town -- indeed, to create a model society -- in the depths of the Amazon.

"Over the course of nearly two decades, Ford would spend tens of millions of dollars founding not one but, afte
Sep 22, 2020 rated it liked it
"Fordlandia" relates Henry Ford's attempt to create a vast plantation of rubber trees in the heart of Brazil on the Amazon River in the 1930's. He had many good intentions to improve the lot of workers' lives by providing housing, a hospital and medical staff, nutritious food, and high wages. Doomed almost from the start from a lack of understanding about actually growing rubber trees, Ford persevered through World War II, when the latex farmed in Brazil was critical, only to finally develop the ...more
Stephen Curran
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A key incident in the story of an attempt to transplant the principals of mass-production--and the American way of life--into the middle of a rainforest:

Henry Ford famously calculated that it took 7883 distinct tasks to make a car. Applied to the construction process, this calculation brought the time it took to make a Model T down from twelve hours to one and a half hours. Hoping to take the same rigourously methodical approach to growing rubber, Ford directed his men to clear trees from swath
Nov 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: ww2, history, 2019
I finally finished it. By sheer force of will, I finished this book! It’s not a bad book, just a bit meandering and dry in spots. The last chapter contains some very interesting updates about the Amazon basin, which was already in serious trouble in 2005.
May 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Arrogant, deluded Henry Ford decided not to consult experts in horticulture or the Amazon when he sunk millions of dollars over several years in a rubber farm in Brazil. Predictably, it never delivered. As usual, Ford had half-baked ideas of how pre-industrial America could be revived through irrelevant and ridiculous mandates of how the folks on the "farm" would live. The project was abandoned after several years.

"There is in fact an uncanny reemblance between Fordlandia's rusing water, tower,
Dave Gaston
Grandin tells an incredibly well researched, comprehensive and at times fascinating story that encircles the entire history of Fordlandia. He also dives deep into the corporate culture of Ford that first hatched, then mismanaged and ultimately abandoned Ford’s Utopia. The size and scope of Ford’s vision was staggering; a 2.5 million acre parcel of deep Brazilian jungle, envisioned by the 60 year old to become his rubber dynasty. Hints of a real life “Atlas Shrugged” come to mind. The root of the ...more
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Greg Grandin is the author of Fordlandia, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. A Professor of History at New York University, Grandin has published a number of other award-winning books, including Empire's Workshop, The Last Colonial Massacre, and The Blood of Guatemala.

Toni Morrison called Grandin's new work, The Empire of Necessi

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Here’s some trivia for your next vacation get-together: The concept of the summer “beach read” book goes all the way back to the Victorian...
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“IT WOULD BE tempting to read the story of Fordlandia and Belterra as a parable of arrogance,” 2 likes
“But the most profound irony is currently on display at the very site of Ford’s most ambitious attempt to realize his pastoralist vision. In the Tapajós valley, three prominent elements of Ford’s vision—lumber, which he hoped to profit from while at the same time finding ways to conserve nature; roads, which he believed would knit small towns together and create sustainable markets; and soybeans, in which he invested millions, hoping that the industrial crop would revive rural life—have become the primary agents of the Amazon’s ruin, not just of its flora and fauna but of many of its communities.” 1 likes
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