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

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

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Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: The story of an extraordinary attempt to build Henry Ford's version of the American dream in the Amazon jungle
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Icon Books
ISBN: 978-1848311473

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Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City is a fascinating story of an extraordinary attempt to impose a vision of the American way of life in the Amazon jungle, written by a professor of Latin American history at New York University.

In 1927, the Ford Motor company bought a huge tract of land in Brazil, for the purpose of the company growing its own rubber for use in making its cars. They planted rubber trees and built a factory and houses, and a number of top managers from the company were posted to Fordlandia to run the operation. Huge amounts of money were pumped into Fordlandia, and Ford made great claims for their plans. However, the project was a spectacular failure, and it lasted less than twenty years.

This book is not just about the Fordlandia project – the first third of the book (over 100 pages) is about Henry Ford, the man, his opinions, some of his US factories and the associated cities established, and how he set out to use his business to shape society in the way he thought it should be. By 1927, Ford was a very successful industrialist, who had made a fortune out of manufacturing cars and introduced a new model of industrial production. He paid his workers much higher than average wages and offered various other incentives to encourage them to live the lives he thought they should. However, he was not a totally benevolent employer. He was violently anti-union and employed thugs to intimidate anyone who tried to organise and represent his workforce. Ford's generosity as a boss was dependent on letting the company make decisions for the workers, not just in the factories but in the way employees lived their lives – spies were actively out and about observing workers' off duty lives.

Then Grandin describes some of the men who went to go and build Ford's dream in Brazil – the boss himself never visited Fordlandia. He details the mistakes they made and the consequences. The main purpose of the development was never fulfilled as the rubber trees were affected by pest blight from the beginning and kept dying off. A lot of the expected labour pool turned out not to be interested in working for Ford, and those who were often planned to combine working for Ford with other means of earning money and growing their own food. They were resistant to company demands about how they lived their lives – Ford wanted them to live under the Prohibition laws that were in effect then in the US banning the sale and manufacture of alcohol, and not to drink it. Many of the managers themselves only lasted a few months before being fired or leaving for personal reasons.

As Fordlandia never justified its existence economically, increasingly it was billed as a civilising mission to take American values to another country and its people. This also ended in disaster, as a riot in December 1930 over being asked to queue for food in the canteen instead of being served at table caused the US management to flee temporarily by boat and caused very expensive destruction.

The £14.99 cover price of this book may seem expensive but I think it's good value for money, as it combines readability with detailed research, and would be useful for students and others with an interest in US business and labour movement history. The book includes twenty six pages of footnotes and an index for the benefit of anyone using it for academic study or research, or who just has a geeky fascination with being able to look things up, like me. It is a sort of biography of the project, the Ford company and its owner – more readable than a textbook with a strong narrative storyline and lots of startling anecdotes and jaw-dropping accounts of the foolishness of the Ford company men. It also contains a large number of black and white photos, printed in the body of the text rather than as an insert of a few pictures in the middle of the book as is more common, and I thought this was quite attractive for a general reader. I looked up all the footnotes, and I thought the book rewarded the effort I needed to put into reading it.

Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If Fordlandia interests you, another book that might be worth looking at is The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan. Another perspective on imperialist history is Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?: Missionaries, Journalists, Explorers and Empire by Claire Pettitt.

Buy Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin at Amazon.com.

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