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Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City Hardcover – Jun 9 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1 edition (June 9 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805082360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805082364
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.9 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 816 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #471,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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Amazon Best of the Month, June 2009: Proving that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, Fordlandia is the story of Henry Ford's ill-advised attempt to transform raw Brazilian rainforest into homespun slices of Americana. With sales of his Model-T booming, the automotive tycoon saw an opportunity to expand his reach further by exploiting a downtrodden Brazilian rubber industry. His vision, the laughably-named Amazonian outpost of Fordlandia, would become an enviable symbol of efficiency and mark the Ford Motor Company as a player on the global stage. Or so he thought. With thoughtful and meticulous research, author Greg Grandin explores the astounding oversights (no botanists were consulted to confirm the colony's agricultural viability) and painful arrogance (little thought was paid to how native Brazilians would react to an American way of life) that hamstrung the project from the start. Instead of ushering in a new era of commerce, Fordlandia became a cautionary tale of a dream destroyed by hubris. --Dave Callanan


“Historian Greg Grandin has taken what heretofore seemed just such a marginal event. . . and turned it into a fascinating historical narrative that illuminates the auto industry's contemporary crisis, the problems of globalization and the contradictions of contemporary consumerism. For all of that, this is not, however, history freighted with political pedantry. Grandin is one of blessedly expanding group of gifted American historians who assume that whatever moral the story of the past may yield, it must be a story well told. . . Fordlandia is precisely that--a genuinely readable history recounted with a novelist's sense of pace and an eye for character. It's a significant contribution to our understanding of ourselves and engrossingly enjoyable.” ―Timothy Rutten, The Los Angeles Times

“Haunting. . . Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness resonates through every page of this book.” ―The New York Times Book Review

“Grandin, a distinguished historian of U.S. misadventures in Latin America, offers a fluently written, fair-minded guide to the Ford Motor Co.'s jungle escapades. In addition to his research in company records, he has ransacked the many Ford biographies to assemble a telling portrait of his central character.” ―Brian Ladd, San Francisco Chronicle

“Grandin offers the thoroughly remarkable story of Henry Ford's attempt, from the 1920s through 1945, to transform part of Brazil's Amazon River basin into a rubber plantation and eponymous American-style company town: Fordlandia. Grandin has found a fascinating vehicle to illuminate the many contradictions of Henry Ford. . . Readers may find it a cautionary tale for the 21st century.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Excellent history. . . Fordlandia is keenly and emotionally observed and a potent record of the last hundred years of economic thinking and U.S./South American relations in the form of a blunt blow to the head.” ―M.E. Collins, The Chicago Sun-Times

“Written with a flair and deftness that one might expect to find in a well-crafted novel. . . he brings to life the rogues and cranks who animate this tale. . . Excellent.” ―The American Conservative

“Fordlandia was, ultimately, the classic American parable of a failed Utopia, of soft dreams running aground on a hard world―which tends to make the most compelling tale of all. It’s such an engrossing story that one wonders why it has never been told before in book-length form. Grandin takes full command of a complicated narrative with numerous threads, and the story spills out in precisely the right tone―about midway between Joseph Conrad and Evelyn Waugh.” ―The American Scholar

“An engaging and passionately written history. . . Grandin is alert to the tragedy and the unexpected moments of comedy in the story, which is at times reminiscent of both Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” ―Paul Maliszewski, Wilson Quarterly

“Defines the old cliché that the truth is stranger than fiction. . . It is a masterful portrayal of capitalism and social paternalism unleashed to disastrous effect.” ―Nancy Bass Wyden, The Daily Beast

“Grandin's account is an epic tale of a clash between cultures, values, men, and nature.” ―David Siegfried, Booklist

“Stranger than fiction but with power of a first-rate novel to probe for the deepest truths, Fordlandia is an extraordinary story of American hubris. Out of the Amazon jungle, Greg Grandin brings us an unforgettable tale about the tragic limitations of a capitalist utopia.” ―Steve Fraser, author of Wall Street: America's Dream Palace

“Greg Grandin's Fordlandia brings to light a fascinating but little known episode in the long history of Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company. The auto magnate's experiment with a vast rubber plantation in the Brazilian jungle involved not only economic and ecological issues of the greatest importance, but a cultural crusade to export the American Way of Life. Grandin's penetrating, provocative analysis raises important questions about the complex impulses driving the global expansion of modern capitalism.” ―Steven Watts, author of The Peoples Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century

“Grandin places the Ford story within in a much broader social history of Amazonia, and rather than a saga of some novelty or the vanity of the rich, makes the resistance and the failure part of a larger Amazonian history rather than just the exotic ambitions of a man with too much money.” ―Susanna Hecht, Professor, School of Public Affairs and Institute of the Environment and co-author of Defenders of the Forest

“As a reader, I was fascinated by this account of Henry Ford's short-lived rainforest Utopia, complete with golf course and square dances. As a writer, I envy Greg Grandin for finding such an intriguing subject--whose decline and fall has an eerie resonance at our own historical moment today.” ―Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost

“Magic happens when a gifted historian and master storyteller finds a treasure trove of untapped materials to exploit. And Greg Grandin's book on Fordlandia is simply magical. Here is the truly epic tale of American adventurers dispatched by Henry Ford in 1928 to conquer and civilize the Amazon by constructing an industrial/agricultural utopia the size of Tennessee. Among the dozens of reasons I will be recommending Fordlandia to friends, family, colleagues, and students is the scale and pace of the narrative, the remarkable cast of characters, the brilliantly detailed descriptions of the Brazilian jungle, and what may be the best portrait we have of Henry Ford in his final years as he struggles to recapture control of the mighty forces he has unleashed.” ―David Nasaw, the Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History at the CUNY Graduate Center and author of Andrew Carnegie

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Top Customer Reviews

By Rodge TOP 100 REVIEWER on Feb. 24 2010
Format: Hardcover
This odd and difficult to fathom story, which is nevertheless true, shows Ford's attempt to bring small-town America to the Amazon and provide his factories with rubber in the process. Grandin's tale is well-written and fascinating, carrying the reader along to the conclusion. What surprised me was how long the place lasted, and how close Ford came to success in commercial terms, if not quite on the eccentric plane of preserving American utopia of old.

Like a good novel, the concluding portion casts what came before in a new light. What if Ford had succeeded, for all his faults and foibles? What if there was a seed of good in the plan? In the end, the tone becomes for wistful and ironic, rather than the condemnation and contempt one might expect.
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Format: Hardcover
In this fine example of history done right, Greg Grandin blends the writer's touch with the academic's rigor to produce a fantastic story about Henry Ford's own "Heart of Darkness" adventure in the Amazon jungle that had such high hopes but ended in an utter and drastic failure.

The book is primarily focused on Ford's desires on making his own rubber and transplanting his own utopian version of American life in the jungle. In my opinion, this was a good decision by Grandin, as the book would have become bloated had he included too much background information on Ford, fordism, and his many domestic ventures.

Fundamental to understanding the thinking behind "Fordlandia" is the progressive humanism of Ford and others who believed in their civilizing mission in uplifting the destitute through technology and innovation (ie. modernization ideology). Here, Grandin does a great job outlining how Ford had tried to do this in the Southern U.S. with the Muscle Shoals proposal which eventually FDR took up in the massive TVA electrification project.

Ultimately, Grandin argues that Fordlandia represented a "crystalline form of the utopianism that powered Fordism -- and by extension Americanism. It reveals the faith that a drive toward greater efficiency could be controlled and managed in such a way as to bring balance to the world and that technology itself, without the need for government planning, could sove whatever social problems arose from progress's advance." Grandin further concludes that the parable of Fordlandia is not just one of arrogance in that Ford thought he could tame the Amazon but but arrogance in that he believed that the forces of capitalism, once released, could still be contained.

In my own opinion, I think Grandin slightly overanalyzes.
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By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on Oct. 14 2010
Format: Hardcover
"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." - Winston Churchill

In the 1920s, the very wealthy American automaker, Henry Ford, decided to set up his own guaranteed rubber supply for the future development of the Model A and the expansion of his many factories. Greg Grandin, a modern historian, offers us an incredibly gripping history about how Ford and his associates attempted to create their own rubber plantations in the heart of the Amazon in an attempt to breakaway from the grips of the powerful British-American cartel. Ford never liked to pay more for any commodity than he had to if it could be avoided. This book delves into the nitty-gritties of why and how Ford pursued this foolhardy quest to be successful where others before him had failed miserably. Information emerges in the story that strongly suggests that the embattled Ford, who usually kept his own counsels, saw himself as a champion of a kind of libertarian causes to take on the US government's efforts to control big business. To that end, he promoted what appeared to be radically innovative ideas that would transform the workplace, improve wages and restore dignity to the American working class. The problem with this scheme is that all these changes had to, in the end, be exclusively profitable for Henry Ford. His obsession with making this model Amazonian plantation work is yet another example of both the determination and the hubris of the man. Once he got an idea that potentially gave him the edge on his competitors, Ford doggedly stuck with it through thick and thin.
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Format: Paperback
Once upon a time there was a land an American town grew up beside the Tapajós River where Amazonian natives harvested latex while enjoying food, healthcare and living conditions similar to their fellow Ford employees in Michigan. Born of Henry Ford’s desire to have his own source of latex for tires and to introduce Midwestern life into South America, the town and plantation of Fordlandia rose in the Brazilian wilderness.

In establishing Fordlandia, Henry Ford bucked the trend of British growers who grew latex in Southeast Asia and Harvey Firestone’s plantation in Liberia by setting his in Brazil, the native home of rubber trees. Fordlandia served several purposes. It provided another source of the raw material for tires, enabled Ford to extend his paternalistic company town vision to South America and let scientists experiment with new methods of cultivation. The plantation was beset by challenges both natural and man-made; insects, tree blight and labor unrest.

The story moves effortlessly between the jungle, corporate headquarters in Dearborn and Ford logging towns in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Readers absorb a lot of company history, the personality of Henry Ford and the science of rubber arboriculture in Brazil and Southeast Asia. The writing holds the reader’s interest in an enthralling and tragic tale of great strivings. I often wanted to google the name to find out how the story ended and what the town is like now but I was so deeply drawn into the narrative that wanted the mystery to unravel in its own time rather than abruptly drawing back the curtain. “Fordlandia” is an excellent read for anyone interested in the history of Ford, the auto industry or just an entrancing saga of American business overseas.
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