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Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City Paperback – October 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

Take a Closer Look at Images from Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City

(Click on images to enlarge)

A sketch of the opera house in Manus,
Brazil (aka. "the tropical Paris")

An Amazonian family
employed in the rubber trade

Ford executives on the
deck of The Ormoc en
route to the Amazon

Workers clearing the rainforest
before construction can begin

Mundurucú mission children
with German nuns

A Lincoln Zephyr stuck
in Fordlandia mud

Fordlandia's Riverside Avenue
near the Tapajós River

Ruins of Fordlandia's powerhouse

Ruins of the sawmill
at Iron Mountain

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Gandin, an NYU professor of Latin American history, 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. Gandin has found a fascinating vehicle to illuminate the many contradictory parts of Henry Ford: the pacifist, the internationalist, the virulent anti-Semite, the $5-a-day friend of the workingman, the anti-union crusader, the man who ushered America into the industrial age yet rejected the social changes that followed urbanization. Both infuriating and fascinating, Ford is only a piece of the Fordlandia story. The follies of colonialism and the testing of the belief that the Amazon—where 7,882 organisms could be found on any given five square miles—could be made to produce rubber with the reliability of an auto assembly line makes a surprisingly dramatic tale. Although readers know that Fordlandia will return to the jungle, the unfolding of this unprecedented experiment is compelling. Grandin concludes that Fordlandia represents in crystalline form the utopianism that powered Fordism—and by extension Americanism. Readers may find it a cautionary tale for the 21st century. 54 b&w photos. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books (October 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848311540
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848311541
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,619,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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 Necessity, "compelling, brilliant and necessary." Released in early 2014, the book narrates the history of a slave-ship revolt that inspired Herman Melville's other masterpiece, Benito Cereno. Philip Gourevitch describes it as a "rare book in which the drama of the action and the drama of ideas are equally measured, a work of history and of literary reflection that is as urgent as it is timely."

Grandin has served on the United Nations Truth Commission investigating the Guatemalan Civil War and has written for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New Statesman, the Guardian, the London Review of Books, and The New York Times. He received his BA from Brooklyn College, CUNY, in 1992 and his PhD from Yale in 1999. He has been a guest on Democracy Now!, The Charlie Rose Show, and the Chris Hayes Show.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

149 of 160 people found the following review helpful By Amazon customer on June 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book offers a rare and fascinating look into Henry Ford's grand economic experiment in the Amazon jungle.

In 1927, approaching his 65th birthday, Ford sent his first two ships to the area. He had purchased 2.5 million acres of Amazon land - roughly the size of Connecticut. He planned not only to plant rubber trees, but also to mine the land for gold; drill for oil; and harvest timber. In addition, he hoped to bring his American-style sensibilities to the region: the production line; sanitation; buildings such as Churches, cottages; a hospital; a movie theater; and the idea of fair wages for hard work. What he didn't bring was a an expertise in growing rubber trees, or an understanding of the Amazon and it's people.

One other thing Ford never brought to Fordlandia was himself. Between the inception of Fordlandia in 1927 and Ford's death in 1947, he never set foot in the Amazon.

This is the story of the creation of "Fordlandia", amazing in itself. But, it is also the story of Henry Ford (a man of sharp contradictions); the struggles of the American and Brazilian laborers who worked in the City; and of the Amazon. It also speaks of a different era, when seemingly impossible things could be attempted.

Very well written and researched. Lots of old photographs. I can find no flaws. Highly recommended.
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52 of 58 people found the following review helpful By History Teacher on June 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
One of the best books I have read on Henry Ford, and I've read most all of them. The author provides a fascinating rendition of so many topics, including the Amazon, Diego Rivera's Detroit murals, the booming 1920s and the hard times of the 1930s. The book is epic in scope, a really wonderful journey that takes readers from Detroit to the wilds of northern Michigan, the Tennessee River Valley (I didn't know that the idea for the TVA came from Ford!) and then to the Amazon. I fully recommend this book.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Sandra I. Oliver on June 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fordlandia is that rare non-fiction written by an historian that is a great read. Author Greg Grandin takes the reader on a wonderful voyage down the Amazon as he uncovers a magical mystery escapade of Henry Ford. Not unlike many of the recent forays into Southeast Asia and the Middle East, Ford's desire to claim the hearts, minds and raw materials of Latin America, specically Brazil seem very modern and familiar. He seems to have made all the classic errors of neo-colonism: ignoring the host culture, trying to impose an inappropriate culture and economic system, sending personnel not schooled in the language or culture.

On top of this, the Amazon was an unfriendly climate for those used to the cold winds of Michigan and the Puritan work ethic of the United States. Insects, diseases, "indolent" workers, lack of modern conveniences and the very essence of the area combined to doom Ford's dream of establlishing a town/plantation devoted to cornering the market on rubber.

Ford's efforts to transplant his River Rouge auto plant to the jungle of Brazil makes for fascinating and thought provoking reading.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Richard J. Gibson on September 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Being a Detroiter whose grandfather and mother who worked at the Rouge, and who worked in the Iron Foundry and on the trains beneath the Rouge, who later in life researched Ford's schools in the US, who studied with great care the relationship between the Fords and the workers, I thought I knew Ford. I did not. In this brilliant and carefully documented (read the footnotes for sure) study of not just Fordlandia, but the social relations people form in their struggle with nature in order to create life, means of production, knowledge, and freedom, the author investigates one form of capitalism that mostly likely Ford and others believed would create abundance, hence equality and harmony. How that worked out is done in well written detail in this wonderful book that I am urging everyone to read as we witness other Fordlandias growing---as nations under fire.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By W. P. Strange on July 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It is seldom that I enjoy reading this type of history just for the sheer entertainment and of course the history lessons it offers. This isn't the first book about Henry Ford's South American adventure and attempt to corner the world market for rubber, and I can't say that I have read all the others so I can't offer a comparison, in fact it has been only a dozen years or so since the last one, and that too was titled "Fordlandia." but I believe that was a fictionalized account.

After the unimaginable success of Ford's Model T, and in the '30s he is the wealthiest man in the world, Henry Ford is launching The Model A, and this time he is offering several more color options than black. He has also aquired Lincoln Motors and entered into the luxury car market, so with his son Edsel they embark on a plan to build a city, complete with golf courses and other amenities of civilization to lure workers to his new utopia carved out of the wilderness. It is truly an amazing story of big business, greed, hubris and even anti-semitism. The writing is sometimes rough, and uneven, but the immense amount of research Grandin has done is evident, and the original photos included and spread throughout the text increase the pleasure of reading this volume..
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By James D. Crabtree VINE VOICE on July 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Henry Ford, a man who had successfully developed the industrial technique which would raise the living standards of America and much of the world, tried to create his own "rubber state" in the depths of the Brazilian jungle (they call it a "rain forest now, for PR purposes). Having gotten his hands on iron mines for steel, forests for lumber and copper mines for wiring "Fordlandia" was an attempt by Ford to get access to the one material still out of his reach: rubber.

At the time, rubber was mostly coming from European colonies in Asia. Attempts to grow it in Florida were not very successful so Ford looked to Brazil, where rubber-bearing plants originated from. The Ford company convinced the state and federal governments to give him a stretch of territory the size of Connecticut for the purposes of growing rubber trees. Ford spent millions of dollars on Fordlandia, creating a small American town in the wilderness, complete with swimming pools, a modern hospital, a powerplant, sawmill, etc.

However, Ford had a habit of forming opinions and then not listening to experts. His efforts to grow rubber were doomed because rubber plants in Brazil are subject to a host of diseases and pests (rubber plants in Asia do not have this problem) which makes large-scale, industrial collection of rubber impractical.

The book is well-written, discussing Henry Ford's eccentric ideas and the experiences of many of his employees who were involved in Fordlandia. The research is first-rate. However, the book does diverge significantly from the subject at hand, comparing Ford's attempts to conquer the Brazilian jungle to the War in Iraq (!!!) and devoting several unfortunate pages to a rant about capitalism, global warming and globalism. Otherwise it would rate full five stars.
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