Henry Ford was not only one of America's great industrialists, he was also one of America's great haters. With "his rambling mouth" and his "volatile passions and budgetless financial resources," Ford became famous around the country and the world for his rabid anti-Semitism. "He did not like the Jews because he believed they were warmongering, manipulative, and alien," writes Neil Baldwin. A pacifist, Ford blamed the First World War on "German-Jewish bankers." In the 1920s, he published The Dearborn Independent
, which featured notorious articles such as "The International Jew: The World's Problem." In 1938, he became the first American recipient of a Nazi award bestowed upon non-Germans. Baldwin details Ford's views and activities and also describes the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s. Henry Ford once declared, infamously, "History is more or less the bunk." His descendents seem to disagree. "Beginning with Henry Ford II," writes Baldwin, "succeeding generations of Fords have sought to put an end to Henry Ford's dark legacy" by supporting Israel and Jewish charities. Their actions bear out what one Jewish newspaper said in response to Ford in 1920: "We are firm in our belief that stupidity cannot triumph." --John Miller
From Publishers Weekly
The strength of this biography lies in context: by emphasizing Ford's background, influences and the world around the auto manufacturer, Baldwin (executive director of the National Book Foundation and author of Edison: Inventing the Century, etc.) brings a fresh approach to what has long been known about one of America's most famous anti-Semites. In the book's first part, Baldwin focuses on the climate of intellectual anti-Semitism that Ford experienced as a child and young adult and how these likely shaped his views about Jews. By the end of WWI, "Jews hatred was now an entrenched, permanent stain on Ford's psyche," which consistently teetered on the brink of sanity. Ford, who was raised on a farm, believed that Jews were responsible for the evils of modern cities and America's interventionist foreign policy, even as he remained friends with individual Jews. And as Baldwin disturbingly shows, Ford also put his twisted ideals into action by creating an anti-Semitic newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. (In this way, Ford was unlike Thomas Edison, whom Baldwin describes as a passive anti-Semite.) But Baldwin is not content to depict Ford's anti-Semitism and his cadre of like-minded people he also describes attempts to curb Ford's effect on society. After a lawsuit by a Jew maligned in the Independent, Ford eventually apologized with the help of Jewish organizations (whether or not that apology was sincere remains an open question). As he does elsewhere in the book, Baldwin probes the story behind this apology. His concise look at an organized American Jewry beginning to flex its muscles makes this excellent biography a tale of changing American ethnic relations. Illus. (Nov.)Forecast: The Jewish audience is a lock for this, but it should also appeal more broadly to students of American history and inter-ethnic relations.
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