In conjunction with its 100th anniversary, the Ford Motor Company opened its monumental archives to the unfettered research of author/historian Douglas Brinkley. And while the 800-page history that resulted from that work (as well as Brinkley's tireless, amply footnoted source work elsewhere) is comprehensive to a fault, the scope and enduring impact of the industrial colossus wrought by Henry Ford make it often seem like mere introduction. Brinkley's meticulous, enlightened work can't help but find endless fascination with the company's founder, whose presence resonates through every phase of the company's history, from its fitful start (FMC was the third company to bear the Ford name), through the rise of the Model T (still one of the most ubiquitous and revolutionary mechanical contrivances of the last millennia), to its cycles of corporate decay and rebirth (variously via Iacocca's Mustang in the 60's and the technical innovations and potent retrenchment of trans-nationalism in the 90's). Henry Ford remains one of the greatest human paradoxes in a century filled with them: a largely self-taught engineer who couldn't read a blueprint, yet became a mass-production visionary; an employer whose social conscience (and no small amount of shrewd business acumen) doubled the salary of his employees one era, employed thugs to crush their union organizing efforts the next; a world figure who read little, yet published much, including anti-war editorials and vile, anti-Semitic tracts--despite the fact that his monumental manufacturing facilities were designed by Jews whose friendship and professional relationships he cultivated. The enviro-social impact of Ford's industrial innovations continues to loom, and Brinkley hardly ignores them. But his research is largely focused on the rich players (and their often perplexing psychology) of the Ford saga, all-too-human characters whose ambitious empire will continue to cast its long shadows over many a generation to come. --Jerry McCulley
From Publishers Weekly
Two other histories of Ford are slated for publication this year; four were published last year. Brinkley, a University of New Orleans history professor, distinguishes his as the only "single volume business and social history of Ford Motor from 1903 to 2003." In fact, it's something different: a book about the people of Ford, including the Ford family, executives, workers, union organizers and others. Extensive new documentary materials tell Ford's story in the words of its people. Brinkley's focus never strays far from Ford plants in Highland Park, River Rouge and Willow Run, Mich., yet he reflects events taking place in the outside world through the actions and feelings of people in nearby Dearborn, Mich. This does for 20th-century history what Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 did for the prior era: relate world events from a fixed perspective on a human scale. For example, Brinkley infuses a discussion of Ford's design shift in the late 1950s with Henry Ford II's scandalous (for the time) pursuit of his European mistress. And he mentions the Korean War because it led to government-imposed production controls that prevented Ford from surpassing Chrysler in sales. Readers interested in the history of the Ford Motor Company can find accounts better-written (Robert Lacey's Ford: The Men and the Machine) and more authoritative (Allan Nevins's Ford, Companies and Men), but will value this book for its new details and quotes. For general readers, it's a fascinating epic saga of ordinary and extraordinary people who built a great company. (On sale Apr. 28)
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