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Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress Hardcover – April 28, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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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)
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 858 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1st edition (April 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067003181X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670031818
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #944,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is the story of four men: Henry, Edsel, Henry II and Bill Ford. These four men built and guided Ford Motor Co. to where it is today. It is also the story of the many men who also shaped Ford but ultimately were tossed aside.
This book is a treasure trove of information. For instance, who knew that Cadillac had its roots at Ford? Who knew that the auto industry was so tied in together? The Dodge Brothers helped finance Ford. An executive left Ford and started buying up other car makers to form General Motors. The man brought in to add professional engineering left Ford to found Cadillac and then left there to found Lincoln, which Ford bought and brought this same man back to Ford. Such revelations will have you starting many conversations with, "Did you know . . .?"
Dr. Brinkley's work is not perfect, though. Not surprisingly, Henry Ford is the giant of the book and most ink is given to him. However, the 70's, 80's and 90's receive almost a summary treatment. Also, not enough time is given to the cultural shift to SUVs and how Ford moved from a car company that had a truck division to a truck maker that also happens to sell cars.
Most disappointingly, the book has too few pictures. Dr. Brinkley has strong descriptive powers that one wants to see the car or the plant or the person he is describing, but the pictures aren't there. If the Taurus is so important to Ford, especially in terms of styling, why not include a picture of the first model?
In the end, this book is a great read. One cheers for Ford when it triumphs and worries about it when it falters. Dr. Brinkley clearly loves Ford: the company, the cars and the men. His work is a labor of love.
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Format: Hardcover
Douglas Brinkley was given access to the Ford Motor Co. archives, and he seems bent on including everything he found there. This book is 764 pages long and it took me three weeks to read. Yet, I can't say it was a wasted effort.
Henry Ford is the undisputed star. Brinkley spends pages trying to decide whether old Henry was a genius or just a excellent judge of character. He finally arrives at a compromise of sorts: Ford would not have succeeded without James Couzens, his business manager; Charles Sorenson, production manager, or C. Harold Wills, his chief designer. But it was Henry Ford's vision and will power that held everything together. He was also a genius at promotion (sometimes self promotion).
Brinkley does not shirk in his criticism of Ford's warts. Much of the book is devoted to Ford's anti-Semitism. On the other hand, he's quick to tell us of Ford's devotion to African American workers and his financing of Ford Hospital and social programs for his immigrant workers.
Although he's ambivalent about Henry Ford, Brinkley loves Edsel and Henry II. Brinkley's Edsel is an urbane and sophisticated man whom the author gives credit for the development of the Lincoln Continental and other styling at Ford. He also debunks the notion that Henry Ford contributed to Edsel's early death. Henry II is shown as an empathetic man who worked hand-in-hand with Walter Reuther's UAW to improve employee/employer relations.
Up until reading this book, I couldn't tell a Ford Taurus from a Ford Tempo, but I have to say that lately I've been paying more attention and, yes, the Tempo does look rather like a jellybean.
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By A Customer on April 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book actually brings new things to the Ford story. 1. New details especially in interviews with workers through the years. 2. Emphasis on how the business was really built, and credit to the whole circle of people responsible; also more information than ever on the other Fords, Edsel and Henry II, who are usually glossed over. 3. A lot about Ford's effect on the world outside of cars. Much more about the excitement of the product (the cars) than the usual business history, too. I have read everything out there about Ford and a lot of books of business history. They usually miss the big picture, but this book doesn't. Well-written, well-researched, highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Wheels for the World by Douglas Brinkley is a lengthy, but well written book that details the Ford Motor Company's epic history and many accomplishments. Brinkley offers the reader plenty of information on Henry Ford, the pioneer of mass produced auto manufacturing. He details everything from Ford's instabilities and contradicting behavior to his impeccable business savvy. A major downfall for Wheels for the World is Brinkley's inability to make clean transitions from one idea to the next. The reader gets attached to one idea, and the next thing you know Brinkley has begun an entirely new concept. But, in the end I believe the author did a great job of capturing the struggles and successes of the Ford Motor Company, while also taking us through an interesting journey into the life of an extremely intelligent man in our nation's history. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the nation and the auto-making industry.
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Format: Hardcover
Last year, I read a book about Henry Ford and his anti-Semitism. At that time, I had a very narrow view about the man - I wish now that I had read this book, Douglas Brinkley's study of Ford and his company, before I had read that one.

Brinkley's mammoth volume on this one man and the company he created is a tremendous addition to American business history. Brinkely gives us a comprehensive study (about half of the book) of Henry Ford the man and how he created the Ford Motor Company. This segment of the book really gave me a new respect for the man as an innovator and an idealist, though his engineering skills were apparently lacking (at one point Brinkley tells his audience that Ford couldn't even read a blueprint). Brinkley intertwines the story of Henry's son Edsel, who was given the unenviable task of running Ford Motor while Henry was still alive and wouldn't release control over some of the day-to-day operations.

After seeing Edsel die an untimely death, we see Ford Motor transition to Henry II. This is the first time that Henry Sr. relinquishes some control, and we see what the company can do (and does) during this period. Brinkley vividly tells the story of Henry II and his interactions with the labor movement in conjunction with operations at Ford Motor.

Towards the end of the book, we see the post Henry II era. We see a couple of different CEO's, including Donald Peterson, who seemed to help the company, and Jac Nasser, who probably isn't missed much by the Ford family - his reign saw the depletion of massive cash reserves from the corporation. At the conclusion of the book, Brinkley shows us the path that the company is taking today under the leadership of Bill Ford, Jr.
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