Reviews for Fordlandia : The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City


Booklist Reviews 2009 June #1
In the 1920s, a cartel of Dutch and English rubber barons held a monopoly on the world's supply of rubber. The sole source of rubber was the South American tree Hevea brasiliensi, whose sap is natural latex. Smugglers had secreted seeds of the plant out of the Brazilian rain forest and created plantations in East Asia, monopolizing the supply of this essential commodity. In an effort to break this cartel, the great industrialist Henry Ford, who needed rubber for tires, purchased a land tract the size of Connecticut in the Amazon, intending to produce the largest rubber plantation on earth. The result was Fordlandia, a massively overreaching project that also sought to create a utopian Midwestern town in the middle of the Brazilian jungle. The project was a massive failure, as the American team was unprepared for the brutal challenges of unpredictable weather and an onslaught of diseases and insects that would ultimately destroy both the crop of rubber trees and the lives of everyone involved. Grandin's account is an epic tale of a clash between cultures, values, man, and nature. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2010 May
New paperback releases for reading groups

FORD’S FAILED UTOPIA

A finalist for the National Book Award, Greg Grandin’s compelling Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City brings to vivid life an extraordinary chapter in the career of Henry Ford. During the 1920s, Ford bought land in Brazil’s Amazon River basin, hoping to turn it into a rubber plantation that would supply his car business. He also dreamed of founding a town there that would resemble the sort of company-based community he had helped to establish in the U.S. Over a span of 18 years, Ford worked to fulfill this vision, sinking big money into the town, which was equipped with a golf course, movie theaters and Cape Cod-inspired houses. But the failure of the rubber industry, coupled with the natives’ resistance to the prudish value system Ford promoted, led to Fordlandia’s eventual demise. Grandin’s account of Ford’s forced urbanization of the jungle is larger than life, with the scale and weight of an epic story.

Watch a video of Greg Gandin discussing Fordlandia on BookTV.

CONROY IN CHARLESTON

South of Broad, Pat Conroy’s first novel in 14 years, is a sharply drawn portrait of the New South. Narrated by Leopold (Leo) Bloom King, a local gossip columnist looking back on his teenage years in the 1960s, the narrative offers glimpses of old Charleston, its blue-blooded families and the sense of change that pervaded the era. In high school, Leo mixes with a socially diverse crowd that includes Starla and Niles Whitehead, a pair of impoverished orphans from Appalachia; Ike Jefferson, one of the first black students integrated into Leo’s school; and twins Sheba and Trevor Poe—seemingly picture-perfect Southern siblings. The group remains connected over the years, and the ways in which their stories unfold are surprising and poignant. In 1989, the gang comes together to help Sheba find Trevor, who is missing in California—a reunion that brings the group full circle. Smart and sharp, Leo makes for a companionable narrator, and his insights into marriage, maturity and family have a wonderful authenticity. This is a big-hearted novel, and fans of its beloved author will savor every page.

A reading group guide is available online.

TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS

Monica Ali’s latest novel, In the Kitchen, is set in London’s Imperial Hotel, where executive chef Gordon Lightfoot oversees a staff of eccentric characters. The day-to-day routine of his kitchen, rendered by Ali in prose that’s wonderfully vibrant and precise, is turned upside down by the brutal murder of a hotel porter, a man from Ukraine. The crime brings to light the clandestine world of illegal immigrants and upsets Gordon’s sense of well-being. He had hoped to open his own restaurant but soon finds that his grip on reality is slipping. Betraying his fiancée, he becomes mixed up with a prostitute—a Belarusian who may be involved in a sex ring that’s based in the Imperial. Using the hotel as a microcosm for modern Europe, Ali skillfully examines such timely topics as gender, immigration and class. Author of the acclaimed novel Brick Lane (2003), Ali now serves up a complex, multilayered mystery.

A reading group guide is available online.

Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.

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Choice Reviews 2010 June
Unlike Henry Ford, this ambitious work achieves most of its goals. Grandin (NYU) details the automaker's star-crossed dream of applying Fordism's mass-production methods and social engineering to a vast Amazonian plantation producing rubber for his corporation. The project was mostly a failure through neglect of ecology, agronomic research, entomology, parasitology, and local social relations. A 1930 riot over food and working conditions caused much damage and temporarily drove away the US staff. From 1928, Ford invested $20 million in Fordlandia; in 1945, valued at $8 million, it was sold to the Brazilian government for $244,200. The author combines histories of business, labor, technology, environment, international relations, even art (Diego Rivera's Detroit murals) with wit and entertaining style. Among numerous mini-biographies he offers, Grandin scathingly critiques Harry Bennett, Ford's brutal security chief whose use of intimidation and violence poisoned American labor relations for decades. A chronology would help readers navigate the many leaps in time and space; partial reliance on published primary and secondary sources suggests there might be future revision. Such caveats aside, this looks to be history at its best. Summing Up: Essential. All collections; AP high school students and above. Copyright 2010 American Library Association.

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Kirkus Reviews 2009 April #1
Henry Ford's doomed attempt to establish a rubber industry and an attendant "work of civilization" in the rain forests of Brazil.The rising price of rubber and a threatened British-led cartel inspired the famously independent Henry Ford in 1927 to purchase a Connecticut-sized plot of land for the purpose of growing his own. The South American leaf blight and the advent of synthetic rubbers forced the company to abandon Fordlandia in 1945, long after Ford had poured millions of dollars and years of strenuous effort into the project. So why did he persist? Grandin (Latin American History/New York Univ.; Empire's Workshop: Latin America, The United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, 2006, etc.) convincingly argues that, for Ford, the enterprise was more than a purely economic venture. It was a missionary application of Ford-style capitalism--high wages, humane benefits, moral improvement--to a backward land. Ford's belief that he could harmonize industry and agriculture was always at war with the forces he had unleashed in the United States--mass-produced, affordable cars that encouraged mobility and fear induced in workers by hired thugs like Harry Bennett, who assured that the company would remain nonunion. With his vision of an industrial arcadia slipping away at home--due to what Grandin acutely terms "a blithe indifference to difference"--Ford attempted to construct in the Amazon a world he had helped obliterate in America. The author follows a succession of Ford representatives and managers overwhelmed by the challenges of doing business where the implacable terrain, jungle diseases, mounting costs, floundering construction, government bumbling and worker resistance all conspired to sink the project. The plantation's original motive, to grow rubber, gave way to an unsustainable sociological experiment, which despite its amenities--weekly dances, movies, tennis courts, garden clubs, schools and hospitals--made no economic sense and became a mockery of the Ford Motor Company's reputation for orderliness, efficiency and synchronization.Works both as a nice bit of recovered history and a parable. Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2009 May #1

Innovative automobile manufacturer Henry Ford had a unique vision that led to the large-scale application of assembly-line production processes, industry-leading wage rates, and sourcing of raw materials from the absolute base. Thus, once his production lines were churning out over a million cars per year, Ford sought to cut costs for tires by acquiring land in Brazil to grow rubber trees. In doing so, he set in motion a series of events chronicled in detail for the first time in this book. Though visionary, Ford did not really understand politics or diversity of human culture. This led to a series of missteps where time clocks, midday work hours, and other aspects of exported culture failed to resonate with the indigenous Brazilian workers. Instead of an efficient rubber farm, Fordlandia wreaked havoc in a space twice the size of Delaware; it was a spectacular failure. Workers eventually revolted, and the Brazilian army was brought in to restore order. Ford is iconic in American history and biography, the subject of over 100 biographies, but this particular misadventure has never been well documented until now. All readers of history and biography should consider.--Eric C. Shoaf, Univ. of Texas at San Antonio

[Page 88]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 May #1

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)

[Page 44]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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