Wordy Wednesday: Fordlandia by Greg Grandin

Henry Ford was like many other billionaires in that he had a bunch of wacky– and sometimes offensive — eccentricities that kept him in the headlines.  For instance, he was passionately against cow milk: not because he loved cows and cared about animal welfare, but because he hated cows and wanted to keep them away from everyone (who hates cows?).  He was also a pacifist, which is great.  But then he amped up the crazy-rich-guy meter and set sail on a giant cruise ship called “Peace Boat” headed for Europe, where he and a bunch of hippies and derelicts would do something for peace.  It was never really clarified what exactly they would do, so as soon as they got there, he came right back to the U.S.

But Ford’s special brand of kookiness was especially evident in the model towns he created, namely Fordlandia in Brazil.  He thought that he could create a perfectly peaceful and industrious village surrounding a rubber tree plantation in the jungle.  What he didn’t know was that the Amazon is totally effing crazy and doesn’t care what you think.

What I liked best about Fordlandia was the character portrait of Henry Ford and the historical analysis of his failed philosophies.  He believed so fervently in many things that he helped destroy with the expansion of his factory empire.  The sections describing the insanity of the Brazilian jungle were also very interesting.

What I did not like about this book was all the technical description of “leaf blight,” soil problems, and other issues with planting of rubber trees.  Those sections were generally not interesting at all, so I just skimmed over them.

Overall, this is a great story about the American values that have made the country great and also really stupid in some ways.  It also proves that it’s very hard to have one billion dollars and not be crazy.

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    It’s funny…having grown up in the Fords’ hometown…having going to school with many a Ford…having celebrated every major holiday at least once at the Edsel Ford house–you never hear these kooky stories. What a nut job!

  2. 2

    bermudaonion said,

    Holy cow, he does sound a little wacky! I bet my sister would enjoy this book since her husband is from Detroit.


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