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.

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.

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.

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

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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)

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