Review: Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City

Apparently Henry Ford has a Forgotten Jungle City.  This is the sort of fact that is impossible for me to ignore.  Fortunately it is also impossible for Greg Grandin to ignore and he has done plenty of excellent reserach to bring the whole story to readers of Fordlandia.

You have to give Grandin some credit for turning an odd obsession late in Ford’s life into a Forgotten Jungle City.  One could easily have looked at the situation and seen a footnote in Ford’s biography and moved on.  Grandin sees a grander tale, both in terms of the city’s story and how it reflects the attitudes of Ford and other US industrialists.

The history section of your local library or bookstore is full of stories of grand engineering feats, especially from this time. Most of those narratives have moments where the builders are fumbling around trying to figure out how to make their plan work, or finding the right people to implement it.  Several pieces fall together to make any of those projects succeed.  While reading Grandin’s story one keeps expecting that chapter where the right people and the right ideas cohere.  It doesn’t come.  Fordlandia never was a going concern.

Obviously there are a lot of failed projects, but Fordlandia sets itself apart because it was bold in both hubristic scope and conflicting ideals.  Those aspects reflect the personality and philosophy of Henry Ford, and Grandin spends much of the book exploring how it reflects Ford’s career and mindset.  That reflection shows a man of surprising contradictions and enormous influence over American thought and industry.  There are plenty of reasons to belive Grandin is accurate, and I was left with an interest in finding out more about Ford.

Overall Fordlandia is clear, well-written, and well supported.  There are a couple places where it feels slightly padded.  Grandin covers some very similar ground more than once, but it is not terribly distracting.  Overall it is an interesting story of a corner of history that reflects and magnifies its time.

Strongly Recommended.

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