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Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry…

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

by Greg Grandin

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Henry Ford build a rubber plantation and community in the Amazon. He wanted to be in total control of all aspects of life there--even though he never visited it. He made his managers who oversaw the settlement abide by his rules. He had rules like: only brown rice is to be served in the cafeteria. (Because he thought it was healthier, never mind what the native people actually wanted. He was trying to build a replica of his version of an efficient, clean, moral American community and workplace in the middle of a jungle where the workers where native tribesman who had never used clocks before. And who rioted at one point, smashing the time clocks he had installed. This story, and Ford, can be facinating but this book went into way too much detail about every single thing and it became a tedious read. We read and discussed it in book group and all the members thought the same thing. Fans of detailed examinations of one aspect of history--this is the book for you. ( )
  debs4jc | Dec 2, 2014 |
Very interesting. I had no idea such settlements had been a popular thing. Definitely something that should be on the must read list for anyone interested in those times. ( )
  autumnturner76 | Sep 22, 2014 |
This is the story of what happens when someone with a boatload of money gets a hair-brained idea: they can fund their outlandish dream but have no idea how to actually accomplish it. Henry Ford found success with his motor company and felt that this same success would translate well in a foreign country he knew little to nothing about. (After all, he had lots of advisers for that.) Suffice it to say, Ford started out with good intentions. He needed a new place to grow high quality rubber but that project quickly morphed and ended up growing into the more ambition dream of creating a civilized utopia in the wilds of an Amazonian jungle. Other well known companies set up the essentials of home away from home in places like Cuba and Mexico, but Ford wanted to create a brand new society. He envisioned shopping centers, ice cream parlors, sidewalks for the civilized townspeople to stroll upon, electricity, running water...all the comforts of middle America in a remote riverside section of Brazil. It's ironic that Ford felt he was rescuing a vision of Americana so far from "home." Of course, these visions were bound to fail. Ford ran into obstacles practically every step of the way. Clearing the land of massive tangle of jungle and vines wasn't as easy as any of his advisors thought it would be. Engineers didn't properly grade the roads causing washouts every time it rained....in a rainforest. The humidity would rust saw blades faster than the men could wear them out on the difficult bark of foreign trees. Keeping skilled labor on the job proved to be just as difficult. Diseases unfamiliar to mid westerners plagued the workforce. Prohibition wasn't law in Brazil so those men who didn't quit were often drunk thanks to rum boats moored on the river. Then there were the insects that plagued the crops. The list goes on. As you can imagine, all of this would lead to a breakdown. Of course this story can't have a happy ending, but it is fascinating all the same. ( )
1 vote SeriousGrace | Aug 14, 2014 |
Very interesting. I had no idea such settlements had been a popular thing. Definitely something that should be on the must read list for anyone interested in those times. ( )
  AutumnTurner | Dec 29, 2013 |
I've been slogging my way through FORDLANDIA for close to a month now, a little at a time. I've read over 250 pages now and have finally decided enough is enough. I'm just not enjoying this book enough to finish it. It feels like "assigned reading" or homework. The idea of the book, Hentry Ford's harebrained scheme to build a Norman Rockwell kind of city in the middle of the Amazon jungle and set up a rubber plantation, sounded really interesting. In its execution, however, it is simply not very interesting. Too much like reading a history book. And you know from the outset his plan did not succeed, so ... While it is patently obvious that author Greg Grandin has done beaucoups research and is a more than decent writer, the book has a very sluggish forward momentum, when it moves forward at all. There are certainly some interesting elements here, anecdotes and thumbnail histories from the Great Depression, Ford's early life and his rise to become the world's richest man. The fact that he was an anti-Semite becomes clear, which doesn't make him a very likeable 'protagonist.' His union-busting with hired thugs doesn't help much either. And none of the secondary figures here are particularly likeable either. I think my interest first began to wane very early, with the statement, "Henry Ford didn't much like to read." Ford said it was like "a dope habit." He also said, "Book-sickness is a modern ailment." There are indications in the text that Ford, while probably not illiterate, may well have been dyslexic, several decades before a name had been put to that particular learning disability. There were some interesting revelations about the villages Ford had built in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to harvest its lumber and ore for his factories. But the guy sounded like a real dictator the way he expected the village's inhabitants to abide by his own eccentric rules and regulations.

Sorry, Henry, but I just didn't like you enough to waste any more time on a story of an ill-devised dream doomed to failure. I'll give it two and a half stars and say good-bye and good riddance. ( )
  TimBazzett | Jun 14, 2013 |
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Why, though, did we need a Mahagonny?
Because the world is a foul one.
The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
To Emilia Viotti da Costa
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January 9, 1928. Henry Ford was in a spirited mood as he toured the Ford Industrial Exhibit with his son, Edsel, and his aging friend Thomas Edison, feigning fright at the flash of news cameras as a circle of police officers held back admirers and reporters.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0805082360, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, June 2009: Proving that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, Fordlandia is the story of Henry Ford's ill-advised attempt to transform raw Brazilian rainforest into homespun slices of Americana. With sales of his Model-T booming, the automotive tycoon saw an opportunity to expand his reach further by exploiting a downtrodden Brazilian rubber industry. His vision, the laughably-named Amazonian outpost of Fordlandia, would become an enviable symbol of efficiency and mark the Ford Motor Company as a player on the global stage. Or so he thought. With thoughtful and meticulous research, author Greg Grandin explores the astounding oversights (no botanists were consulted to confirm the colony's agricultural viability) and painful arrogance (little thought was paid to how native Brazilians would react to an American way of life) that hamstrung the project from the start. Instead of ushering in a new era of commerce, Fordlandia became a cautionary tale of a dream destroyed by hubris. --Dave Callanan

Take a Closer Look at Images from Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City

(Click on images to enlarge)
A sketch of the opera house in Manus,
Brazil (aka. "the tropical Paris")
An Amazonian family
employed in the rubber trade
Ford executives on the
deck of The Ormoc en
route to the Amazon

Workers clearing the rainforest
before construction can begin
Mundurucú mission children
with German nuns
A Lincoln Zephyr stuck
in Fordlandia mud

Fordlandia's Riverside Avenue
near the Tapajós River
Ruins of Fordlandia's powerhouse
Ruins of the sawmill
at Iron Mountain

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:43 -0400)

The stunning, never-before-told story of the quixotic attempt to recreate small-town America in the heart of the Amazon, "Fordlandia" depicts a desperate quest to salvage the bygone America that the Ford factory system did much to dispatch.

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