Fordlandia is a wide-ranging history not only of Henry Ford’s problem-plagued foray into the Amazonian rainforest, but also of his place in advancing mechanized manufacturing. While the jungle experience did not make a lasting imprint on the Ford Company’s existence, the perfection of assembly-line processes, the invention of machines to replace workers, and Henry Ford’s desire to control all facets of his automobile production process certainly combined to change the way goods are manufactured and life for workers around the world. Jonathan Davis aptly takes listeners through the story as the book first details Henry Ford’s rise to world prominence through the debacle of Fordlandia, and finally to Ford’s legacy of multinational corporations and mechanized labor.
The experience of Fordlandia brings forth Davis’ many skills as a gifted narrator. While his even voice tells the tale, he offers engaging and enjoyable moments as he describes various characters who helped make Ford’s poorly thought-out excursion into virgin rainforest the misery that it was. Davis reads excerpts from the letters botantist Carl LaRue sent to Henry Ford from Brazil, detailing the forlorn existence of the natives who would, supposedly, benefit from Ford’s insistence on a workforce that adhered to his personal Puritan values. Davis also reads the poetry of George Washington Sears, whose work describes a Brazilian workers revolt, and of Elizabeth Bishop, who put the Amazon Rivers untouched beauty into verse.
Mostly though, Davis introduces listeners to the wheelers and dealers who finessed the Brazilian land deal. According to author Grandin, that deal “snookered” the richest man in the world into paying for land he could have gotten for free. Later, Davis voices upper- and mid-level Ford managers who saw opportunities for money and power in time spent at the struggling Amazonian rubber plantation.
Fordlandia has it all: from American ingenuity, pride, wealth, and stubbornness to the tendency of some towards exploitation, greed, and nativism. Davis gives voice to Grandin’s words as he describes that moment in American history when the country changed from being mostly agrarian pioneers to factory workers; When American businessmen and factory owners began looking farther than the shores of the United States and saw income possibilities in foreign countries. Fordlandia ultimately relates how badly Henry Ford’s arrogance was shattered by the natural forces of the jungle: from the building of Cape Cod-style housing in cleared rainforest tracts to insisting on rainforest natives using a factory time clock it simply did not work. Anyone interested in a preview of the U.S. role in Latin America will welcome Grandin’s book and Davis’ narration. Carole Chouinard
In 1927, Henry Ford, the richest man in the world, bought a tract of land twice the size of Delaware in the Brazilian Amazon. His intention was to grow rubber, but the project rapidly evolved into a more ambitious bid to export America itself. Fordlandia, as the settlement was called, soon became the site of an epic clash. On one side was the lean, austere car magnate; on the other, the Amazon, the most complex ecological system on the planet. Indigenous workers rejected Ford's midwestern Puritanism, turning the place into a ribald tropical boomtown. And his efforts to apply a system of regimented mass production to the Amazon's diversity resulted in a rash environmental assault that foreshadowed many of the threats laying waste to the rain forest today.
More than a parable of one man’s arrogant attempt to force his will on the natural world, Greg Grandin's Fordlandia is "a quintessentially American fable". (Time).
©2009 Greg Grandin (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC
"Fordlandia is … a genuinely readable history recounted with a novelist’s sense of pace and an eye for character. It is a significant contribution [that is] grossly enjoyable." (Los Angeles Times)
Fordlandia ranks in the top tier of audiobooks.
Ignoring local customs and climate, Ford officials insisted that clapboard houses had to be built in the jungle--with tin roofs, making them unbearable hot.
He's just a very good reader, with a nice wry tone.
Wealth, ignorance, and exploitation
I thought this was an interesting story of Henry Ford trying to impose his will on the Amazon. There are many angles at work in this story. The trees, the cultures, the people. Ford may or may not have been motivated purely on business grounds. Having such success, he was very confident in all that he did. Confident that if he just did the same things that built his empire, he could build the next stage of it. A great case study of a company moving into a new location and not understanding the locals, turning what could be new allies into potential enemies. Lessons that are still applicable today.
The narrator moves at quite a slow pace and makes it a little hard to stay engaged.
Suffice it to say that they don't say anything about this chapter of Henry Ford's life in his hometown of Dearborn, where I spent a lot of time in my childhood. Grandin depicts a man filled with hubris who seemed to think he couldn't fail at anything he tried. Yet, he failed miserably with Fordlandia, his attempt to build a worker's paradise in the Amazon -- not least because he couldn't be bothered to visit the place himelf - not even once - and was incredibly short-sighted about the realities of transferring Dearborn to the jungle. What is perhaps even more disturbing is that much of the ignorance that characterized his decisions about Fordlandia was also present in the way he ran his operations back home and saw his own place in the world. It's a tribute to the men and women that came after him that Ford Motor Co. itself has not gone the way of Fordlandia.
A short note aobut the narrator -- although his reading is a bit slow and halting, as some reviewers have noted, his pronunciation of the Brazilian words and place names is impressive and really enhanced my listening experience.
Between each sentence are long pauses, and it makes the book almost impossible to get into. Because of this reading style the story loses any cadence Greg Grandin might have introduced. Listen to the sample and you will see what I mean. The whole book is like this.
This book of Henry Ford's unfortunate attempt to grow rubber and to instill his American Way of Life in the jungle of Brazil, is overly long and repetitive. Every problem is hashed to death, over and over. The history is probably fairly accurate, and occasional facts are interesting. The ending of the book about the long-term effects of industrialization is particularly sad....the devastation of the local Brazilians' way of life, and the destruction of the jungle ecosystem. This is one of the worst books I've ever slogged through.
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