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

di Greg Grandin

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7312922,894 (3.55)46
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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    One River di Wade Davis (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Different facets of the incredible story of rubber and the power of nature.
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I gave it three stars because I liked it, but I did not love it. On the positive, it is a very interesting book on a very interesting topic. On the negative, there is a lot of small detail that can slow down the narrative a bit. At moments, I did skim through the book. The story itself is fascinating: Henry Ford decides to build and settle a town in the Brazilian Amazon jungle in order to have a place that supplies rubber for his car tires, thus bypassing other suppliers. This sounds good in theory. In practice, Ford went into the enterprise with a lot of ignorance. In many ways, it was not the jungle that defeated Ford. Ford more often than not was his worst enemy from his own ignorance about Brazil, the local customs, so on to the people he hired for the operation, who more often than not were even more clueless.

In addition to the story of Fordlandia, we also get a very good picture of Henry Ford, the company he created (Ford Motor Company), the revolution in industry he created (the assembly line and the idea of a lot of workers to make one small widget for a larger product at a time), and the time period (after World War I into the 1920s. Ford is portrayed as a man in conflict. On the one hand, he thinks industry is a savior, and yet he wants to return to a pastoral time that he himself helped destroy with his industry. It is a bit tragic yet fascinating to read. Fordlandia itself was finally sold off and turned over to the Brazilians after World War II. And no, this is not really a spoiler). You also get a bit U.S. as well as Brazilian and Latin American history in the process.

Overall, the author did a lot of research for this book, and he packs a lot of material in it. At times, it does get to be a bit much (thus why I skimmed some parts). Yet I still liked the book, and I enjoyed learning a few new things because of it. It is a book I would gladly recommend.

Final note: If you like this book, here are other books I have read that may appeal to readers as well:

* The Lost City of Z Actually, Percy Fawcett, subject of this book, is mentioned in Grandin's book a few times. Also, this is another book about the Amazon and man going into it attempting to conquer the jungle.

* Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche. This story is a biography of the philosopher's sister and the story of the Aryan utopian community her husband and her established in Paraguay. Again, man, or woman in this case, trying to conquer the jungle to create a utopia. In some ways, very similar to what Ford wanted with Fordlandia.

* The News from Paraguay. This is fiction, a novel about one of Paraguay's dictators and his Irish mistress.

( )
  bloodravenlib | Aug 17, 2020 |
Fascinating Story, Solid Writing

Other reviewers have complained that the author, Grandin, gets off subject quite a bit. While that is true, it does not take away from the book or the overall content. The book takes an in-depth look at several "characters" who were a part of Henry Ford's plan to create a rubber plantation run by Americans in Brazil. The book does go off on several tangents while discussing those characters and their schemes, but those tangents make sense and are interesting in and of themselves. The book was nicely written and easy to follow. ( )
  mvblair | Aug 9, 2020 |
This should have been a fascinating story and yet it was a struggle to finish (and I do not discourage easily.) ( )
  Lemeritus | May 5, 2019 |
While superficially bizarre this examination of Henry Ford's pet project to rationalize rubber production on modern lines is a great example of setting out from arbitrary (if defensible) first principles only to wind up with a disaster. Motivated by pique against a British initiative to create a cartel of natural rubber producers Henry Ford assumed that his normal operating procedures could tame the Amazon and that he would do well by doing good by bringing his version of modern civilization to the benighted Brazilians; whether they wanted it or not. It's all apiece of what Charles Lindbergh described as the Ford philosophy of act first (when inspiration struck) and plan later, creating a situation that the author describes (if it were a movie) as a cross between "Modern Times" and "Fitzcarraldo." I know that I'm also reminded of the Soviet Gulag system in its prime, where with enough resources, enough will, and enough bodies, one could triumph over any obstacle. I suspect that some readers will learn more about the machinations of the Ford Motor Company than they really want to know as the author does not gloss over Old Man Ford's often disquieting and creepy behavior. On the other hand, the region of Brazil in question is now a sinkhole of the worst excesses of modern capitalism in the "Age of Globalism" to the degree that Ford's paternalism has a certain degree of nobility in the rapidly fading afterglow of its demise. ( )
  Shrike58 | Jul 12, 2018 |
Did you know that Henry Ford, in the middle of fighting unions, being anti-Semetic, and otherwise shaping car culture, tried to build a productive village in the Brazilian rainforest in order to supply latex to his production lines? I did not! It didn’t go well, for a variety of reasons both environmental and human. The anti-government Ford ended up relying heavily both on the Brazilian and US governments in trying to make a go of Fordlandia, but it still didn’t work. The last chapter is a truly depressing account of deforestation and environmental destruction in the Amazon, but what the book really brings home is that, though our culture celebrates the successes of private enterprise, we don’t talk about private failures a lot. And most businesses, and even most endeavors of successful businesses, fail. The difference between businesses and government is that, when government fails, it can’t just go bankrupt and go away. ( )
  rivkat | Jun 13, 2016 |
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Why, though, did we need a Mahagonny?
Because the world is a foul one.
-BERTOLT BRECHT
The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny
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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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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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