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

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

Posted by jack_miller | Published 6 months ago

With 195 ratings

By: Greg Grandin

Purchased At: $29.95

The stunning, never before told story of the quixotic attempt to recreate small-town America in the heart of the Amazon

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, along with its golf courses, ice-cream shops, bandstands, indoor plumbing, and Model Ts rolling down broad streets.

Fordlandia, as the settlement was called, quickly became the site of an epic clash. On one side was the car magnate, lean, austere, the man who reduced industrial production to its simplest motions; on the other, the Amazon, lush, extravagant, the most complex ecological system on the planet. Ford's early success in imposing time clocks and square dances on the jungle soon collapsed, as indigenous workers, rejecting his midwestern Puritanism, turned the place into a ribald tropical boomtown. Fordlandia's eventual demise as a rubber plantation foreshadowed the practices that today are laying waste to the rain forest.

More than a parable of one man's arrogant attempt to force his will on the natural world, Fordlandia depicts a desperate quest to salvage the bygone America that the Ford factory system did much to dispatch. As Greg Grandin shows in this gripping and mordantly observed history, Ford's great delusion was not that the Amazon could be tamed but that the forces of capitalism, once released, might yet be contained.
Fordlandia is a 2009 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.

Yes Henry Ford created a city in the Amazon but the ideas and values that surrounded and supported his attempts at social engineering and the industrialization of nature are the most interesting and relevant parts of this book. We think the billionaire class is just greedy, but this glimpse into the ideals of the once richest man in America shows how unlimited wealth and hubris become married to blind indifference to individual rights, cultural diversity and the very fibers of life on earth. The rich saw the Amazon as both dangerous and boring. Nature was in the way of unlimited progress. Ford envisioned leveling it to create a Midwestern American paradise where local culture was replaced by square dancing and wholesome factory work gave everyone worth. While some of his ideas were praiseworthy, it was all done with a great deal of force and in the end the Amazon and his utter ignorance of agriculture, ecology and biological principles put an end to Fordlandia. I found many parallels between Ford and people like Bill Gates who confuses money with a PHD in Medicine and Education. Money does not make you God...it can make you deaf to good advice.

- malachi_evans

I saw Michael Palin reading this book on his not so recent series on Brazil (recommend that as well) and having seen his take on Fordlandia and another travel show venture there, I wanted to learn more.

This book is about Henry Ford's failed experiment in Central Brazil to corner and use the rubber available for his eponymous cars in the 1920's and 30's. But this book is about more than that as I learned about Henry Ford himself and his company and vision. As cars have become a symbol of the earlier Twentieth Century (they aren't a wow item like in say 1928), Henry Ford and his massive contribution to American life has ceded into the mists of time. This great book reminds the reader of what he did.

Fordlandia was his vision of putting the American suburbs in the Brazilian jungle. It didn't quite work for various reasons that this book details, but it is a fascinating journey. An excellent and well-written history. I found the book surprisingly well-written and easy to engage, wanting to read more and more. Trapped like I was on the river in the Heart of Darkness, waiting to discover Henry Ford at the end. Pleasant read and I learned quite a bit.

- andrea_ramirez

A very detailed, superbly researched and very well written history of the archetypal corporate blunder on a trans-continental scale. How a man's narrow-mindedness, lack of real humility (not the rural twang and corn-cob pipe variety), and total lack of respect for the ways of life of others (and the company ethic this produced) led to such a mess. It still happens today, but in a globalized economy there is less emphasis on internal procurement, now it is more employing child labor in Asia to keep costs down. Not enjoyable as light reading, it's too disturbing for that, but a fascinating story nonetheless.

- rachel_patel

This book has been on my list of books to read for many years, since I learned about Forlandia. The author does an amazing job of crafting a historical narrative that gets the reader into the mindset of the Ford Way. It was hard to put the book down at times. Have a map of Brazil handy to track the story.

- liv_howard

Amazing look at the real Henry Ford, his personality as it played out in his various entrepreneurial pursuits. A major contributor to the industrial culture that was once prevalent in the U.S. Shows the split in his personality between his ideals and his actions. Composition of the book is scattered and unorganized. Many thoughts are repetitive; chronology is hard to track. I would have preferred a tighter chronology.

- khaleesi_robinson

Henry ford, a self- made industrialist changed the world as much as his good friend Thomas Edison and anyone else in the early twentieth century. He spent the later part of his life trying to reshape his rural America back to a more pastoral era that his creation - an inexpensive car - did so much to destroy. In Brasil he tried to re-create his idolized version of small town farming community by creating a rubber plantation in the Amazon, in part to source this important automobile component through the ford family.

The author is quick to discount the manner in which ford "blindly" set up the plantation, and the book would be stronger with more external verification of his claims. I do not doubt they are in part correct - just that they could be presented more convincingly.

I enjoyed the book very much. Having been raised in Michigan, I already knew most of the ford history, and still think a visit to greenfield village is one of the highlights of American cultural history. Its lesson on how long it took manufacturers to re- design the workplace for electricity instead of steam has played out again in my lifetime as first personal computers and then the Internet have had similarly profound impact on how we work.
This book added to that understanding. By pushing agriculture into the forest in an effort to better people's lives - as well as make money - ford was a pioneer in outsourcing. The lesson this failure taught was that trying to control the whole process just because you control most of it is often not as efficient as letting others do what they may be able do better than you. Ford himself learned this lesson can as he later bought rubber from s.e. Asia after the war. I suspect in fact he had several irons the fire with regards to sourcing.

Towards the end of the book, we see in contrast that ford's failed idea later took root as some of the Amazon was ploughed over to plant his beloved soybean. Soy grown there that is now being used as he had foreseen in manufacturing. A good idea, germinating at the wrong time, may not bloom - but it is still a good idea. Henry ford was a complicated guy, and this book serves to shed light on only some part his life. But it does a good job telling a very interesting, somewhat prophetic story.

- maya_stewart

Interesting enough, but really the book is longer than it needs to be in places and seems almost to gloss over events in others. The story of Fordlandia itself is pretty simple but at the same time the book is well-researched and there are a lot of interesting snippets and asides to keep the reader's interests. While what was happening elsewhere in the Ford empire and in the private life of the man himself was interesting, I wasn't always entirely sure that it pertained to the main story all that much. The establishment of Fordlandia and the general mismanagement of the place is the main focus, with the demise seeming rather rushed and later chapters not all that convincingly linked into the narrative despite being fairly interesting. Personally, I'd have rathered a bit more of a balance with more about what became of Fordlandians after the inevitable occurred.

I don't know, maybe I'm being harsh but in hindsight I can't help but wonder if I'd been just as well to have a quick read of Wikipedia and a few other sites to get the gist of what happened there and opt for a book of more mainstream historical importance.

- emerson_roberts

This is an excellent account of a massive social experiment. In 1927 Henry Ford bought a 3,900 square mile tract of the Amazonian forest to plant rubber plantations and create an American city with all its advantages.
Although many fine buildings were constructed basic errors were made about the plantations where the trees were planted too closely and suffered from all sorts of disease and no rubber was produced.Conditions deteriorated and the site was returned to Brazil in 1945.
It is interesting to note that Ford never visited the site.
A first class well researched book.

- micah_brooks

When Henry Ford decided to establish his own rubber plantation in South America he had no idea of the trouble he would get into. To establish an american colony run by american values and priciples in the Amazon jungle sounded easy enough, but harsh reality would impose itself on fords dream. Corrupt local officials, lacking infrastructure, useless equipment, diseases, cultural diffenrences, poor management, rioting workers and incompetent agricultural methods were to become the projects down fall. This book gives an excellent account of these bizarre, unfortunate events.

- miles_martinez

Amazing Piece of forgotten Henry Ford modern history

- dayana_reyes

A little known footnote in history: Henry Ford's folly of founding a utopian settlement in the middle of the Amazon basin to provide in his own rubber. An amazing book.

- jabari_torres

This is a well-written and fascinating account not just of Ford's Brazilian adventure, but of some of the wider strengths and weaknesses of Henry Ford's running of his business in the 1920s and 1930s. It comes across as thoroughly researched, and it shows a level of ineptitude in Ford's approach to growing rubber in Brazil which is quite breathtaking. Highly recommended.

- jaxon_baker

A real eye opener what a nasty man I’ll never buy another ford

- tara_james

An excellent read. Well researched, full of facts, data and stories explaining this mad city in the jungle.

- layla_sanchez

A terrific guide to Ford's most ambitious project. A compelling tale which is worth reading for so many reasons.

- jillian_kelly

very interesting

- jaelyn_taylor

Book as described by the seller. All good.

- pearl_phillips

Fascinating insight into the megalomania of Henry Ford's power trip. Who knew !

- sullivan_foster

Ich bin auf den Begriff Fordlandia gestoßen, als ich ein herausragend fotografiertes Bild eines Berufsfotografen gesehen habe und sodann in Wikipedia über Fordlandia gelesen habe.

Zum Buch: Das kuriose Thema ist ergiebig und der Text ist gut bis sehr gut geschrieben. Durch die Bilder hat sich in meinem Kopf während des Lesens ein überraschend "plastisches" Bild von Fordlandia entwickelt (die Qualität der Bilder auf dem Kindle bildete zwar keinen Meilenstein der Technologie, ich würde sagen, die Qualität der Abbildungsleistung war in Ordnung). Im Verlauf der Handlung wird H. Ford immer mehr eingeflochten , weswegen das Buch gegen Ende in Richtung Biographie von H. Ford geht. Auch diese Teile empfand ich informativ und gut geschrieben.

Ich schwanke bei der Benotung zwischen vier und fünf Sternen.

Um die Kategorie mit fünf Sternen nicht zu inflationieren, habe ich auf vier Sterne abgerundet.

- charlie_turner

Fordlandia is a truly amazing account of the car tycoon's attempt to bring small town 1920's America and "civilisation" to the Amazon in return for all the rubber and timber he could grow there. Whilst meaning well for the country and its inhabitants, everything from corrupt politicians, pestilence and the logistics of recreating something akin to Michigan in the jungle proved futile despite the millions of dollars and years of manpower thrown at Henry's pet project.

This book is as much about the man as the town that bore his name and Ford does not come out of this well. Buoyed by the unparalleled success and wealth his Model T and A cars brought him, he developed a dictatorial style enthusiastically assisted by his right hand henchman Harry Bennett. He was a mass of contradictions in both word and deed; wanting personal development for his workers (and paying an unheard of five dollars a day in the process) whilst using Gestapo tactics and violence against any found to be speaking out against his production line prisons or even contemplating unionism. He believed he could single-handedly revive Brazil's ailing rubber industry in the face of a proposed cartel led by none other than Winston Churchill in the main producing lands of SE Asia. Thus Fordlandia was conceived. He was a balanced individual in that he had a chip on both shoulders, distrusting and hating the government and unions equally...

Suffice to say I could write all day about this book as it left a huge impression but you really need to read it yourself to get the full story as a few paragraphs from me really can't do it any justice. The author somehow manages to get into the psyche of the man and his men and it reads like a (classy) Hollywood blockbuster at times. Henry Ford believed in creating a utopian society to free the latex "tappers" from their slave like conditions but often treated his own son with disdain and pure spite. It is painstakingly detailed with each source minutely referenced but often too much so and you are sometimes left wondering how he knew who said what to who and when. That aside, the personalities, the struggles and (small) successes are all here to read as his jungle city rose and fell - failing to reach its full potential exactly as every one of the millions of tress he planted.

Forlandia still stands in part to this day as a testimony to the man who believed he could overcome nature for the benefit of all but did not once set foot there. An epic tale, fantastically well told.

- cason_williams

Very interesting look at pivotal moments in the early 20th century. Illustrates the state of the streamlining of auto manufacturing and labor relations which created one of the largest union in the U.S.

- ryder_perez

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