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

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Greg Grandin

Amazon Best of the Month, June 2009:Proving that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction,Fordlandiais 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, … see full wiki

Tags: Book
Author: Greg Grandin
Genre: History
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
1 review about Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's...

Gothic-comic horror-history genre-bender

  • Aug 12, 2009
Not sure where you should file this one in your library; we have to pick one place to put it, so lets compromise on "cautionary tale," as this is what Grandin has crafted out of this Gothic-comic horror-history "encroaching jungle" tale. He even invokes Heart of Darkness (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century), certainly an apt comparison, with the difference that the real-life Henry Ford had millions to spend sending many not-from-these-parts employees down the river in search of Kurtz. In the end, concludes Grandin, it was Ford's vision of capitalism, commerce, and culture that was destroyed by the darkness at the heart of the encroaching jungle.

Fordlandia was the name given to the first of two vast tracts of land in the Brazilian Amazon that Ford bought in 1927 to plant rubber trees and harvest it under controlled and, he expected, profitable circumstances. Turns out that rubber trees were not so amenable to domestication in the jungle, especially when Ford assigned the work to his Midwestern managers who had no expertise in either botany or Brazilian culture and economics.

Along the way, the focus of the plantations turned from the lost-cause of making a profit importing rubber to making a point exporting culture. The clash between Ford's ideals and business tactics on one side and the Amazonian climate and culture on the other was a gathering storm cloud that only a megalomaniacal businessman like Ford could have tried to overcome for as long as he did.

So what remains in the encroaching jungle are fantastic ruins of a failed utopia--not unlike those sought for in the same stretch of Amazon riverbank by explorer Percy Fawcett, a doomed attempt described by David Grann in the equally fantastic The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, Perhaps the Heart of Darkness beating in the Amazon is the always out-of-reach dream of riches that drives men to keep trying beyond reason.

Grandin's story is good at hitting all the points. The only things missing to give the book a 5-star "what a classic" rating would be more pictures comparing then and now (the few pictures in the book are inline with the text; this book needed a large glossy section of photos in the middle) and more description of how the jungle climate and Brazilian culture has taken over and reused this misplaced and forgotten Midwestern utopia.

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