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).
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
"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)
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An eye-opening account of an arrogant man's folly
Superb Expose of Arrogance & Utopianism
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
- Susan Ohanian