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

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin
114 reviews (2009) (432p)
Pulitzer Prize for History Finalist
National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction Finalist
National Book Award for Nonfiction Finalist

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Book Description

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.

Greg Grandin is the author of Empire's Workshop, The Last Colonial Massacre, and the award-winning The Blood of Guatemala. An associate professor of Latin American history at New York University, and a Guggenheim fellow, Grandin has served on the United Nations Truth Commission investigating the Guatemalan Civil War and has written for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New Statesman, and The New York Times.

A National Book Award Finalist

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 quixotic mission to recreate the small-town America that the Ford factory system did much to dispatch. As Greg Grandin shows in this 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.

"Magic happens when a gifted historian and master storyteller finds a treasure trove of untapped materials to exploit. And Greg Grandin's book on Fordlandia is simply magical. Here is the truly epic tale of American adventurers dispatched by Henry Ford in 1928 to conquer and civilize the Amazon by constructing an industrial/agricultural utopia the size of Tennessee. Among the dozens of reasons I will be recommending Fordlandia to friends, family, colleagues, and students is the scale and pace of the narrative, the remarkable cast of characters, the brilliantly detailed descriptions of the Brazilian jungle, and what may be the best portrait we have of Henry Ford in his final years as he struggles to recapture control of the mighty forces he has unleashed."—David Nasaw, the Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History at the CUNY Graduate Center and author of Andrew Carnegie

"Henry Ford dreamed big as a matter of course, and in 1928 he decided to find and develop the ideal location to revive commercial-level rubber production in the depths of the Amazon rain forest. Greg Grandin tells the fascinating tale of Ford's campaign to transplant modern industrial methods that had succeeded for him in Detroit to the site he had selected along the Tapajós River, a branch of the Amazon. Brazil, of course, welcomed its illustrious benefactor with open arms (and, in many cases, open palms). But financial largesse and benevolent attitudes can mask less selfless motives in a donor's agenda. After all, latex was the sole component for his industry that Ford didn't control, and he had plans for changing that with his Brazilian venture. As part of his jungle dream, Ford also planned to build a town, Fordlandia, that would showcase all the virtues of the American 19th century small-town life of his youth. Imagining Brazilian plantation workers thriving under his personal ideal of high wages and healthy, moral living, he 'built Cape Cod-style shingled houses for his Brazilian workers and urged them to tend flower and vegetable gardens, and eat whole wheat bread and unpolished rice.' Ballroom dancing and golf were leisure activities that he promoted. Nobody had the temerity to ask, 'In the middle of the Amazon rain forest? Are you deranged?' Even if people had challenged him, Ford was so fixated on his idea that he probably would have ignored them. The Amazon (or, rather, his idea of the Amazon) represented a fresh start in an environment he considered uncorrupted by all that he saw blighting the American commercial landscape (like unions). Ford believed his will, capital and expertise could mold the world and was either ignorant of, or dismissed, 'the emotions of nationalism and deaf to the grievances of history.' For starters, humidity, rainfall, dense forest and bugs proved to be severe challenges for managers used to less extreme conditions in the American Upper Midwest. Fretting endlessly over finding a factory whistle that would not rust in the jungle, they remained dangerously clueless about the culture they had invaded. As one local priest astutely observed, the Ford men 'never really figured out what country they were in.' The inevitable came in December 1930, when a manager changed the way food was served to workers: he may have considered the change trivial, but the workers rioted and reduced Fordlandia to rubble. Today the site of Ford's dream town is a ghost city, decayed and overgrown, along the still-wild Tapajós."—John McFarland, Shelf Awareness  

"Magic happens when a gifted historian and master storyteller finds a treasure trove of untapped materials to exploit. And Greg Grandin's book on Fordlandia is simply magical. Here is the truly epic tale of American adventurers dispatched by Henry Ford in 1928 to conquer and civilize the Amazon by constructing an industrial/agricultural utopia the size of Tennessee. Among the dozens of reasons I will be recommending Fordlandia to friends, family, colleagues, and students is the scale and pace of the narrative, the remarkable cast of chara


Amazon.com Review
Amazon Best of the Month, June 2009: Proving that truth can indeed be stranger than fiction, Fordlandia is 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, the automotive tycoon saw an opportunity to expand his reach further by exploiting a downtrodden Brazilian rubber industry. His vision, the laughably-named Amazonian outpost of Fordlandia, would become an enviable symbol of efficiency and mark the Ford Motor Company as a player on the global stage. Or so he thought. With thoughtful and meticulous research, author Greg Grandin explores the astounding oversights (no botanists were consulted to confirm the colony's agricultural viability) and painful arrogance (little thought was paid to how native Brazilians would react to an American way of life) that hamstrung the project from the start. Instead of ushering in a new era of commerce, Fordlandia became a cautionary tale of a dream destroyed by hubris. --Dave Callanan

Take a Closer Look at Images from Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City

(Click on images to enlarge)



A sketch of the opera house in Manus,
Brazil (aka. "the tropical Paris")

An Amazonian family
employed in the rubber trade

Ford executives on the
deck of The Ormoc en
route to the Amazon

Workers clearing the rainforest
before construction can begin

Mundurucú mission children
with German nuns

A Lincoln Zephyr stuck
in Fordlandia mud

Fordlandia's Riverside Avenue
near the Tapajós River

Ruins of Fordlandia's powerhouse

Ruins of the sawmill
at Iron Mountain




Greg Grandin Award Stats
Major Prize* Nominations 3  
Unique Books Nominated for a Major Prize* 1  
Pulitzer Prize Wins 0  
Pulitzer Prize Nominations 1 Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City ·  
National Book Critics Circle Award Wins 0  
National Book Critics Circle Award Nominations 1 Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City ·  
National Book Award Wins 0  
National Book Award Nominations 1 Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City ·  
Man Booker Prize Wins 0  
Man Booker Prize Nominations 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Wins 0  
PEN/Faulkner Award Nominations 0  

*Major Prize = Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, Man Booker Prize, and PEN/Faulkner Award

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