The Critics: ‘Fordlandia’

Travel Blog  •  Alicia Imbody  •  06.18.09 | 2:08 PM ET

Greg Grandin’s new book, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, analyzes the surprising history behind the brilliant car mogul’s disastrous attempts to transplant the American way of life into a remote Amazonian village. Ford is credited as the father of America’s consumer culture, but his utopian plans to capitalize on new sources of rubber resulted in one of the greatest failures of his distinguished career. The critics are chiming in on the man behind the story and the modern day implications of exporting Americanism.

Ellen Akins, with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, appreciates the captivating story that depicts Fordlandia as “more of a social experiment than an economic enterprise.” She praises how “Grandin brings this aspect of the story into clear and fascinating focus.”

The Boston Globe’s David Shribman describes the book as “a gripping story of high hopes and deep failure, a saga that in some ways is a morality tale for the American century, when scores of efforts to plant our values and harvest foreign dollars brought disappointment, sometimes even despair.” Shribman notes how a parochial approach to cultivating both rubber trees and rubber gatherers, instead of geography and climate, was the most destructive force at work.

The Wall Street Journal’s Stuart Ferguson writes how “Grandin’s riveting account of this ‘forgotten jungle city’ demonstrates that in business, as well as in affairs of state, the means may be abundant but the ends still unachievable.”

NPR offers a first-hand look at Fordlandia, courtesy of the Collections of Henry Ford, remarking how Grandin shows that “Ford didn’t just want to tame men; he wanted to tame the jungle itself”—ultimately leading to the failure of the entire project.

Brett Decker with the Washington Times draws parallels between Ford’s world and our own, noting “the decay and gradual disappearance of Henry Ford’s jungle city now is playing out in major urban centers all across America’s industrial Midwest,” and citing modern ghost towns like Detroit.

The consensus seems to be that “Fordlandia” offers both an interesting assessment of Ford’s blunder, and a relevant warning call for the potential backlash of globalizing Western norms in the ever-shrinking McWorld. 

Alicia Imbody is a former World Hum intern and an international development consulant based out of Washington D.C.

2 Comments for The Critics: ‘Fordlandia’

Downtown Hotels 06.18.09 | 3:36 PM ET

Did he properly negotiate and puchase land that a plantation could produce the reguired rubber or did he go willy nilly into the project without properly conducting his research .
THIS is why it failed .POOR organazation and labor that was not familiar with life style of the americans . He did not give the people what they wanted .He lost his labor and the whole project was a failure .

Alicia Imbody 06.18.09 | 4:20 PM ET

@Downtown Hotels- That all sounds like a recipe for disaster. The idea of setting up a plant at the source makes sense to me, but trying to make the surrounding jungle a little slice of American suburbia? What were you thinking, Ford? I haven’t had a chance to read this book yet but after going through the reviews, it’s on my list.

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