Monday, January 31, 2011

Greg Grandin's "Fordlandia" (Steak Knives)

I think I found out about this book via a BoingBoing post...

Grandin's "Fordlandia: The Rise And Fall Of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City" is a great blend of history, biography and cultural studies (and National Book Award Finalist).

Ford's effort to establish large scale rubber plantations to supply his factories directly was as much social engineering as practical though visionary industrialism. Beyond investing fortunes in clearing and preparing raw rain forest for plantation rubber nurseries, he tried to replicate/engineer an already bygone (largely due to his own efforts, argues the author) nostalgic American small-town community deep in the Amazon in the early 20th Century.

Without much surprise, the project fails on several fronts, and more so from 21st Century scrutiny. While I'd say the text is objective and well balanced throughout, I think the social engineering piece is the softest point of a solid effort. It may be that there's just more natural and robust 1st hand materials that deal with the ledger-like details of Ford's Amazon laboratory, but it left me wanting more focus on what was in many ways an attempt to transplant an anachronistic American mode of living on an unreceptive ecology and culture(s). Thus, no 'Cadillac.'

Still, the author weaves some incredible threads, from a rich sense of Ford's own psychology and personal history, to a deconstructive exploration of early 20th C. explosive industrialism and Ford's shaping of the age, to the relative remoteness and (then) resolute Tapajos river concession he poured money into with great effect to the development of the region to this day. While the social project was a failure, the impact remains in other ways.

There's no reason not to read this.

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