April 17 2013

Rise and Fall of the Rubber Rouge: A Review of Greg Grandin’s “Fordlandia”

Fordlandia by Greg Grandin

In his book Fordlandia, author Greg Grandin chronicles Henry Ford’s great attempt to create a vast rubber plantation and idyllic company town in the complex ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest. The story Grandin tells is not just one of Ford’s industrial and sociological experiment, but of the difficulties of exporting American ideals and lifestyles to an inadequately understood place.

Early in the book, Grandin introduces readers to Henry Ford’s ambitions, eccentricities and values, including his pacifist ideals, his support of soybean production over cattle, and his vision of molding upstanding men. Ford envisioned factory towns with orderly urban planning centered around a town square, where industry and agriculture worked in tandem. He imagined well-kept homes and tidy gardens, all inhabited by residents who worked in efficient factories for part of the year and tended to agriculture in other times. He believed that with respectable wages and a wholesome environment, he could shape a society of responsible, dignified citizens.

Ford’s increasing obsession with this vision resulted in many projects such as logging camps in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Greenfield Village in Dearborn, and in 1928, Fordlandia in the Brazilian Amazon. Grandin recounts the history of Fordlandia through a riveting story full of colorful, imperfect characters. He leads the reader through events such as the shady acquisition of land, the difficulties of planting and harvesting high-yield rubber trees, the imposition of civic education and recreation wholly out of context with the natives, and the ultimate failure of Fordlandia.

Fordlandia Houses on Riverside Avenue

In telling the story of what has now become a ghost city, Grandin highlights the Amazon’s enormity – unconquerable by one man’s careful design. Fordlandia demonstrates Henry Ford’s arrogance in his belief that he could tame the Amazon. It is a vivid illustration that ideal cities and virtuous societies cannot be achieved by singular vision.

What are some ways that new systems and values can actually succeed in becoming ingrained in a city?

“Fordlandia” is available from the publisher in hardcover, paperback, and as an e-book. Order you copy here. To win a free paperback copy, enter our contest below. Four copies are being given away. The deadline is April 24, 2013. Best of luck!

Win A Free Copy of “Fordlandia:” Rafflecopter giveaway

April 25, 2013: This book giveaway has now concluded. Congratulations to the winners of a copy of “Fordlandia:” Patricia Ann Kent, J.V. Scheidelaar, Nicolas Jordan, and Jeffrey Parker Jilek.

Credits: Photos by Jessica Yoon and The Henry Ford. Data linked to sources.

Jessica Yoon

Jessica Yoon is a native Oregonian, currently residing in New Orleans, Louisiana. She holds a B.S. in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University, where she became interested in how great places can promote both equity and prosperity. She is primarily interested in how smart planning and design initiatives, combined with inspired real estate development projects, can create wonderful urban places for people to live, work, and thrive. Jessica reports on new initiatives and urban developments in New Orleans, where a fast pace of progress raises hope for a vibrant future for the city and region. Beyond her work as a marketing professional and blogger, Jessica enjoys riding her bicycle, eating her way through the city’s food scene, and listening to economics podcasts.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 17th, 2013 at 1:33 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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4 Responses to “Rise and Fall of the Rubber Rouge: A Review of Greg Grandin’s “Fordlandia””

  1. Patricia Kent Says:

    Hi Jessica. Great review! I think that the most successful way for new ideas to become part of society is communication. Getting community members to come together and discuss options, practice theories, and learn from mistakes, creates the most sustainable new methodologies.

  2. Jeff Jilek Says:

    Jessica, to begin, I am a former blogger of GSP and am a regular reader of posts on the website. That being said I will continue with my reply: I found your review of Fordlandia well-written. It peaked my interest. I am wondering if this is a real place at this point–I have never heard of Fordlandia or Henry Ford’s plans to build a rubber plant in the Amazon. Absolutely fascinating topic. I like the questions at the end as well. I believe virtuous societies can only be achieved through the Social Contract. In other words, only with everyone’s buy-in and mutual understanding can a society even begin to talk of virtue. Your brush upon extension of the invading culture into the Amazon basin is also a pressing one, especially in this age of globalization. Great work!

  3. Jessica Yoon Says:

    Jeff – Fordlandia is indeed a real place that still physically exists today, although the Ford presence is no longer there and it is more akin to a ghost town. I guess they never saw reason to demolish the structures that were built. The book even included a photo of a woman who had grown up there and (I think) still lived in a house there.

    I totally agree with both of you, it is about real dialogue and a social contract. I think in Ford’s mind he was a benevolent employer, giving the people along the Tapajos river good jobs, wages and a more virtuous way of living. Unfortunately, he didn’t make enough of an effort to understand the whole situation or gather any input in how to run Fordlandia.

  4. Doug Poole Says:

    Jessica, interesting story. I think there are plenty of similar stories about individuals or companies or even governments creating their version of a great project or development, only to find later that a singular vision doesn’t always make for a successful community. I think of Levittown, or today’s extreme, Dubai. Great city planning is rare. Maybe Portland comes close.

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