Books: Fordlandia

Greg Grandin’s fascinating take on the rise and fall of Henry Ford’s forgotten jungle city.

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In 1927, Henry Ford was the richest man in the world—so when he needed cheap rubber, he simply bought a Brazilian rainforest and set about turning his little corner of the Amazon into a model American town. In this lively history, Greg Grandin enlists a cast of union-busting thugs, a Norwegian sea captain, and a cranky botanist to tell the story of the short-lived Fordlandia plantation.

More than just a company town, Fordlandia was an ambitious feat of sociological engineering. Indigenous workers lived in cozy cottages straight out of the Midwest and Swiss-style bungalows. Alcohol was forbidden; instead the company provided wholesome fun in the form of square dances, swimming pools, a golf course, movies, and recreational driving in company cars. Though Ford paid his workers more than they would have earned harvesting rubber elsewhere and provided free health care and education, he wasn’t motivated by altruism alone: Happy laborers, he reasoned, would be more efficient.

In the end, caterpillars and blight took hold, the rubber trees refused to thrive, and by 1945, the experiment had completely collapsed. And so died Ford’s utopian vision of profit-driven paternalism—a sentimental notion unrecognizable in an era of multinationals, slums, and sweatshops.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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