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2009 National Book Award Finalist,

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Greg Grandin
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City
Metropolitan Books, a division of Henry Holt and Company

Video from the 2009 National Book Awards Finalist Reading

Photo credit: Manu Goswami


Fordlandia is a fascinating account of what happens when hubris mixes with naiveté and good intentions in the Amazonian jungle. Grandin is a gifted historian and master storyteller, who successfully brings to life the tragic story of Henry Ford’s attempt to create his own rubber kingdom in Brazil. More than a half a century after the last American abandoned Fordlandia to Nature’s embrace, there are still many truths and lessons to be gleaned from Ford’s failed experiment in benign imperialism.


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, and, of course, Model Ts. Instead, the settlement quickly became the site of an epic clash.

Fordlandia depicts a desperate quest to salvage the bygone America that the Ford factory system did much to dispatch. As Greg Grandin shows, 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. A professor of history 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.

Grandin received his BA from Brooklyn College, CUNY, in 1992 and his PhD from Yale in 1999. His many books and articles explore the connection between the diverse manifestations of everyday life and large-scale societal transformations that took place in Central and South America related to agricultural commodity production and state formation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Grandin has published extensively on issues of revolution, popular memory, U.S.–Latin American relations, photography, genocide, truth commissions, human rights, disease, and the tensions that exist between legal and historical inquiries into political violence. In 1997 and 1998 Grandin worked with the Guatemalan Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico—the UN-administered truth commission set up to investigate political violence committed during Guatemala’s thirty-six-year civil war.


Greg Grandin at Strand Bookstore, June 30, 2009. C-SPAN's Video Library

The Instruction of Great Catastrophe: Truth Commissions, National History, and State Formation in Argentina, Chile, and Guatemala
The American Historical Review - Vol. 110, No. 1

Green Acres: Lost in the Amazon
By Greg Grandin
This article appeared in the April 13, 2009 edition of The Nation.
March 26, 2009

Sucking up to P
Greg Grandin
London Review of Books - 29 November 2007

Greg Grandin's page at NYU - Department of History




January 9, 1928: Henry Ford was in a spirited mood as he toured the Ford Industrial Exhibit with his son, Edsel, and his aging friend Thomas Edison, feigning fright at the flash of news cameras as a circle of police officers held back admirers and reporters. The event was held in New York, to showcase the new Model A. Until recently, nearly half of all the cars produced in the world were Model Ts, which Ford had been building since 1908. But by 1927 the T’s market share had dropped considerably. A half decade of prosperity and cheap credit had increased demand for stylized, more luxurious cars. General Motors gave customers dozens of lacquer colors and a range of upholstery options to choose from while the Ford car came in green, red, blue, and black— which at least was more variety than a few years earlier when Ford reportedly told his customers they could have their car in any color they wanted, "so long as it’s black."

From May 1927, when the Ford Motor Company stopped production on the T, to October, when the first Model A was assembled, many doubted that Ford could pull off the changeover. It was costing a fortune, estimated by one historian at $250 million, because the internal workings of the just- opened River Rouge factory, which had been designed to roll out Ts into the indefinite future, had to be refitted to make the A. Yet on the first two days of its debut, over ten million Americans visited their local Ford dealers to inspect the new car, available in a range of body types and colors including Arabian Sand, Rose Beige, and Andalusite Blue. Within a few months, the company had received over 700,000 orders for the A, and even Ford’s detractors had to admit that he had staged a remarkable comeback.

From the Book FORDLANDIA, The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin. Copyright © 2009 by Greg Grandin. Reprinted by arrangement with Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company LLC.


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