Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan Books), by New York University History Professor Greg Grandin, has been named a National Book Award Finalist in the nonfiction category.
Grandin’s work, which comes at a time when Detroit’s status as a hub of the automobile industry is in grave doubt, chronicles a little-known Henry Ford endeavor aimed at creating a more perfect American company town in the Brazilian Amazon-and, with it, a Midwestern America of the automaker’s imagination. The work recounts Ford’s attempt to turn a tract of land twice the size of Delaware into a rubber plantation. But the venture was more than that. Drawing parallels with English Puritans seeking to complete the Protestant reformation by coming to the New World, Grandin writes that “what made Fordlandia more quintessentially American was the way frustrated idealism was built into its conception.”
Fordlandia, Grandin concludes, was Henry Ford’s worldview put into practice. The author cites the observations of journalist Walter Lippmann to make his case.
“Lippmann identified in Henry Ford, for all his peculiarity, a common strain of ‘primitive Americanism,’ ” Grandin writes. “For Lippmann, Ford represented the essence of Americanism not just because he embodied a confidence born of money but also because he reflected ‘our touching belief that the world is like ourselves.’ ‘Why shouldn’t success in Detroit,’ Lippmann asked, ‘assure success in front of Baghdad?’ ”
This year’s winners will be announced at the 60th National Book Awards Benefit Dinner and Ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City on November 18. For more on the National Book Awards, including all of this year’s finalists, go here.