Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City
A story that's hard to categorise.
In the early 20th century, Henry Ford needs rubber for his car tyres. He is persuaded to set up a plantation in the Amazon, where rubber originated, and thus to bypass the global market for rubber that's dominated by rubber grown in Malaya from purloined Amazon seeds.
But rather than simply do this, Ford also attempts some major social engineering. And not for the first time: other Ford facilities offer great wages, but at the cost of intensive domestic surveillance to ensure workers' compliance with Ford's social theories. As a result the master of capitalism falls foul of capitalism at work in providing services for his workers that he'd rather they didn't have access to.
The most amazing thing about this story, to my mind, is exactly how little time Ford's men spent on the problems of actually growing rubber, compared to the time they spent on labour relations that could easily have been side-stepped. The people trusted with managing the task were loyalists without strong technical backgrounds, and it's hard to see them surviving in roles that were more central to the Ford enterprise.
4/5. Finished 27 July 2021.
(Originally published on Goodreads.)