Books: Fordlandia

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

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

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.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend