Henry Ford

Henry Ford

by Vincent Curcio
     
 

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Most great figures in American history reveal great contradictions, and Henry Ford is no exception. He championed his workers, offering unprecedented wages, yet crushed their attempts to organize. Virulently anti-Semitic, he never employed fewer than 3,000 Jews. An outspoken pacifist, he made millions producing war materials. He urbanized the modern world, and then

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Overview

Most great figures in American history reveal great contradictions, and Henry Ford is no exception. He championed his workers, offering unprecedented wages, yet crushed their attempts to organize. Virulently anti-Semitic, he never employed fewer than 3,000 Jews. An outspoken pacifist, he made millions producing war materials. He urbanized the modern world, and then tried to drag it back into a romanticized rural past he'd helped to destroy.

As the American auto industry struggles to reinvent itself, Vincent Curcio's timely biography offers a wealth of new insight into the man who started it all. Henry Ford not only founded Ford Motor Company but institutionalized assembly line production and, some would argue, created the American middle class. By constantly improving his product and increasing sales, Ford was able to lower the price of the automobile until it became a universal commodity. He paid his workers so well that, for the first time in history, the people who manufactured a complex industrial product could own one. This was "Fordism"—social engineering on a vast scale. But, as Curcio displays, Ford's anti-Semitism would forever stain his reputation. Hitler admired him greatly, both for his anti-Semitism and his autocratic leadership, displaying Ford's picture in his bedroom and keeping a copy of Ford's My Life and Work by his bedside. Nevertheless, Ford's economic and social initiatives, as well as his deft handling of his public image, kept his popularity high among Americans. He offered good pay, good benefits, English language classes, and employment for those who struggled to find jobs—handicapped, African-American, and female workers. Such was his popularity that in 1923, the homespun, clean-living, xenophobic Henry Ford nearly won the Republican presidential nomination.

This new volume in the Lives and Legacies series explores the full impact of Ford's indisputable greatness, the deep flaws that complicate his legacy, and what he means for our own time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This succinct biography is a rounded exploration of an extraordinary life, culled from an extensive and varied bibliography. The core is Ford’s mysterious, contradictory personality—he was a generous, paternal boss who later opposed unionization; an outspoken anti-Semite with progressive, colorblind employment practices; and a vociferous pacifist who became a leading military supplier. Clashing aspects are considered thoughtfully, though Ford’s inner workings, kept private due to his obsessively sculpted public persona, are seen only through actions at the macroscopic levels of big business, politics, and social change. Side details offer insight, such as Ford’s key role in the soybean industry, and his surprising spiritual beliefs in a “universal mind... time without start or finish... reincarnation.” Curcio (Chrysler: The Life) deftly conveys the intricacies of big auto business with direct prose, occasionally enriched by invocations of Shakespeare, ancient Greece, and Zen maxims. Fundamentally, Curcio’s Ford is a man “in motion all his life,” an “enigma machine” who unrelentingly propelled America into a new paradigm—one increasingly removed from Ford’s dearly held, old-fashioned values. In keeping with his ambiguous character, Ford is simultaneously a tragedy and a success story, and ultimately, a peerless American icon. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt, Inc. (May)
From the Publisher
"Curcio deftly conveys the intricacies of big auto business with direct prose, occasionally enriched by invocations of Shakespeare, ancient Greece, and Zen maxims." —Publishers Weekly

"An in-depth review of the life of Henry Ford. Recommended for its insights into Ford's darker side." —Library Journal

"A nuts-and-bolts biography of the great American visionary portrays a character of enormous contrasts."—Kirkus Reviews

"Curcio has provided a useful survey of the life of this enigmatic industrial titan that is ideal for general readers." —Booklist

Library Journal
Curcio (former general manager, White Barn Theater; Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius) provides here an in-depth review of the life of Henry Ford. Covering his life from Ford's humble, rural beginnings to his rise as one of the world's first billionaires, Curcio examines the many facets of the entrepreneur's often contradictory persona. To a much greater extent than in Richard Snow's new book, reviewed below, Curcio's biography scrutinizes Ford's public success, and explains that behind many of his accomplishments were inconsistent and incongruous actions. For example, Ford's publically expressed pacifism contrasted with the substantial profits he made in the production of wartime apparatus. Additionally, although Ford was renowned for hiring immigrants and minorities, Curcio dissects his role in the publication of anti-Semitic periodicals by the Ford Motor Company during the 1920s. VERDICT Recommended for its insights into Ford's darker side, but optional for libraries with other Ford studies such as Steven Watts's The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century—Mary Jennings, Camano Island Lib., WA
Kirkus Reviews
A nuts-and-bolts biography of the great American visionary portrays a character of enormous contrasts. Curcio (Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius, 2000, etc.) certainly does not whitewash Ford's troubling character flaws, manifested in periods of parochialism, anti-Semitism and megalomania, but the author does a fine job delineating the staggering influence Ford wrought on the modern industrial landscape. His system of mass production revolutionized life for the average worker, creating a new social class that could also enjoy the goods that it made; on the other hand, Ford's urbanization helped destroy the agrarian life that he so nostalgically valued. Curcio covers several important currents that shaped the leader Ford would become: his resolve early on, with the death of his beloved, supportive mother, to keep his own counsel, which both worked toward his enormous success, as he followed his egalitarian business instincts, and blinded him to the wounds inflicted by his anti-Semitic editorials in the early 1920s; his ability to attract the best and the brightest in the industry, such as the Dodge brothers, accountant James Couzens and "father of the assembly line" Clarence Avery, among many others; and his lack of a formal education, which Curcio speculates had something to do with his inability to check his attraction to some wacky and hurtful ideas strangely at odds with his overarching views about happy, peaceful, harmonious workers. Yet Ford could also admit when he was licked, as evidenced by his apology in 1927 to Jewish lawyer Aaron Sapiro, a retraction of his attacks on Jews and his concession to the unionizing of Ford's River Rouge plant in 1941. An evenhanded study by an author determined to cover all the bases.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195316926
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
05/14/2013
Series:
Lives and Legacies Series
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
253,886
Product dimensions:
8.30(w) x 5.70(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Vincent Curcio is the author of Suicide Blonde: The Life of Gloria Grahame; Chrysler: The Life and Times of an Automotive Genius; and, with Steven Englund, Charlie's Prep. He was the General Manager and Producer of Lucille Lortel's White Barn Theater for 25 years.

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