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Thursday, March 1, 2012

“The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century”, by Steven Watts


656 pages, Vintage Books, ISBN-13: 978-0375707254

Of the countless Ford Biographies out here, this is perhaps one of the more balanced. The author has done his research and has presented his material in a manner which is not only quite readable, but quite informative. I do like the way Prof. Watts has given us numerous examples of his sources, i.e. different publications, speeches, news paper articles, etc. The author has given us both the good and the bad of Henry Ford, and we find that the subject of the book, Henry Ford, is much like all of us...both good and bad. I did enjoy and appreciate the fact that the author does not seem to have a particular social or political ax to grind, but rather gives us the facts and gives credit to the reader's ability to make up his or her own mind. This is refreshing. Far enough time has passed so that now historians can make some judgements and observations as to the overall impact and ramifications of the actions taken during the Ford years, by both Ford and his contemporaries, have upon our society today. Not until recently have historians been able to do this.

Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, but he invented something bigger - 20th Century America. It is no exaggeration to say that without Ford's system of production, without his understanding of the mass market, without his Model T, that century would have been a very different phenomenon. Ford epitomized the contradictions, complexities and confusion of that America. Self-taught and utterly confident in what he knew, he despised what he did not know. A radical who created an industrial cornucopia for workers by introducing the five-dollar daily wage, he was an industrial tyrant who hired organized criminal gangs to intimidate labor union organizers. We strongly recommend this thorough biography. Author Steven Watts offers a new way of looking at the facts, and at Ford - and does so with engaging style.  

Steven Watts' biography is much more than the life story of Henry Ford. Watts artfully weaves the story of the early 20th Century in America with the emergence of Henry Ford. Early in the book Watts poses the question "Did Ford create the phenomenon of consumerism or did the onset of consumerism create the phenomenon of Henry Ford?" Although Watts never answers this rhetorical question, he provides exactly enough insight into both the times in early 20th century America and Henry Ford to help us debate the issue for a long time. 

I liked the way the author organized the book not by timeline but rather by events. The book had me looking at the past but also the issues of today. Ford would have had much to say about the current state of the economy, our health care issues, education, personal responsibility and so much more. The way he carried out most of his ideas did not appeal to me but the ideas were brilliant. Not only did I enjoy reading the book, I also enjoyed thinking about the issues he thought about. If you like history, politics and the story of an amazing family, this is the book for you.  

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