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The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century

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The People's Tycoon

Henry Ford and the American Century

By Professor Steven Watts

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Format: Paperback, 614 pages
Other Information: Illustrated
Published In: United States, 10 October 2006
Henry Ford, a major architect of modern America, has lived on in the imagination of his fellow citizens as an enduring figure of fascination, an inimitable individual, a controversial personality, and a social visionary from the moment his Model T brought the automobile to the masses and triggered the consumer revolution. But never before has his outsized genius been brought to life so vividly as by Steven Watts in this major new biography. Watts, the author of the much acclaimed "The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life, has produced a superbly researched study of a man who was a bundle of contradictions.
Ford was the entrepreneur who first made the automobile affordable but who grew skeptical of consumerism's corrosive impact on moral values, an employer who insisted on a living wage for his workers but stridently opposed unions, who established the assembly line but worried about its effect on the work ethic, who welcomed African Americans to his company in the age of Jim Crow but was a rabid anti-Semite. He was the private man who had a warm, loving marriage while siring a son with a mistress; a father who drove his heir, Edsel, so relentlessly that it contributed to his early death; a folksy social philosopher and at one time, perhaps, the most popular figure in America, who treated his workers so harshly that they turned against him; creator of the largest, most sophisticated factory in the world who preferred spending time in his elaborate re-creation of a nineteenth-century village; and the greatest businessman of his age who haplessly lost control of his own company in his declining years.
Watts poignantly shows us how a Michigan farm boy frommodest circumstances emerged as one of America's richest men and one of its first mass-culture celebrities, one who became a folk hero to millions of ordinary citizens because of his support of high wages and material abundance for everyday workers and yet also excited the admiration of figures as diverse as Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler, John D. Rockefeller and Woodrow Wilson.
Disclosing the man behind the myth and situating his achievements and controversies firmly within the context of early twentieth-century America, Watts has given us a comprehensive, illuminating biography of an American icon.

About the Author

Steven Watts is a historian and writer who has charted the sweeping evolution of American culture in a number of highly-praised books. His series of biographies of major figures--Henry Ford, Dale Carnegie, Walt Disney, Hugh Hefner--has explored the shaping of a modern value-system devoted to consumerism, self-fulfillment, leisure, and personality. Two earlier books on the Early Republic era examined the shift from an older society of republican virtue to a 19th-century Victorian era devoted to self-control, individual character, and the self-made man. Watts' books have led to involvement in a number of media projects, including several films for PBS, the History Channel, and documentary venues in Germany and Brazil. He also has appeared in a variety of programs on CBS, NBC, CNBC, NPR, Fox, Fox News, C-Span, Bloomberg News, MSNBC, BBC, and Irish National Radio. He is currently a professor of history at the University of Missouri.

Reviews

Performing the same magnificent feat for Henry Ford as he did for Walt Disney (in The Magic Kingdom), historian Watts offers a magisterial and balanced biography of one of America's business legends. As a farm boy in Michigan, Ford (1863-1947) followed the beat of his own drum, avoiding hard work but watching farm machinery with fascination. He objected to wasting physical energy when a machine could accomplish the same task in less time, and spent much of his leisure taking watches apart and rebuilding them to learn about their mechanisms. Once he moved to Detroit, Ford worked as an engineer at the Edison Illuminating Company, where he quickly became famous for his ability to patch up engines. Then, in 1898, he invented the prototype of his Model A car, secured investors to set up a business and established the first unit of what would become the Ford Motor Company. Watts deftly traces Ford's rise to fame and the innovations, such as the "five-dollar" workday, which doubled factory workers' salaries, that he brought to the workplace, while a chapter titled "Bigot" delineates his notorious anti-Semitism. Watts also brilliantly reveals the contradictions of Ford's business philosophy and his personal and work life. While Ford thought of himself as a man of the people and strove to improve working conditions and wages in his factory, for example, he opposed unions. As Watts points out, Ford embodied both the promises and pitfalls of modern American democracy: "its devotion to opportunity, openness to new ideas, [and] lack of pretension" as well as its anti-intellectualism and "faith in the redemptive power of material goods." Agent, Ronald Goldfarb. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"The implicit claim of Watts's admirable book is almost inarguable-that it's impossible to understand 20th-century America without knowing the story of Henry Ford." -The New York Times "Ford has had many biographers. . . . None, however, comes close to Steven Watts. . . . He brilliantly reveals the nature of Ford's genius." -Chicago Tribune "Steven Watts attempts the most integrated understanding to date of Ford's enormous influence and varied appeal. . . . The fascinating result may change the way Henry Ford is remembered." -San Francisco Chronicle The implicit claim of Watts s admirable book is almost inarguable that it s impossible to understand 20th-century America without knowing the story of Henry Ford. The New York Times Ford has had many biographers. . . . None, however, comes close to Steven Watts. . . . He brilliantly reveals the nature of Ford s genius. Chicago Tribune Steven Watts attempts the most integrated understanding to date of Ford s enormous influence and varied appeal. . . . The fascinating result may change the way Henry Ford is remembered. San Francisco Chronicle"

In this outstanding biography, Watts (history, Univ. of Missouri), author of the intriguing and well-received The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life, turns his considerable talents to an in-depth and remarkable investigation of the life and times of Henry Ford. Building on earlier studies, such as Allan Nevins's three-volume biography, and complementing recent work on the Ford family and the company by historians like Douglas Brinkley (Wheels for the World), Watts brings to life the complicated Ford, who could promote educational attainment for all children while at the same time fomenting unbridled hatred toward all Jewish people. Watts provides a sophisticated analysis and helps readers understand both Ford and the culture within which he thrived. An exceptional biography of an exceptional man; highly recommended.-Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

EAN: 9780375707254
ISBN: 0375707255
Publisher: Vintage Books USA
Dimensions: 20.32 x 13.51 x 3.33 centimetres (0.73 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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