Reviewers have rightly compared this important and enjoyable book to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But with Oscar season upon us, perhaps another comparison is called for – to James Cameron’s box-office-topping parable of American utopianism and arrogance, Avatar. Greg Grandin, an academic with a gift for sharp characterisation and storytelling, is positively cinematic as he describes the fate of Henry Ford’s attempt to build small-town America in the wilds of the Amazon basin. But he goes a step beyond Avatar. Fordlandia shows what happens after the Blue People have triumphed.
In 1927 Henry Ford, at that time the richest and possibly most famous man on earth, bought a tract of Brazilian land the size of Northern Ireland in what was then called the jungle, and what we now call the rainforest. In emulation of his friend, the tyre