In This Review

Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress, 1903-2003
Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress, 1903-2003
By Douglas Brinkley
Viking, 2003, 858 pp

Tasked by CEO Bill Ford, Jr., to write a "warts and all" history of the Ford Motor Company and its founder in time for its June 16, 2003, centennial, Brinkley has produced an extremely useful and provocative study of some of the central institutions and personalities of modern American history. This is definitely a candid portrait; from Ford's kooky antisemitism to his cockamamie Peace Ship in World War I to his appalling treatment of his son Edsel, the shadow side of the company patriarch is unsparingly covered. Still, "Fordism" -- as the system of labor relations predicated on high pay and high-productivity assembly-line production came to be known -- and the car that Henry Ford made available to ordinary working families were two of the most formative phenomena in twentieth-century American life. The cultural, social, political, and economic ramifications of these two forces are almost endless; although nothing less than a history of the twentieth century could do justice to their full impact, Brinkley's book is a tour de force of scholarship that synthesizes a vast amount of material into a comprehensible and readable whole.