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

Amidst a collection of Ford biographies, The People’s Tycoon stands out, representing Ford’s contradictions, rather than just his public persona.

Henry Ford once said that he hoped to 'œmake men' in his factories 'œas well as automobiles.' Ford himself had been raised on a Michigan farm and, as a young engineer working under Thomas Edison, had witnessed firsthand how an entrepreneur could become a folk hero. Ford did refashion the lives of millions, says historian Steven Watts. His Model T put the automobile within reach of the masses, and his doubling of factory wages in 1914 kick-started America's consumer-driven economy, making him both the richest man in the country and an instant idol of the working class. Because Ford seemed determined to make the good life attainable to every family, says Watts, he was revered long after he began revealing the darker impulses behind his business triumphs.

Watts' 'œsmart, readable' biography contains all of Ford's contradictions, said David Greenberg in Newsday. Using each chapter to explore a different facet of the auto magnate's personality, it treats 'œseriously, fairly, and concisely' everything from Ford's genius for publicity to 'œhis dangerous anti-Semitism.' As Watts notes, this ugly streak, as well as his contempt for learning, were consistent with Ford's particular brand of populism. Thanks to the way he's structured the book, 'œWatts is not able to capture Ford's inner life,' said David Farber in the Chicago Tribune. But while 'œseveral good books' about Ford have been published in the past few years, none 'œcomes close' to The People's Tycoon for bringing to life 'œthe nature of Ford's genius' and the role he played in creating our contemporary way of life.

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