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Ford: The Men And The Machine

June 2024
1min read

by Robert Lacey; Little, Brown; 778 pages; $24.95.

Robert Lacey’s previous biographies include studies of Henry VIII, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Robert, Earl of Essex. It might seem strange, then, that the author chose to transplant himself to the heart of industrial America for his latest opus, but in fact his subject has as much grandeur, drama, and tragic reverberation as any saga of the house of Tudor.

Ford is clearly the work of an Englishman—people write cheques and ship freight in railcars—but it is just as clearly the work of someone in absolute command of this most American subject. Lacey’s authoritative text follows the fortunes of the nation’s best-known industrial family from Henry Ford’s first glimpse of an internal-combustion engine (it was being used in a soda-bottling plant) through his remaking the modern world with his Model T. With that triumph came the growing megalomania that led to the destruction of his son and industrial heir, Edsel, and finally to his grandson Henry II’s epic struggle to wrest the tortured company from the thugs to whom the founder had bequeathed it. The book ends with another fierce personal conflict, the much-publicized bout between Henry II and Lee Iacocca, and the entire narrative is an absorbing, perceptive study of how people and companies behave.

For all his intimate knowledge of Ford family goings-on, Lacey never loses track of the machinery. The Model T, the Model A, the V-8 engine, the Mustang—all are explained and put in their technological context with ease and fluency. There is plenty of gossip here, but it is informed by the author’s sure grasp of just how the Fords remade our society.

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