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

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9780375707254: The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century

How a Michigan farm boy became the richest man in America is a classic, almost mythic tale, but never before has Henry Ford’s outsized genius been brought to life so vividly as it is in this engaging and superbly researched biography.

The real Henry Ford was a tangle of contradictions. He set off the consumer revolution by producing a car affordable to the masses, all the while lamenting the moral toll exacted by consumerism. He believed in giving his workers a living wage, though he was entirely opposed to union labor. He had a warm and loving relationship with his wife, but sired a son with another woman. A rabid anti-Semite, he nonetheless embraced African American workers in the era of Jim Crow.

Uncovering the man behind the myth, situating his achievements and their attendant controversies firmly within the context of early twentieth-century America, Watts has given us a comprehensive, illuminating, and fascinating biography of one of America’s first mass-culture celebrities.

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From the Inside Flap:

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.

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