The Ford Motor Company goes to war.
In this latest examination of the transition of American industry to wartime production, journalist Baime (Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans, 2009, etc.) focuses on Ford’s conversion from the production of automobiles to aircraft engines and the B-24 Liberator bomber. The author surveys the history of the company from its founding in the Model T era to the outbreak of war, portraying Henry Ford as an anti-Semitic curmudgeon who instituted a reign of terror on the factory floor under the fearsome Harry Bennett. His long-suffering son Edsel, installed as a figurehead president, struggled against him to get the company involved in war production and drove the creation of the massive Willow Run plant, with its goal of a bomber per hour, until his early death from cancer. A pasteboard FDR puts in an occasional appearance as the ebullient father of the nation urging everyone on to victory. Baime structures the story as a lurid family contest among three generations of Fords, but he never develops the personalities of Edsel and his son Henry II (as he calls him) with sufficient depth or nuance to make the conflict genuinely engaging in either business or personal terms. He brushes briskly past the details of the truly epic challenges of retooling the auto plants and fine-tuning Willow Run; potential embarrassments, like labor strife and the relationship of the company with Ford affiliates in occupied Europe building trucks for the Nazis, surface dramatically, then fade rapidly out of the narrative. Written in a hyperbolic tabloid style—e.g., 40 torpedo bombers constitute "a vast storm cloud of airplanes," Edsel Ford "had been all but crucified”—the book falls well short of the standards set by similar recent works. See Arthur Herman’s Freedom’s Forge instead.
A complex and worthy story reduced to a beach read.