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THE PEOPLE’S TYCOON

HENRY FORD AND THE AMERICAN CENTURY

A smoothly written, comprehensive life of a man at once complex and superficial—truly an icon of the modern age.

Hailed in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Henry Ford was “an American icon”—and, argues historian Watts, the principal architect of American consumer culture.

Born on a Michigan farm in 1863, Ford did not want for much; the crops were good, and his mother imparted to him a Victorian ethic that “forged a creed combining Protestant moralism, market individualism, the work ethic, and genteel restraint.” The McGuffey Readers did their part, too, as did Thomas Edison, whom Ford met after having developed a prototype car in 1896. Edison approved of his design, exclaiming, “Your car is self-contained—it carries its own power-plant—no fire, no boiler, no smoke, no steam. You have the thing. Keep at it.” Ford took from Edison a certainty that technology could yield social good and wealth by improving the lot of the workers, as well as reinforcement for his own views on the virtues of hard work and frugality. He eventually turned social engineer, using some of his immense wealth to fund anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol crusades, all in the name of good business and efficiency; he once remarked that he would never hire a manager who looked to be worn or in bad shape, reckoning that such a fellow would use Ford’s money as poorly as he did his own body. About the time Ford’s business practices—don’t allow unions, but pay well, and the like—were being lauded in totalitarian Germany and Leninist Russia as the face of the industrial future, Ford expanded his extracurricular interests to include railing against Jews; as with his adoption of fad diets and spiritualist causes, Watts observes, Ford “offered a mishmash of half-digested concepts and visceral intuitions, rather than systematic analysis, so his social and cultural speculations did not probe very deeply.” Deeply enough, though, to lose market share and political influence—and to have his name forever associated with despicable causes as much as remembered for his very real achievements.

A smoothly written, comprehensive life of a man at once complex and superficial—truly an icon of the modern age.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2005

ISBN: 0-375-40735-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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