Henry Ford’s Ugliest Wart
Brinkley deals squarely with Ford’s most unattractive trait of all: his vicious anti-Semitism. After running unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1918, Ford bought a local newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, and used it to reprint, over 93 weeks, an edited-for-Americans version of the notorious anti-Semitic tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (composed, Brinkley notes, between 1894 and 1905 by Imperial Russia’s secret police), which he forced Ford dealers to distribute, and later published and circulated widely in book form under the title The International Jew. Among its admirers was Adolf Hitler, who told an American journalist in 1923 that “We look to Heinrich Ford as the leader of the growing fascist movement in America.” Brinkley notes that Ford repudiated his anti-Semitism late in life, and that his son and grandchildren later did much to atone for it.
Wheels for the World isn’t written for managers — at least not specifically for managers. There are no organization charts, boxed case studies, or financial statements, and there’s nary a buzzword to be found. But lessons about management, leadership, and strategy will suggest themselves to anyone who brings to the book a business background — the importance of vision, the imperative to cut costs and control prices, the need for having the right leader in the right place at the right time, the disasters that can occur when your strategy fails to allow for a change in the world situation.
What Brinkley has accomplished is a rare feat: a company history that’s a pleasure to read, consistently insightful, and informative on several levels. His next project is an equally ambitious companion volume on General Motors, scheduled to be published at the company’s centennial in 2008. He has set a high bar for himself — as well as for other would-be authors of “company books.” The good news is that something about Wheels for the World promises that he’s up to the job.
Rob Norton (email@example.com) is a freelance writer, editor, and consultant in New York. A former executive editor of Fortune, where he worked for 15 years, Mr. Norton was also director of knowledge development at Nua Ltd., an Irish software firm, and is coauthor of Content Critical (Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2001) and The Web Content Style Guide (Financial Times Prentice Hall, 2001).