THE FORDS: AN AMERICAN EPIC is the second of two major studies of the Ford family and the Ford Motor Company to have been published during the past year. Robert Lacey’s FORD: THE MEN AND THE MACHINE recently enjoyed critical and popular success. In addition, two other equally popular accounts have recently dealt less directly but still extensively with the automobile company: David Halberstam’s THE RECKONING, and former Ford president Lee Iacocca’s autobiography. This continuing interest in the Ford family and the company which its founder Henry Ford, his son Edsel, and his recently deceased grandson Henry II headed throughout most of its history can be explained by Ford’s recent reemergence as the nation’s premier automobile company, by its success in meeting the Japanese challenge, and by the fascinating personalities of the Ford dynasty. It would be regrettable if these previous accounts have sated popular interest in the Fords, for Collier and Horowitz’s account contains much new material that will be of interest to the reader.
THE FORDS is distinctive in its concentration on the personalities of the company’s founder, “Crazy Henry,” and his grandson and the company’s savior in its darkest hour, “Hank the Deuce.” Henry I was a bundle of contradictions. While he could be generous, religiously broad-minded, and a vocal upholder of traditional American moral values, he was also brutal in his antiunion tactics, a violent anti-Semite, and the participant in an illicit love affair that resulted in the birth of a child. The doting father of a sensitive son, Edsel, Henry consistently undermined his son’s attempts to modernize the company and probably hastened Edsel’s early death. Henry II combined some of the positive and negative features of his grandfather with the reflective qualities of his father. Often criticized for his failed marriages and his self-indulgent life-style, Henry II receives a more sympathetic treatment here than that accorded him by most biographers.
THE FORDS is an ever-fascinating and revealing account of this quintessential American family. It is a worthy addition to the author’s earlier accounts of the Rockefellers and Kennedys and will whet the reader’s appetite for their forthcoming family biography of the Roosevelts.