A Bumpy Ride through History

Driven: A Photobiography of Henry Ford
By Don Mitchell
(National Geographic Society, 2010, $18.95)

“Ford makes the world your playground” proclaims an advertisement from the early twentieth century. Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, didn’t invent the motor vehicle, but he gave the world the Model T, the first mass-produced economy car. In so doing, he made the automobile an essential part of American life. Driven explores the life of auto industrialist, whose fans included Helen Keller and Bonnie and Clyde.

Mitchell’s biography both celebrates Ford’s technological achievements and considers his personal contradictions. He describes Ford’s early efforts to build a lightweight, gas-powered vehicle, emphasizing the young inventor’s persistence. Mitchell follows Ford’s ascent from visionary to entrepreneur to industrialist. Neither lionizing nor demonizing the auto manufacturer, Mitchell lets readers ponder Ford’s contradictory nature. We learn how Ford loved his only son Edsel, but undermined the younger man once he assumed control of Ford Motors. Ford offered assembly line workers good wages and a shorter workday, but allowed his security guards to rough up union organizers during the Great Depression. And although Ford employed African Americans and people with disabilities when few other manufacturers would hire them, he published rapidly anti-Semitic tirades in the newspaper he purchased.

Beautifully illustrated with period photographs and early Ford blueprints, Driven takes young car enthusiasts on a fascinating ride through automobile history. Along the way, they’ll learn something about economics, social history, and human nature.

© Dorothy A. Dahm

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