23-26 moving right along

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin
I just can't resist the lure of larger-than-life industrialists, and their impulsive attempts at world domination. I never had the chance to read much about the life of Henry Ford, and am glad I picked up this title. Grandin's book does a wonderful job of not only explaining the history of the Fordlandia experiment in Brazil, but also telling the reader a bit more about the sort of man Henry Ford was, and the different forces that drove him to make some very radical decisions with his empire. The reader is left with a picture of a man full on contradictions - at once jerking away from his anti-Semitic views and half-crazed loathing of farm animals, while being drawn to his desire for absolute efficiency and economy with resources. The same man that introduced a fair living wage for workers in an era of poverty was also the man who sent out brutal enforcers to squash dissent and prevent workers from unionizing. Obsessed with the idea that good country living and manual labor outdoors was the key to a healthy existence, Ford was regardless instrumental with the boom in urban sprawl and industrialized life (a fact he never seemed to acknowledge). This book is mainly about the attempt to move Detroit industry into the jungle, and to introduce assembly-line-style efficiency to a population of workers used to seasonal, subsistence living - but these topics can't be approached without a knowledge of the man who thought they could become a reality.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson
Those of you who read the wonderful Devil in the White City will be familiar with Erik Larson's formula of alternating between two stories: murder and creation. In Thunderstruck, the author chronicles the invention of wireless radio technology, focusing on the life and activities of Gugliemo Marconi. Through his tale of invention through trial and error, Larson follows the unhappy marriage of Hawley Crippen and the failed entertainer, Belle Elmore. I don't want to give too much away, but when things turn out unhappily for Ms. Elmore, Marconi's struggling new technology gets a trial by fire in front of what was, most likely, the first truly international audience in history.

Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace
Baseball, a woman in a man's game, the Roaring 20s in NYC - what's not to love? Diamond Ruby is loosely based on the true story of a woman who was able to out pitch Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in exhibition play, and the resulting permanent ban of women from the game of baseball. Though this book indulges in a great tale of 'what if?' it remains believable. Fans of the game will relish descriptions of how the game used to be, while those who are just interested in the time period will appreciate the pop culture references and allusions to different historical events. I appreciate Wallace's style, and his ability to weave in different themes without making the book feel like a heavy-handed history lecture.

The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Before going to SE Asia, I was told by many people that this is the quintessential Vietnam book; while I never got the chance to read it before I left, I knew I had to get around to it sometime. I must say that much of the Vietnam of Greene's time was gone by the time I walked the street's of Saigon, but I caught glimpses here and there of what has endured. Gone are the bombings, raids, soldiers, and much of the non-motorized vehicles - but still strongly-present are the street kitchens, thronging streets, and decaying colonial architecture (albeit nestled in pockets among the boom of new construction). I was attracted to Greene's narrative style - fusing humor, sarcasm, harsh reality, and a dose of social commentary (though thankfully not in excess); this was the first of his novels that I have read, and I am sure I will go on to read more.