Few endeavors in history can match Ford Motor Company’s impact on human civilization. Launched a century ago by a bumptious squad of clever eccentrics — led by the odd visionary mechanic Henry Ford — the first mass-production auto manufacturer pushed the rest of the industrialized world into the modern age. Along with other social upheavals, Ford’s reasonably priced and well-made assembly-line Model T mobilized America’s middle class, while the company’s cleverly generous “$5 Day” did no less than redefine industrial labor relations.

Wheels for the World by Douglas Brinkley, one our finest and engaging historians, is the sweeping saga of how Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company changed our world. In this monumental work, Brinkley reveals the riveting details of Ford Motor Company’s epic achievements, from the outlandish success of the Tin Lizzie to the beloved Model A and V-8, through the glory days of the Thunderbird, Mustang, and Taurus. A revolving door of brilliant innovators appears in every chapter including Thomas Edison, Alfred Sloan, the Wright brothers, Diego Rivera and Charles Lindbergh. Three factories also become characters in this gripping drama: Highland Park, River Rouge, and Willow Run, where B-24 airplanes were mass produced during World War II. Brinkley tells of Ford Motor Company’s expansions throughout the world as well as the amazing acquisitions of Volvo, Land Rover and Jaguar, and Mazda in the 1990s. HIs narrative also explores Ford Motor Company’s darker aspects, including its founder’s anti-Semitism and ill-considered wartime pacifism.

Along the way, Brinkley introduces us to a whole cast of colorful businessmen, from the irascible early brains of the outfit, James Couzens (later a U.S. senator), to feisty CEO Lee Iacocca to the earnest young Chairman and CEO of today, William Clay Ford Jr., whose dedication and vision currently guide Ford through difficult times. A first-rate narrative and business history of one of the preeminent American corporations, Wheels for the World is distinguished not only by the freshness of the fascinating new material that Brinkley has uncovered but also by the sweep of his story and the compelling clarity of his prose. In his many previous books, Brinkley proved himself a master at crafting brilliant, accessible historical narratives, and Wheels for the World is his finest achievement yet.

In this monumental work, Douglas Brinkley, one of our finest and most engaging historians, narrates the riveting details of Ford Motor Company’s epic achievements from the outlandish success of the beloved Model A and V-8 to the glory days of the Thunderbird, Mustang, and Taurus. Brilliant innovators, colorful businessmen, and clever eccentrics as well as three factories including where B-24 airplanes were produced during World War II become characters in this gripping drama. In his many previous books, Brinkley proved himself a master at crafting engrossing, accessible, historical narratives, and this exemplary history of one of the preeminent American corporations is his finest achievement yet.


Penguin Group


January 1st, 2003

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Praise for Wheels for the World:

“Wheels for the World is a groundbreaking epic that separates fact from myth about Henry Ford and his company. Writing with analytical savvy, clear prose, and a deep grasp of automotive history. Douglas Brinkley has produced a first-rate book. In his able hands he manages to transform iconic cars like the Model T, V-8, Thunderbird, and Mustang into lively characters in an exciting Detroit-Dearborn drama. His understanding of international finance is formidable. This is business and social history at its absolute finest. A marvelous achievement just in time for Ford Motor Company’s centennial.” — Lee Iacocca

“[A] comprehensive and highly readable…first rate corporate history.” — The New York Times

Wheels for the World is the well-written retelling of a familiar saga. Its strength is vivid detail…. Mr. Brinkley knows how to tell a story, and the reader will enjoy his prose.” — The Wall Street Journal

“Sweeping and absorbing… Brinkley has crafted an impressive historical narrative … a wide-ranging synthesis that is accessible and entertaining, yet thoughtful and analytic. Even readers with considerable knowledge of Ford’s biography and the history of the U.S. auto industry will find new material in these richly detailed pages.” — The Washington Post

“Brinkley crafts a highly readable, often captivating epic of a company as complex and with as many ups and downs as the family that holds the power and purse strings behind the blue-oval brand. He thoroughly explores Ford’s anti-Semitic acts, peculiarities, eccentricities, phobias – and genius.” — USA Today

“Historian Douglas Brinkley has written an excellent guide to understanding this extraordinary and world-transforming company. Finely balanced and beautifully written, it’s a panoramic view of Ford’s achievements and failings, as well as its role in the evolution of American society … This Ford saga illuminates the stages and complexities of globalization as well as anything I have read.” — Financial Times

“A meticulously annotated, highly readable, and engrossing work … Brinkley’s warts-and-all account of Henry Ford and his company is a winner … To his credit, Brinkley deftly and evenhandedly captures many of the contradictions of the brilliant inventor, manufacturing genius, abysmal businessman, and stubborn iconoclast who nearly ran his company into the ground several times.” — Business Week

“Those who read Wheels for the World can see what real history can be. Douglas Brinkley is a real historian. He’s also a fine writer, demonstrating once again that good writing comes from clear thinking … this review can only skim the fascinating details and well-written story Brinkley tells of Henry Ford and his motor company.” — Houston Chronicle

“Brinkley has produced an extremely useful and provocative study of some of the central institutions and personalities of modern American history … A tour de force of scholarship that synthesizes a vast amount of material into a comprehensible and readable whole.” — Foreign Affairs

Wheels for the World is insightful as a business tool, a political manifesto, a sociological study and a thorough history of the company.” — AutoWeek 

“Detailed, measured and well written … Brinkley effectively makes the case that we’re still living in Ford’s world.” — The New York Observer

“Brutally honest … Brinkley has written a perfectly sound history, briskly paced, and packed with facts, clearly written.” — Forbes

Wheels for the World … pulls the reader through some 800 pages with clever character sketches, well-informed accounts of automobile engineering, and a balanced view of Ford’s role in American society … a compelling account of the company’s incredible success story.” — The Boston Globe 

“Well-written, thoroughly researched, fair-minded business histories are as rare as they are valuable. This book qualifies on all those counts … composed with cool sympathy.” — St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“To a T: Douglas Brinkley’s Henry Ford comes fully loaded, capturing the dichotomy of the farm boy who unleashed unprecedented industrial power. … Brinkley is such a fine descriptive writer that even the uninitiated may enjoy the design detail.” — The Times-Picayune (New Orleans) 

“An amazing story … Douglas Brinkley didn’t get mired in nuts and bolts in Wheels for the World, his social history of Ford Motor Company, because he knew this story was about more than Tin Lizzies and Mustangs. Instead he wrote the epic of the man and the company that shaped the modern world. This story has twists and turns enough to handily supplant the two or three novels you might have read. … A classic story of people and power.” — The Oregonian

“This definitive recounting of the Ford Motor Company’s first one hundred years is business history at its very best.” — Richmond Times-Dispatch

“A fascinating epic saga of ordinary and extraordinary people who built a great company. … Extensive new documentary materials tell Ford’s story in the words of its people.” — Publishers Weekly

“Car lovers will appreciate this amazing account of the birth of the automobile industry, including funny anecdotes about the trusty Model T, the evolution of the V-8 engine, the artistic design of the Thunderbird, sophistication of the Lincoln Continental, and popularity of the Mustang. Drawing upon a massive store of oral histories and company archives not generally available to the public, Brinkley has created an unbiased monument to the Ford legacy that readers can really sink their teeth into.” — Booklist

Video Discussion:

C-SPAN Book Discussion: Wheels for the World