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A Review of Henry Ford's Autobiography: "My Life and Work"

S. W. Moore teaches spoken English, business English and U.S. history at Datong University in China. He writes articles on various topics.

"My Life and Work" by Henry Ford

"My Life and Work" by Henry Ford

Looking for a Great Autobiography?

I recently read My Life and Work by Henry Ford.

As I strive to meet my goal of reading 1,000 books, I make an effort to choose books that I believe will be uplifting, educational, and inspiring—not just books that will entertain me for a couple of hours and then be forgotten as they sit collecting dust on the bookshelf.

One of the books that I have found that fits this description is Henry Ford's autobiography, My Life and Work. Even though it was published nearly 100 years ago, it's still very relevant to today's readers.

The Freedom of Starvation

In the introduction, Ford hits hard against the crowd that is dead set on not wanting to work but that still demands a regular paycheck. “I take it for granted that we must work” is not a suggestion in the least but rather a statement of fact that is all-inclusive.

He goes on to say that there are three primary functions of labor: agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation. Without them, he claims, life is impossible. They are, according to Ford, what “holds the world together.” His claim that “it is work and work alone that continues to deliver the goods” is a blow in the face to the idea that everyone should receive a guaranteed wage whether they work or not.

As he continues in his introduction, Ford espouses an idea shared by many other great men and writers that if a man does not work, then he does not eat. If a man works, Ford declares, then he should enjoy the fruits of his labor; if he refuses to work, then he should get nothing. Put more bluntly, Ford states that “If he (the man who refuses to work) contributes nothing he should take away nothing. He should have the freedom of starvation.”

The message on this protest sign seems to  align with Ford's views about work

The message on this protest sign seems to align with Ford's views about work

It Is Up To Us

As he continues in his insistence that man should work for a living, he criticizes those who put forth the idea that if a man is unwilling to work, then he can just rely on the government to take care of all his needs. Apparently, the same reliance on the government to be our nanny was just as prevalent at the time of the book's writing as it is now.

Ford simply could not understand this unmitigated reliance on the government to be our sole caretaker. If we put all our reliance on the government to feed and clothe us as if it is some sort of omniscient and omnipotent slice of heaven, then we are well on our way to becoming a dependent state without the ability to think on our own. This, he states, “augurs ill for the future”.

It is up to us as individuals to take care of ourselves; it is not the responsibility or even in the realm of possibility that the government would take care of us. Of course, the state will promise to do all they can for us, but in reality “governments can promise something for nothing, but they cannot deliver”.

Profit Is the Result of Service, Not the Basis

Even though Henry Ford was a businessman—and a truly successful one at that—he had no qualms about criticizing the greediness and unscrupulousness of companies that were in the business of serving themselves and not the community at large. Businesses should be functioning with the idea of producing for the consumer—not for the goal of making money.

The items of production should be manufactured to be beneficial for the consumer, not the company. Ford believed that when a company existed for the singular purpose of making a profit, thereby serving themselves and not the people, then at some point, the customers would inevitably come to that realization, and the end of that business would be near.

On the other hand, any business that exists to serve the people and not simply for the sake of profit will see that the money will take care of itself. More specifically, Ford envisions it will "abundantly take care of itself." Profit is the result of service, not the basis of it.

The Takeaway

Although this review specifically deals with the introduction to Ford’s biography, the introduction itself is a full review of what the book is about. This was a well-thought-out and researched book that could be a life-changer for anyone who reads it. It is unfortunate that we live in a day where people cannot be told the truth without being offended.

Ford does not “play nice” in this book, and neither should he. We are living in a day and age where nobody wants to work, nobody wants to contribute, and nobody wants to put forth any effort that is in the least bit strenuous. We all look at the world and everything in it and ask, “How can this benefit me?” We should be asking, “What can I do to benefit the world and those in it?”

© 2020 Stephen Moore