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Book Review: The Reckoning

Book Review: The Reckoning

This book is a commitment. The version we read sat about four inches thick and came in at about 800 pages. It’s The Reckoning by David Halberstam, a book that parallels two companies, Ford and Nissan (Datsun). It tracks their creation, development, and ultimately how they arrived to their actual state of being when the book was being written in the mid 1980s.

The story is enthralling, exciting, maddening, and frustrating all at once. Learning the chaos that was Ford through the first half of the twentieth century was shocking and humorous all at once. Henry Ford’s complete distain for paying taxes drove him to run the company in an incredibly disheveled manner. In one scene portrayed in the book, accountants are actually measuring stacks of paper and using a convoluted math formula to figure out how much money each stack represents in bills for the company to pay.

Conversely, we see the rise of the Japanese automotive machine, an industry fostered by Americans, led by Americans in its infancy, and proved to be modeled after the American companies in a large sense, but when it came to the details, the Japanese companies hit them on the head. That attention to detail, which shows throughout the book, factors in most when the first oil shock hits and sales of large American cars plummet.

The most fascinating and most closely followed story in the book is the rise and fall of Lee Iacocca at Ford and then his work to save Chrysler. Iacocca, the brash young executive who championed the Mustang, grew through the years to become a legitimate American celebrity and the more famous he got, the more uncomfortable the top Ford brass got with his presence.  

The book highlights the amazing myopia shown by the domestic auto executives and complete lack of respect for their growing competition. At the same time that the American executives were panning ideas like the minivan and shunning the use of front-wheel drive, the Japanese companies were outworking, out thinking and out foxing them, awaiting for their moment to make serious inroads into the US market.

Halberstam does a very good job of not making this a hatchet piece on the US auto industry. In fact, the book is very even handed, but he does provide the facts and the background to allow the reader to see just how ill advised some of the decisions were.

In order to understand the current state of affairs in the world of auto manufacturing, you need to read this book. If you changed some of the names and dates in the book, you’d swear you were reading about things happening a week ago, not twenty-plus years past.

The reckoning book

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