Saturday, August 9, 2014

Business Adventures?




Last month, I got an email with this lede:

“I recently read your review of Liar's Poker on Amazon.  I am pleased to announce the digital release of Business Adventures by former New Yorker staff writer John Brooks, a book that illuminating the world of Wall Street and provides insight into the success, or lack thereof, of some of the most well known companies.  Brooks is often considered the Michael Lewis of his time and much of Lewis’s style can be attributed to him.”

I initially turned the PR person down, in spite of the email and then that weekend an article ran about the book in the Journal. I still didn’t want it, mainly because they were offering only Kindle versions of the book. I then turned on my Amazon machine and found it at the top of my recommendations. So then I dug the offer out of my virtual trash and then read it?

So, was it worth it? Kind of. The structure of the book is that it is stories that first appeared in the New Yorker in the 60s. They cover contemporary stories of what was happening in business at that time. They were interesting, and the writing was very well done, but largely they don’t feel contemporary  (which they’re not) nor do they feel particularly relevant. Not that that’s important. Post-2008 I devoured everything on the financial crash that I could, and I bet a lot of that stuff won’t hold up in 50 years.

Two of the stories stood out. The first was an early history of the failure of the Edsel automobile. It was interesting and not something that felt like common knowledge. As opposed to a story of a crash, there felt to be something unique about the investigation. The other is a closing story about maintains exchange rates while currencies were on the gold standard. That is no longer relevant, but the author was able to convey the drama of the currency exchanges.

Overall, even with the imprimatur of Gates and Buffett, this is a book for someone who is interested in slices of the economic history of America 50 years ago. That is not to say that it is not important or worth it, but more a warning that it is not a general-interest business book as it might be positioned in some media. 

Needless to say, I received a complimentary copy for review.