Author

Joseph Nocera

It’s weirdly fitting that Gerald Jay Goldberg and Robert Goldberg, authors of Citizen Turner, this seemingly encyclopedic biography of Ted Turner, are father and son. That’s because their overarching theory of Turner’s rise as a billionaire media mogul — founder of Turner Broadcasting System, creator of such cable linchpins as CNN, owner of the Atlanta Braves and Hawks, controller of the great MGM film library, and on and on — can be summed up thusly: like father, like son.

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Every so often it happens this way: An otherwise forgettable book has the good fortune to be published just as a huge national controversy reaches its crescendo. The book becomes part of the controversy, analyzed on editorial pages and in news stories as well as in book reviews. Soon the work has a life of its own, utterly independent of its literary merits.

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Some books arrive with a buzz. The Devil’s Candy, Julie Salamon’s exquisitely detailed account of the making of the movie The Bonfire of the Vanities, is such a book. Weeks before it landed in stores, le tout Hollywood had already read it and was talking about it. Bernard Weinraub, the New York Times’ new entertainment reporter, had plugged it with abandon. Variety, knowing where its bread is buttered, had taken a preemptive swipe at it.

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There was a time not so very long ago when the revelations in Trumped! would have provoked headlines and gossip, punch lines and news analysis. The portrait of Donald Trump drawn by former Trump insider John R. O’Donnell is not a pretty one. According to O’Donnell, Trump is a racist. (”Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.”) He is cheap, reneging on promised bonuses to executives and stiffing the hired help.

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Deposit insurance has proved to be the crack cocaine of American finance,” Martin Mayer writes in The Greatest-Ever Bank Robbery: The Collapse of the Savings and Loan Industry, about the S&L crisis. That one memorably nasty line sheds more light on the S&L disaster than any of the half-dozen books written about the scandal. Mayer gets it, and it’s about time someone did.

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So Malcolm Forbes turns out to have been gay. Well, whoop-de-doo. No sooner had America’s favorite capitalist been buried on his island in Fiji than he was ”outed” by a New York gay magazine; more recently Donald Trump, in one of those vengeful passages that help make his new ”autobiography” so contemptible, did it again, claiming that Forbes was tossed out of a Plaza Hotel bar because he was there with some underage boys. And now, to this apparently burgeoning genre, we can add Christopher Winans’ new biography of Forbes, the first since his death last February.

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It was the good fortune of the Reagan Administration to have been blessed with complicated scandals. Every administration gets mired in scandal sooner or later, but while Nixon had a simple scandal like Watergate, Reagan’s scandals were opaque and Byzantine, filled with confusing details and endlessly permutating subplots. Iran-contra was the prototype. It was hard to explain. It made the eyes glaze over. Instead of producing outrage, it produced indifference. When an administration is in the middle of a scandal, indifference is a gift from heaven.

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As the praise continues to pour down upon this latest in a decade-long string of autobiographies by celebrity businessmen there is something readers should keep in mind: Everything is relative. Relatively speaking, Thomas J. Watson Jr., the son of the legendary founder of IBM and the chairman and chief executive of the computer giant during its most innovative and critical years, has written a pretty good book.

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I should say at the start that Rolling Stone magazine had a galvanizing effect on me — the same effect, quite clearly, it had on Robert Draper, who has written this brisk and passionate account of its tumultuous 23-year history — Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History. I stumbled onto the magazine around 1970, just as it was entering what Draper calls its ”full flowering of greatness”; what grabbed me was not its music reviews but its journalism.

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