TYCOON: The Life of James Goldsmith by Geoffrey Wansell

TYCOON: The Life of James Goldsmith

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The good news is that Wansell provides all the detail it's probably possible to get at this stage on the remarkable career of Sir James M Goldsmith, an Anglo-French billionaire who has become a grand master of the US takeover game. The bad news is that the author does so in generally graceless and gushy style, giving the benefit of almost every doubt to his colorful subject. Journalist Wansell (who worked as a columnist for Goldsmith's short-lived newsmagazine, Now!) secured the reluctant cooperation of his erstwhile employer as well as act cess to a host of friends, foes, and family members to spin a gossipy yarn that starts with Goldsmith's privileged, scapegrace youth. Following stints at Eton (whence he departed without diploma) and in the British army, Goldsmith joined his Oxford-educated brother in the pharmaceuticals business in France. With a little bit of luck, a lot of entrepreneurial drive, and a sharp eye for undervalued assets, Goldsmith soon amassed a small fortune, which in less than two decades he parlayed into vast wealth. His principal vehicle was Cavanham, a UK holding company built on acquisitions and financial legerdemain. Eventually, the enterprising, cosmopolitan, and ultraconservative Sir James shifted his base of operations from socialist Europe to capitalist America. With a controlling interest in the prospering Grand Union supermarket chain, plus the proceeds from raids on Crown Zellerbach, Diamond International, Goodyear, and other corporate targets, he has no cause to regret opting for the New World. No narrative history of a larger-than-life character widely known as Goldenballs would be complete without an account of his decidedly unconventional personal affairs. Wansell obliges with perhaps overly exegetic, if not precisely apologetic, briefings on an impressive lineup of wives and mistresses who, all told, have borne the dynastyminded Goldsmith eight children. He also recounts the errant knight's running battles with England's free-wheeling press. In lamentably typical fashion, he summarizes the adversarial relationship: ""The air of distrust and suspicion on both sides had become so dank that every action of either only served to fuel the other's prophecies."" Hard going at times, but substantive content manages to best Wansell's overwrought prose and puerile essays at lily gilding.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 1987
Publisher: Atheneum