Giants of American Business from John Jacob Astor and J.P. Morgan to Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey
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A capsule tour of the variety of inspiration and efforts that mark American entrepreneurial history. The author has assembled a cast of 25 American business leaders who have defined and thrived in various historical eras, beginning just after the Revolutionary War and running to the present. Brands’s (History/Texas A&M Univ.; The Reckless Decade, 1995, etc.) 25 pivotal figures range from classic captains of industry, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie, to media mavens Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey. Few, if any, of the entries will be strangers to most readers, nor are any of their histories told here for the first time. The achievement of this collection and the retelling of the businesses generated is to show the themes of success shared by all the parties, subtly stressed throughout and summed up in a short, final chapter. Simply put, they were: “good health and abundant energy”; “they were hungry”; “intense gratification with his or her work”; “ability to persuade others”; and “creative vision.” Covering this much ground, chronologies are necessarily shortened and condensed; however, they are typically penned with style, as in a description of Ted Turner’s jump-start in business after his father committed suicide, riddled with doubts after having just expanded his business. Turner, Brands tells us, “held on to the expanded Turner Advertising of his father’s hopes rather than the diminished company of his father’s fears.” The freshness of the narrative is well suited to the positive message imparted by the contents. It serves as an invigorating justification of the business of business but will also perform well as an introduction to the pioneers of major industries and the nature of their contributions.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-85473-2
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999

Kirkus Interview
H.W. Brands
October 11, 2016

As noted historian H.W. Brands reveals in his new book The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, at the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way. Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. “An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >


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