BILLIONAIRE by Ivan Fallon


The Life and Times of Sir James Goldsmith
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 Familiarity, it seems, does not always breed contempt. Veteran British journalist Fallon (The Brothers, 1989, etc.) quite admires Sir James Michael Goldsmith--and it shows in this detailed, if often deferential, biography of the Anglo-French tycoon. Fallon secured the cooperation of his combative, colorful subject, thereby gaining access to friends, foes, and members of Goldsmith's extended family. Tracing the billionaire's roots back to the 15th-century Frankfurt ghetto that also spawned the Rothschild clan, the author spins an illuminating yarn that gets down to business with a gossipy account of Goldsmith's privileged, scapegrace youth. Following stints at Eton and in the British army, Goldsmith joined his brother in a French-based pharmaceuticals venture and soon amassed a small fortune that, in less than three decades, he parlayed into vast riches. Eventually, Goldsmith shifted his base of operations from Europe to America--and with a controlling interest in the prospering Grand Union supermarket chain, plus proceeds from raids on Crown Zellerbach, Diamond International, Goodyear, and other targets, he had no cause to regret the move. A prescient operator, Goldsmith anticipated the 1987 crash, converting his holdings into cash or its equivalent. Back once again in the UK, he then launched an abortive assault on BAT Industries; in the wake of this unsuccessful campaign, the mellowing Sir James withdrew from the fray. He now roams among his pleasure domes in France, Mexico, and elsewhere while supporting environmental causes. No narrative history of this larger-than-life character widely known as ``Goldenballs'' would be complete without an account of his decidedly unconventional personal affairs. Fallon obliges with briefings on an impressive lineup of beautiful wives and mistresses who, all told, have borne Goldsmith eight children. The author also recounts the tycoon's frequent battles with England's media, virtually the only fronts on which Fallon does not give Sir James the benefit of almost every doubt. A comprehensive and informative, albeit soft-centered, account of a genuinely remarkable career. (Forty-five illustrations.)

Pub Date: March 16th, 1992
ISBN: 0-316-27386-4
Page count: 536pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1992