SAMUEL BRONFMAN

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SEAGRAM'S MR. SAM

A fact-filled but plodding biography of Samuel Bronfman, who achieved mythic success in the North American liquor trade. Marrus (History/Univ. of Toronto) provides a wealth of background on the entrepreneurial genius who made Montreal-based Seagram a lucrative multinational enterprise. Unfortunately, his subject (whose name means ``whisky man'' in Yiddish) left almost no personal records, and despite cooperation and financial support from Bronfman's heirs, the author never quite manages to make ``Mr. Sam'' stand up on the page. To a welcome extent, though, the details of Bronfman's remarkable career sustain the lengthy narrative. The son of immigrant Bessarabian refugees, Bronfman was born during their 1889 journey to the New World, then spent a hard boyhood on Canada's western prairies. One of four brothers, he joined the family's modestly prospering hotel business, and soon sensed that there was more money in making than in serving alcoholic beverages. Accordingly, he headed east to set up shop as a distributor. Bronfman eventually became a distiller, making acquisitions on both sides of the border. Legend has it that he was a close bootlegging associate of US gangsters during the 1930's. By Marrus's convincingly documented account, however, Bronfman seems to have operated within the letter of American as well as Canadian law. At any rate, once the temperance movement lost its momentum following WW II, Bronfman's merchandising savvy enabled him to build a global empire based on brands (Calvert, Dewars, Seven Crown, etc.) that target upscale consumers. An avid pursuer of honors and recognition, Mr. Sam staked out a limited claim for himself in public affairs. Beyond the presidency of the Canadian Jewish Congress, his company, and family, though, the late-blooming Zionist (who died in 1971) had few interests. Marrus nonetheless burdens his text with tedious recitals of the CJC's internal politics and other minutiae, which add little to our understanding of a man who may just have been all business. An informative, albeit less than insightful, saga. (Eight pages of humdrum photos.)

Pub Date: March 27, 1992

ISBN: 0-87451-571-8

Page Count: 551

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1992

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

REIMAGINING CAPITALISM IN A WORLD ON FIRE

A well-constructed critique of an economic system that, by the author’s account, is a driver of the world’s destruction.

Harvard Business School professor Henderson vigorously questions the bromide that “management’s only duty is to maximize shareholder value,” a notion advanced by Milton Friedman and accepted uncritically in business schools ever since. By that logic, writes the author, there is no reason why corporations should not fish out the oceans, raise drug prices, militate against public education (since it costs tax money), and otherwise behave ruinously and anti-socially. Many do, even though an alternative theory of business organization argues that corporations and society should enjoy a symbiotic relationship of mutual benefit, which includes corporate investment in what economists call public goods. Given that the history of humankind is “the story of our increasing ability to cooperate at larger and larger scales,” one would hope that in the face of environmental degradation and other threats, we might adopt the symbiotic model rather than the winner-take-all one. Problems abound, of course, including that of the “free rider,” the corporation that takes the benefits from collaborative agreements but does none of the work. Henderson examines case studies such as a large food company that emphasized environmentally responsible production and in turn built “purpose-led, sustainable living brands” and otherwise led the way in increasing shareholder value by reducing risk while building demand. The author argues that the “short-termism” that dominates corporate thinking needs to be adjusted to a longer view even though the larger problem might be better characterized as “failure of information.” Henderson closes with a set of prescriptions for bringing a more equitable economics to the personal level, one that, among other things, asks us to step outside routine—eat less meat, drive less—and become active in forcing corporations (and politicians) to be better citizens.

A readable, persuasive argument that our ways of doing business will have to change if we are to prosper—or even survive.

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5417-3015-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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