A revealing biography—authorized, but not uncritical—of the idiosyncratic hedge-fund tycoon and philanthropist.
Like fellow magnate Andrew Grove (Swimming Across, p. 1264), George Soros was born a Hungarian Jew who managed to survive the Holocaust and escape the slamming shut of the Iron Curtain. Blessed with a larger billfold and better family connections than Grove, though, Soros had a leg up, earning a substantial fortune after studying at the London School of Economics, a tour of duty that he apparently likened “to his father’s years in Siberia,” although it brought him into contract with his lifelong mentor, the philosopher Karl Popper. Describing the mechanics of Soros’s ability to attract and accrue stacks of currency is about the only thing former New York Times columnist Kaufman doesn’t do well in this mostly readable account; he tends to get tangled in discussions of such things as warranted bonds and gilt distribution, the very stuff of which Soros’s billion-dollar fortune was made, and here, readers might find it helpful to have a background in finance, or at least financial jargon. For the most part, however, Kaufman’s account is clear and eminently fluent, capably documenting Soros’s emergence from studied anonymity to become “the only private citizen who had his own foreign policy,” diplomacy conducted through the vehicle of a Soros-funded foundation with more assets than some small countries. Through it, Kaufman writes, Soros has done such things as establish universities in Hungary and Poland, build affordable housing in South Africa, and fund public schools in Albania, among other good and worthy causes that prove his commitment to bettering the world. Kaufman does not shy from pointing out his subject’s occasional missteps (including the publication of a couple of books that met with a withering reception), but Soros emerges from these pages as a complex, well-intended fellow who would rather be thinking about philosophical issues than making and spending his billions.
Future required reading, one can hope, for MBA candidates, and much better than the usual run of business bios.