A roller-coaster ride through the life and self-made world of the Australian billionaire.
Sydney-based financial journalist Chenoweth explains that Murdoch is a bundle of contradictions: personally unprepossessing (“drab to the point of colorlessness”) yet a master of Machiavellian business politics; morally ambiguous (quick to betray friends and family for the promise of money or other pleasures) yet the architect of one of the world’s great media empires, embracing satellite and cable television, newspapers, radio stations, and a host of other ventures. This success, Chenoweth notes, was never quite preordained, although Murdoch was heir to the distressed fortunes of a distant father who himself had built such an empire in Australia; it took Murdoch’s singular drive and ambition to expand these slender holdings to embrace every continent—and to make few friends and many enemies along the way. Showing guarded admiration for Murdoch’s talents and refusing to demonize his much-despised subject, Chenoweth takes us along some impressively complex paths, including Murdoch’s bid in the fall of 2001 to acquire Hughes Electronics from a battered GM and his longtime efforts to thwart Ted Turner’s ambitions to build an omnimedia empire of his own. Along the way, he offers learned observations of interest to anyone contemplating investment in a Murdoch venture: he notes, for instance, that Murdoch’s fortunes seem to be keyed to the calendar, such that “Murdoch would spend the first years of each decade recovering from his latest great gamble. By the middle of the decade he would have settled the empire down, beaten back the bankers, and embarked on the next growth phase. The deals grew dizzier and dizzier until by the end of the decade Murdoch’s news empire would look impossibly stretched, his critics declaring that this time this crisis would be his last.”
But Murdoch is nothing if not a survivor, and Chenoweth’s lively biography pays due respect to a slippery but tenacious fellow.