A gripping reconstruction of a media story whose implications have yet to fully unfold.

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WAR AT THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

INSIDE THE STRUGGLE TO CONTROL AN AMERICAN BUSINESS EMPIRE

A former Wall Street Journal reporter delivers a behind-the-scenes account of Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the venerable publication.

From the beginning Murdoch was playing a larger game, larger even than the “mere” acquisition of Dow Jones & Co. By adding the nation’s premier business-news organization and its coveted crown jewel to his already vast News Corp. empire, he intended to displace the New York Times as the country’s news and opinion leader. To win over the Bancroft family—for 105 years the owners of the proudly independent Journal and without whom no transaction would be possible—and to calm the paper’s nervous newsroom, the shrewdly self-aware Murdoch knew that he had to overcome his reputation as a meddling owner who used his newspapers to advance his own business interests and political views. Of course, his stunning $5 billion, $60-per-share offer was a good start to negotiations. Ellison appears to have nailed down all aspects of the deal. A ten-year Journal veteran and thoroughly versed in the paper’s culture, the author capably describes the newsroom dynamic, both pre- and post-Murdoch, the shifting power centers and the transformation from a more contemplative, analytical form of journalism to the banner headline, breaking story, product of today. Ellison also excels at sorting out the 35 adult Bancrofts, exploring the family fissures Murdoch so adroitly exploited among a group who saw themselves as noble guardians of a fine tradition, but who come off here as thin-blooded, self-interested and no match for the Australian’s thorough preparation and nimble maneuvering. Their feckless attempt to impose on the media baron a deal structure assuring editorial independence for the Journal, even as they helped themselves to his billions, almost defines a stewardship ripe for termination. It’s a measure of Ellison’s evenhandedness that, while clearly no Murdoch fan, she candidly exposes the ownership and management deficiencies that made a journalistic icon so vulnerable to capture.

A gripping reconstruction of a media story whose implications have yet to fully unfold.

Pub Date: May 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-547-15243-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2010

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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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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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