A Forbes magazine insider explores the decline of the Forbes media brand and the family's wealth.
Pinkerton, former Wall Street Journal deputy managing editor and Forbes managing editor, arrived at the shortly after the death in 1990 of celebrity publisher/bon vivant Malcolm Forbes, son of the founder, B.C. Forbes. After an early chapter that focuses on the apparent bisexuality of Malcolm, the author spends the remainder of the combination memoir/family biography/commentary about journalism examining the rise and fall of the Forbes brand. Structured oddly, the narrative is often difficult to follow. Because Pinkerton relies so heavily on anonymous sourcing to supplement his firsthand observations as an editor, the strongest portion of the book is the Forbes family history, based heavily in Scotland. Bertie Forbes, the patriarch, set sail for America in 1903, an unlikely prospect for magazine ownership and accumulation of great family wealth. But, in a variation of rags-to-riches sagas, he achieved success and passed it along to his children. The family saga told by Pinkerton gains momentum as he explains the succession after Malcolm’s death, during which Steve, the eldest of the four sons, emerged as the seeming favorite. The author’s chronicle of the disagreements among the four sons makes for alternately tedious and interesting reading. None of them possessed a crystal ball, so the Forbes media properties, like so many others, began to suffer because of the Internet's influence on print publications. The empire has not quite collapsed, as the book's subtitle suggests, but it has been forever altered.
A sometimes insightful book that is too poorly organized and breezily written to live up to its potential.