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A PASSION TO WIN by Sumner Redstone Kirkus Star


by Sumner Redstone with Peter Knobler

Pub Date: June 8th, 2001
ISBN: 0-684-86224-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A robust autobiography by the self-styled owner and CEO of media conglomerate Viacom (published, incidentally, by the company’s book subsidiary).

The Redstone legend, played up from many angles in the business and celebrity media, is treated here to a richly suggestive and selective retelling, true to the biz-bio mode. The oldest son of demanding, supportive parents, Redstone grew up an overachiever and has kept accelerating. He was a high-profile Washington lawyer by his early 30s, but he traded in his safe profession for a business opportunity, joining his dad’s drive-in theater start-up. With steely temperament and confidence, Redstone recounts how he successfully built up a regional industry leader through equal applications of effort and chutzpah: He mercilessly pursued the Hollywood studios, like David against Goliath, while making West Coast alliances that leveraged Viacom’s steep growth trajectory. It was a brutal ascent, but Redstone was a financial juggernaut who drew powerful interests to his side, and he stood taller after each corporate endgame. Yet, this bellicose cycle sounds somewhat at odds with his stated preference to discuss things rationally and settle agreeably. He is, he declares, Viacom, and Viacom is King of Content—and within this frame of reference, Redstone sits as king and kingmaker. It reads like a courtroom drama having the judge for jury, but a blurring of the enjoyment of battle for the sake of winning with an enjoyment of battle for its own sake seems an occupational hazard in the high-stakes entertainment industry. Nonetheless, Redstone’s gilding wears thinner with each Viacom victory, and his vindicatory attitude calls for interpretation—not just reading along. In his opening pages, he takes issue with a critical Business Week cover story, but by the end his self-congratulatory tone has added substance to the “mad genius” caricature.

Outrageous as he is, for personality and readability, Redstone gets an A.