E-mail from author Edwin Black:
Hello all... at about 8:25 today Good Morning America was doing a segment on how to burglar proof your house. Then they showed a hollowed out book to hide jewelry in. It was Banking on Baghdad by Edwin Black, which they showed a close-up of for a long time. The reporter said, "Now nobody is going to look in Banking on Baghdad for jewelry!" I have long argued that my books have lasting value. This proves it. Also see the book on the icon link at bottom right. The book question shows up at around the 3:30 minute mark for 30-seconds in this 4-minute. You can't wrap jewelry in a newspaper. Books are always your best value. Enjoy.
My review of Banking on Baghdad is here.
Friday, February 27, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Though well researched and authoritative, this history of the Lazard Frères' investment firm may not be of interest to those not involved with the firm.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
The Last Tycoons: The Secret History of Lazard Frères & Co., The World's Most Elite and Enigmatic Investment Bank. William D. Cohan. Doubleday. 752 pages.
Corporate histories and exposés are dicey things. Even when the subject is fairly familiar, there still needs to be a compelling narrative with good guys, bad guys and enough revelations to keep things interesting. And if you are an insider, ex-employee, client or are otherwise well acquainted with the company being profiled, you are bound to be more interested and aware than other readers.
For example, I once shared a book on the Coca-Cola Co. with a manager who formerly worked for the firm. He later reported that he'd enjoyed it but that its picture of the organization was quite incomplete.
A book providing a complete and detailed portrait of any company would have to be so huge that it would be unwieldy and so ponderous that it would be virtually unreadable, making it unlikely to be widely read and to attain popular success.
The Last Tycoons comes close, which is not necessarily a good thing for all concerned.
Author William Cohan worked at the Wall Street firm of Lazard Frères for six years and was later a managing director at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and an investigative journalist. In writing this book, which has been promoted as the first full look at the firm, a major financial powerhouse, he brings his ample professional accomplishments in both fields to bear.
Lazard is seen by many as an Old School behind-the-scenes force in the market, in politics and in other dominant institutions. The firm was closely held by family members throughout much of its history, so few details about its colorful owners and managers — other than mostly packaged and pre-spun stories — have appeared in the press. Profiles of former head Felix Rohatyn and current CEO Bruce Wasserstein are ubiquitous, but Cohan offers a different view of each.
Detailing the firm's founding and establishment in America and parallel development in Europe, Cohan proves an amiable and intelligent tour guide. In addition to his ample knowledge of business, finance and human nature, he also places events in their historical context, a clear byproduct of his research. With a rather large cast of characters, Cohan strives mightily to create vivid and detailed portraits of the principals by invoking as many personal traits and anecdotes as possible without overburdening the reader. Still, throughout the 750-plus pages of text and notes, characters come and go and amid the wheeling, dealing and other machinations. As inevitable weight of the tome's details drag it down, a page-turner this is not, despite Cohan's consistently elegant prose.
Still, there are some especially memorable passages. How the American director of the company managed to secure safe passage for its European — and Jewish — manager only to be ousted after the aristocratic refugee settled in the states is especially poignant and revealing. And inside stories of a number of scandals in which the company was directly or peripherally involved will surely score with those of us who suspected that contemporaneous media reports revealed only parts of the tales.
Monday, February 23, 2009
According to the amazing Worldwide Was fan site:
"Dignity - Sweet Pea Atkinson & The Was (Not Was) Quintet - September 21st, 2004. Sweet Pea on vocals, David on harp, Don on string bass, Wayne Kramer on guitar, David McMurray on sax and, possibly Randy Jacobs on guitar and Narada Michael Walden on drums. From a forthcoming album that consists of covers of Bob Dylan songs performed in the style of early 50’s Chicago blues." I don't hear a sax but I do hear piano. Wonder who's tinklin'? (And if the album was "forthcoming," it still is!)
Bob Dylan originally recorded the song for 1989's Oh Mercy. A few (though not all) versions are online here.
"They moved on to the next song, "Dignity", which was recorded with Dylan, Stoltz, and Green. Though they managed to complete a polished performance, Lanois suggested something more ambitious with a Cajun band. Curious to see what Lanois had in mind, Dylan agreed to recut the song. The next evening, a session was held with Rockin' Dopsie and His Cajun Band, but the results were disastrous. The group experimented with different keys and tempos, but according to Dylan, everyone was frustrated with the results. Dylan still preferred the original version recorded the previous day, but it wasn't considered finished by Dylan or Lanois. (In his autobiography, Dylan refers to the original version as a "demo".) As the session continued into the early morning hours, the group gave up and began playing old standards like "Jambalaya", "Cheatin' Heart", and "There Stands the Glass". It was during this time that Dylan tried out another new song, "Where Teardrops Fall". "I showed it quickly to Dopsie and we recorded it", Dylan later wrote. "Took about five minutes and it wasn't rehearsed."
The next day, they listened to every take of "Dignity" recorded with Dopsie and his band, and all of them were rejected. "Whatever promise Dan had seen in the song was beaten into a bloody mess", Dylan recalled. "Where we had started from, we'd never gotten back to, a fishing expedition gone nowhere. In no take did we ever turn back the clock. We just kept winding it. Every take another ball of confusion.
...Another outtake, "Dignity", was one of the first songs written for Oh Mercy. Dylan viewed "Dignity" as a strong contender for the album, and an extensive amount of work was done on it. However, Dylan was dissatisfied with the recorded results, resulting in his decision to omit it.
...Easily the two most celebrated outtakes from Oh Mercy's sessions, Dylan would not only perform "Dignity" and "Series of Dreams" live, he'd eventually issue them on official releases... "Dignity" was performed live during a 1994 appearance on MTV Unplugged, and the same performance was later issued on the accompanying album. A radically remixed version of "Dignity" featuring new overdubs was released on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume 3, while the original Lanois production would not see release until the soundtrack album of the television show, Touched by an Angel."
(Interestingly, Dylan's next album, Under The Red Sky, was produced by... Don and David Was.)
Dylan's demo version and an alternate take are on the 2008 collection Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006 (Bootleg Series Vol. 8).
Friday, February 20, 2009
Here's a synopsis of the forthcoming John Irving novel, due October 27, 2009 from Random House (or a week earlier in Canada), ganked from his Canadian agent:
Last Night in Twisted River is the newest novel — John Irving’s twelfth — from one of the best-known and best-loved authors in the English language.
In 1954, in the cookhouse of a logging and sawmill settlement in northern New Hampshire, an anxious twelve-year-old boy mistakes the local constable’s girlfriend for a bear. Both the twelve-year-old and his father become fugitives, forced to run from Coos County — to Boston, to southern Vermont, to Toronto — pursued by the implacable constable. Their lone protector is a fiercely libertarian logger, once a river driver, who befriends them.
In a story spanning five decades, Last Night in Twisted River depicts the recent half-century in the United States as “a living replica of Coos County, where lethal hatreds were generally permitted to run their course.” From the novel’s taut opening sentence — “The young Canadian, who could not have been more than fifteen, had hesitated too long” — to its elegiac final chapter, Last Night in Twisted River is written with the historical authenticity and emotional authority of The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. It is also as violent and disturbing a story as John Irving’s breakthrough bestseller, The World According to Garp. What further distinguishes Last Night in Twisted River is the author’s unmistakable voice — the inimitable voice of an accomplished storyteller. Near the end of this moving novel, John Irving writes: “We don’t always have a choice how we get to know one another. Sometimes, people fall into our lives cleanly — as if out of the sky, or as if there were a direct flight from Heaven to Earth — the same sudden way we lose people, who once seemed they would always be part of our lives.”
And here's a British TV interview from May 2008
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The man who made advertising
A new biography of original Mad Man David Ogilvy illuminates his life and time.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising. Kenneth Roman. Palgrave Macmillan. 304 pages.
For anyone serious about the craft of advertising, there are several essential books. Two of them, Confessions of an Advertising Man and Ogilvy on Advertising have permanent places in my own ever-shifting library. The author of both volumes had been a cook, a spy, an Oxford dropout, savior of Masterpiece Theatre and chairman of the United Negro College Fund. He grew up in England (and considered himself a Scot), made his name and fortune in the United States, but never became a citizen (though the head of the CIA offered to make it happen).
When David Ogilvy, the most famous advertising man of his era, died, it merited front-page notice in the New York Times. He introduced the eye-patched Man in the Hathaway Shirt and Schweppes' Commander Whitehead (and ''Schweppervesence''). He turned Dove ("one quarter cleansing cream'') into a powerhouse brand, catapulted American Express from a charge card for travelers into a multifaceted worldwide brand and established one of the most successful advertising agencies in the world. He's also credited with creating a ''corporate culture'' decades before the term was coined.
Ogilvy grew up poor, got into Oxford on a special scholarship — his grades had been poor, but his intellect and audacity impressed the school — before illness and other distractions kept him from fulfilling his academic requirements. He'd tried several jobs until his older brother, a successful ad man, lent a hand. After a bit of success borne less of talent and more of audacity and tenacity, young David emigrated to America (in steerage), got a job with research company Gallup and within a few years opened an American outpost of his brother's firm. His early success revolutionized the industry, though he later acknowledged the huge debt he owed to other, less publicized predecessors.
Kenneth Roman's very readable biography presents an expansive and entertaining portrait, offering insights into the life and times. Advertising had held a different place in culture and commerce before the emergence of Ogilvy, whose career ran parallel to the rise of the great agencies and their eventual consolidation into a handful of multinational corporate entities.
Roman, a former chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, the agency his subject founded, is also the author of two how-to books on advertising, but his well researched and insightful life story required different skills, and Roman rose to the occasion. Using Ogilvy's own books, quotes, other writings and reminiscences, copious interviews from friends, family, colleagues and competitors, Roman does a masterful job of conveying the colorful personality of Ogilvy.
It's far from a fawning tale; the author incisively compares his work and influence with predecessors and peers such as Bill Bernbach, Rosser Reeves and others. Ogilvy often comes up short and vacillated between adoration and disdain of many of his fellow admen during his lifetime.
The only knock on this book is that it isn't loaded with examples of Ogilvy's work, though a little digging online and in other books may suffice. Regardless, Roman does his old boss proud.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Do you really want to compete only on the basis of price?
BY RICHARD PACHTER
Collapse of Distinction: Stand Out and Move Up While Your Competition Fails. Scott McKain. Thomas Nelson. 272 pages.
It's a strange time, uncertain and frightening. But it's a logical outcome for an economy fueled by funky credit, inflated real estate, cooked books, regulatory dereliction and more. Add the Internet, the commoditization of, well, nearly everything, and sundry international instabilities and you have quite a mess. We have quite a mess but life goes on and so does commerce, one of the surest expressions of human behavior.
Mindful of this context, the author of a new book implores us to discover ways to make our products and services (and the marketing thereof) more relevant and compelling by being different.
This is familiar ground. Seth Godin immediately comes to mind, with his purple cows and meatball sundaes. But Scott McKain takes a slightly different approach, starting with a trip to his hometown (in common with John Mellencamp) — Seymour, Ind. He visits some local businesses and notices the scant variation among the offerings of the various (though unvaried) chains of restaurants, insurance companies, whatever.
For some people, that's a good thing. A sales rep I knew confounded his more adventurous colleagues by insisting upon dining only at chains during their frequent road trips. One of his frustrated fellow travelers complained that they'd hit cities like Memphis and New Orleans with great local grub and this guy (senior in rank, alas) would invariably gravitate to the ubiquitous and familiar. But if you're not a chain, what can you do to survive and succeed?
Author Scott McKain writes "If you cannot find it within yourself to become emotional, committed, engaged, and yes, fervent about differentiation, then you had better be prepared to take your place among that vast throng of the mediocre who are judged by their customers solely on the basis of price. It is the singularly worst place to be in all of business. If you aren't willing to create distinction for yourself in your profession — and for your organization in the marketplace — then prepare to take your seat in the back, with the substantial swarm of the similar, where tedium reigns supreme.''
For many businesses, providing unambiguous homogeneity can a successful strategy, but McKain points out that being different is nearly always better; it's a competitive advantage, in fact, assuming that what's offered is resoundingly better and not just different. But what if you and your business are mediocre or unremarkable? You'll have to be honest and fearless. ''Good enough'' just isn't ''good enough'' any more, if it ever was.
In addition to some fairly interesting and surprising anecdotes (the author played a villain in a Werner Herzog film), he also provides a bunch of assessments to determine the most compelling — and marketable — aspects of your endeavor that will be worthy of attention and promotion.
Again, we've heard and read much of what McKain offers here, but his is a very solid presentation of a message that bears repetition. As things continue to tighten up, the path he illuminates may be the best way to survive.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Thursday, February 5, 2009
(Is this "fair use"? More here.)
Books look at the ties between culture, copyright laws, creativity
Two new books by law professors examine the effects of technology on culture and commerce.
BY RICHARD PACHTER
Intellectual property is the gift that keeps giving — for some. Current copyright laws, especially in the United States, tend to favor the incumbents, which is why Disney still owns Mickey Mouse and his posse.
It wasn't always like this. Copyrights, trademarks, patents and other legal mechanisms associated with the ownership of ideas (and not things) once had finite terms. Their purpose was to allow creators or owners (not always the same entity) to materially benefit from the work, not to provide perpetual income.
But technology has always been at least one step ahead of the law. And the ''rip, mix and burn'' of today can easily be applied to fairy tales, songs, plays and most every other aspect of high and low culture throughout human history.
Two new books look at the oft-uneasy relationship between culture, copyright laws and creativity.
The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind. James Boyle. Yale University Press. 336 pages.
Boyle is a Duke University law professor. One of the big challenges he faced in doing this book was resisting the unnatural tendency to write about this subject in formal, academic terms. He admits that his colleagues often devalue work if it eschews this dry style. He had concerns in doing so but decided that the message and substance required a more colloquial presentation. Fortunately, the author is a fine writer, gifted teacher and great explainer so readers can actually enjoy this thoughtful and important discussion without seeking assisted stimulation.
What Boyle seeks to accomplish here is rather ambitious; he wants to present the history of intellectual copy protection and elicit outrage from readers that will result in a movement akin to environmental activism. That's a pretty tall order, but as he writes:``Since copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the author (or 95 years if it was a corporate `work for hire'), that could be a very, very long time indeed. Long enough, in fact, to keep off limits almost the whole history of moving pictures and the entire history of recorded music. Long enough to lock up almost all of 20th century culture.''
He maintains that rather than protect creators, current laws hamper creation. He offers example of works that were in some ways derived from earlier ones, but the result was something that we'd unquestionably consider ''new.'' That's just for starters. Boyle also gets into the notion of Creative Commons, a sort of secular copyright that's legally recognized, too, and other issues pertaining to copyright law.
The entire text of this book is available online here.
Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Lawrence Lessig. Penguin. 327 pages.
Lessig's earlier book, "Free Culture" is still free online, and this new book is promised to be made similarly available. Here, the professor (Stanford Law) echoes similar themes but gets a bit more into the economic implications of loosening the restrictive reins of copyright.
It may be paradoxical, but free versions generally serve as promotional tools for paid iterations of the same work. Monty Python, for example, just posted most of their comedy sketches on YouTube and sales of their DVDs have skyrocketed.
Lessig and Boyle are strong and reasonable advocates. Fortunately they're also engaging wordsmiths, too.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
photo supplied by Neal Mirsky (left), April 1980
Here's the original, hard-to-find version of the classic Squeeze tune.
Though the hit version, produced by Roger Bechirian and Elvis Costello, featured Paul Carrack (Ace: "How Long?") on vocals and keys, an earlier take employed a different arrangement and a vocal by co-writer Glenn Tilbrook, produced by Dave Edmunds.
Carrack's tenure in the band was short (with a a brief return a few years after his initial departure) and Tilbrook took over the vocals but kept the revised arrangement in live performance.
For more info, see here.