Review: How They Blew It

How They Blew ItHow They Blew It
by Jamie Oliver

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How They Blew It / 978-0-749-46065-5

Half mini-biography, and half "where are they now" expose, "How They Blew It" provides quick and interesting "start-to-finish" looks at 16 major companies and the CEOs and entrepreneurs that, basically, ran them into the ground with varying degrees of criminal intent and enthusiasm.

Of the 16 companies featured here (and the 17 entrepreneurs at the helms), each gets about 10-15 pages each, as the authors lightly trip over the rise and fall of the companies, and covers the personality quirks and final resting place of the leaders of the ill-fated company. The overall effect is very light-hearted and superficial - the sort of thing you would get from a "where are they now" magazine article revisiting the crash of the company in retrospect a few years after the fact.

While this is a perfectly valid approach, it does ensure that the vignettes never really rise above a mini-biography/documentary level. Very little effort is put into actually analyzing the behavior of the entrepreneurs who "blew it", and almost zero effort is put into analyzing why so many people - governments, news organizations, and even auditors - were willing to help perpetuate what, in many cases, amount to bald-faced fraud. When the book does attempt to provide "analysis", the effort is painful to behold: the authors flounder frequently into stale gender stereotyping, asserting that men have more "sheer ego" and that, "there appears to be a desire in men, as opposed to women, to leave their DNA footprint on the world"; women, on the other hand, are characterized here as having a "stable business" approach that will "support her and her family".

This stale, tired approach to gender differences in businesses prevents any kind of meaningful look at the societal pressures and impetuses towards business fraud, instead pushing for weak, easy answers - these men, according to the authors, "blew it" simply because they had a bit too much of the Y chromosome. Later, when discussing the Iceland bank crash, the authors will also wonder if a certain entrepreneur's success was due to "similarities with Iceland's Viking past, with mystical powers at work." And, once again, we are reminded in full force of a magazine fluff piece.

For what it is, "How They Blew It" is not a bad piece of work. There are a lot of obscure businesses here - not just the Enrons and the Lehman Brothers of the business world - so if you're desperate to bone up on broken businesses, or if finance is your hobby and you've missed some of these scandals in the last few years, then this collection will serve as a handy refresher on the subject. For a "just the facts" whiz through, "How They Blew It" certainly does the job, and is well written outside of the occasional painful dip into whimsy and speculation, but if you're looking for a more in-depth interpretation on the subject, you will be disappointed.

Basically, "How They Blew It" will answer the superficial "how" by showing you all the houses, ranches, boats, and other luxuries that the entrepreneurs "blew it" all on... but it won't answer the deeper "how" of why they were allowed to get away with it for so long, and how no one ever stepped in to stop them until it was too late.

NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.

~ Ana Mardoll

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