True, we are given magnificent anecdotes about the follies of men at the top. Charles M Schwab, president of the Bethlehem Steel Company, won a contract for the trans-Siberian railway in 1905 by travelling to St Petersburg, where he dined quietly with the mistress of the Tsar's nephew, Duke Alexis Aleksandrovich. At the end of the dinner 'Charlie' Schwab reached into his pocket and took out a pearl and diamond necklace. 'From your many admirers in America, among whom I count myself,' he told her. The contract was signed not long afterwards.
Then there is Robert Fomon, who once headed the now defunct Wall Street brokerage firm, BF Hutton. Before his company was engulfed in scandal, visitors to Fomon's office would find their business proposals drowned out by two Catalina macaws, which flew round the room screaming 'Shit, shit, shit]' when they weren't taking pecks at the visitors' legs.
Much of the book is over-written, and the bad writing means that some highly intelligent comment is all but obscured. For example, the interesting analysis of 'chief executives' disease', an ailment that overtakes hard-
working businessmen when they begin to believe their own publicity, is only two paragraphs long.
The real trouble is that Mr von Hoffman started out writing a biography of the billionaire magazine publisher Malcolm Forbes, and changed his mind halfway through. In itself, changing tack was not wrong. Forbes was a silly man who collected Queen Victoria's underwear and threw parties to which he travelled in a gold-painted plane called Capitalist Fool (hence the book's title), and who was lucky enough to die before his goofiness was exposed for what it was. But Mr von Hoffman retains a sentimental attachment to Forbes, whose dazzling silliness remains the central thread of a disappointing book.Reuse content