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The title of this book is a neat conceit, melding mental images of rascally ruffians on horseback with coast-to-coast digital pipelines. The reality of the book is rather different. Princes of the traditional print and analog media wheel and deal and jockey for position, while the Internet as we know it today plays a bit part on the periphery, and a dimly understood but eagerly anticipated Information Highway waits in the wings.
The Highwaymen is based on Ken Auletta's "Annals of Communications" columns that appeared in The New Yorker over a period of several years. While writing his pieces, Auletta wangled an astonishing level of access to reclusive executives and globe-trotting tycoons such as John Malone, Sumner Redstone, Michael Eisner, Rupert Murdoch, Frank Biondi, Edgar Bronfman Jr., and Barry Diller -- in some cases, he interviewed and followed his subjects around for days to weeks, attending their meetings, looking over their memos, and even reading their electronic mail. The portraits he paints are intimate, evenhanded, and fascinating.
Only in the last chapter, which describes Michael Kinsley's odyssey to Microsoft does Auletta cross over into the territory that you and I can recognize. Kinsley, who cohosted CNN's Crossfire and considered himself something of literary lion, traded New York for Redmond in an attempt to stake out the high ground on the electronic publishing frontier. He found himself in a strange new world where "smartness" is a function of C++ coding expertise, and only billionaires and cronies of the chairman have any real clout. The fate of Slate is still unclear as this is written; it's only one of dozens of Microsoft attempts to penetrate the "content" market, and it is not yet paying its own way.
Due to its origins, The Highwaymen suffers from some lack of integration. Each chapter stands more or less alone, and there is occasional redundancy. However, the author did add back some interesting material that had been cut from The New Yorker because of space limitations, which makes the book worth buying even if you already read most of the original columns. He has also appended a postscript to each chapter that describes what became of the personalities, negotiations, and projects described in the original column.
I took away two lasting impressions from this book. The first was a deep appreciation of the incredible power of a very few, very rich, and mostly very obscure media barons, and the intricate shifting struggles and mesh of alliances between them. The second was the relative civility of the players; only Rupert Murdoch appears to be in the same league with Bill Gates and Microsoft when it comes to ruthlessness, arrogance, and a desperate compulsion to dominate or destroy all competitors.--Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books
|1||Diller Peeks into the Future: Intimations of Interactivity||3|
|2||The Cowboy: John Malone's Cable Kingdom||25|
|3||The War for Paramount (and Software)||56|
|4||What Won't You Do?||68|
|5||Portrait of a Software Giant: Viacom||99|
|6||No Longer the Son Of: Seagram's Edgar Bronfman, Jr.||136|
|7||The Consigliere: Herbert Allen, Matchmaker||160|
|8||Synergy: The Mantra That's Bad for Journalism||180|
|9||The Referee: The FCC||189|
|10||Localism Confounds Ted Turner's Global Village||206|
|11||The Magic Box: Interactive TV?||218|
|12||The Human Factor: Troubles in Disneyland||230|
|13||The Beheadings: Successful Yet Unemployed||248|
|14||The Pirate: Rupert Murdoch||258|
|15||The Power of Shame: Bill Bennett Takes On Gangsta Rap||290|
|16||Jumping off a Bridge: Michael Kinsley Enters Cyberspace||303|
|17||The Microsoft Provocateur: Nathan Myhrvold, Bill Gates's Corporate Gadfly||333|