The Highwaymen: Warriors of the Information Superhighwayby Ken Auletta
A struggle is taking place--not just among corporate titans, but among entire industries. At stake is control of the world's fastest-growing industry: communications. The contestants are Hollywood studios, television networks, and cable, telephone, computer, publishing, and consumer-electronics companies. All are vying to collect a toll on the information superhighway. And as they jockey for control, they tread on volatile ground, as one fixation after another (cable, interactive TV) is dumped in favor of the next (satellite, the Internet).
There is no better account of this turmoil than the one provided here by Ken Auletta, bestselling author of Three Blind Mice ("the best book ever written on network television"*) and Greed and Glory on Wall Street, who for five years has brilliantly tracked the communications industry for The New Yorker. Auletta's access to the principal players is unparalleled (six days with Rupert Murdoch, summit meetings with John Malone), and his grasp of the issues--from boardroom politics to regulatory and technological pressures--is unmatched by any other journalist.
In this riveting collection of his best pieces Auletta takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes tour of such companies as Disney, Viacom, Microsoft, Time Warner, and Telecommunications, Inc., and keenly chronicles the vanities and visions of the new Highwaymen--Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner, Michael Eisner, Sumner Redstone, Bill Gates, and more. Just as Three Blind Mice was heralded as "the new bible of the broadcasting business," The Highwaymen will be received as an indispensable guide to the future of this explosive new world.
* Frank Stanton, former president of CBS
From the Hardcover edition.
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
- Random House Publishing Group
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Meet the Author
Ken Auletta is the author of two national bestsellers, Three Blind Mice and Greed and Glory on Wall Street, as well as The Underclass, The Streets Were Paved with Gold, and The Art of Corporate Success. Since 1992 he has been the "Annals of Communications" columnist for The New Yorker, for whom he has written since 1978. His pieces have also appeared in Vanity Fair, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, New York, the Daily News, and The Village Voice.
From the Hardcover edition.
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