Summer reading to anger and inform

Thomas Maier, an award-winning New York investigative business reporter, has written a book about media tycoon Si Newhouse that many corporate bosses I’ve known would die to avoid.

On the other hand, Adam Zimmerman, a high-profile Toronto executive, has produced the kind of autobiography that most of his colleagues would die to write about themselves.

Maier’s Newhouse (St. Martin’s Press) has been re-issued in paperback by Vanwell Publishing Limited of St. Catharines, Ont. Zimmerman’s Adam Zimmerman – Who’s in Charge Here, Anyway? (Stoddart) is a new hardcover release.

Both books make a visit to your nearest bookseller or library worthwhile. Through them we take insider trips, sometimes wacky, sometimes brutal, through glamourous industries which consistently win more headlines than showbiz mega-hits.

Newhouse runs America’s richest media empire. Zimmerman helped manage Noranda, one of Canada’s biggest mining and forest products conglomerates, presided over the demise of one-time powerhouse Confederation Life as chairman, and was waxed by Conrad Black from the board of Southam’s newspaper chain.

"As ruler of the largest privately held fortunes in t United States," Maier writes, "Newhouse owns and controls such magazines as Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, the Random House publishing company, and dozens of daily newspapers, as well as cable television franchises and other media properties."

Yet this son of an immigrant who picked up a threadbare Staten Island daily shortly after his arrival at Ellis Island, "remains barely known to the American public and often misunderstood by those who claim to know him." Si Newhouse ducked seeing Maier about this book — probably with good reason. His moves, Maier writes, "were stunning, even brutal.

Indeed, the Newhouse verve for occasional bloodletting had a familiar eighteenth-century ring: `Quand il y avait la guillotine, il y avait du pain!" The head shots of the beheaded looked like the Who’s Who of New York’s literary world."

Newspaper people thought Zimmerman brash for devoting a considerable portion of his career to lecturing them on how to write. He has the last laugh, however, in his very well-written first book, and resurrects his knack for headlines as well.

Environmental activists, for example, will cringe but not carp at his impressive technical expertise. "A modern (pulp) mill might, in the course of 300,000 tonnes of production, emit an amount of dioxin the size of a sugar cube," he writes. "A person would have to drink thirty-two Olympic swimming pools of the stuff before developing a mildly annoying rash." "Zimmerman’s Eight Commandments: A Lesson in Dealing With the Media" may draw chuckles from newsroom pros for stating the obvious, but gratitude, too, for lecturing his kind on how to behave when reporters call.

On Quebec, despite his disclaimer — "Make no mistake, I abhor the thought of a separate Quebec" — he cuts through the rhetoric and writes, "…the truth is the majority of firms in a newly- constituted Quebec would weather the storm and continue to do business under whatever regime its citizens deemed right and proper."

Newhouse, seen through the eyes of others, and Zimmerman, through his own, make for dashing summer business reading that amuses, angers and, most of all, informs.