Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Barbarians At The Gate

Barbarians At The Gate is to business thrillers what All The President's Men is to political. It's one of the best - and best-selling - boardroom sagas ever published, going through numerous editions (most recently in 2010) since it was first published in 1990, and selling many millions. I see from Amazon that as of half an hour ago it's ranked 13,000 in books, which is pretty good for a twenty-one-year-old non-fiction title.

You probably know the book, but if not, don't be put off when I say that Barbarians is about the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco - it is a white-knuckle ride of corporate shenanigans, big, colourful characters and sheer greed, written by a pair of investigative journalists who had covered the story for the Wall Street Journal as it unfolded, and knew how to keep the pages turning. A tale of the 1980s if ever there was one.

The 'RJR' part of RJR Nabisco stands for RJ Reynolds, the tobacco company, and one of the most fascinating strands in the book has to do with the history of the tobacco giants, and in particular the extent to which corporate denial of the ill-effects of smoking continued right up to the 1970s, in the face of what everyone else was calling overwhelming medical evidence.

Astonishing, when you consider that on this day, the 12th of July, back in 1957, US Surgeon General Leroy E Burney reported that there was a direct link between smoking and lung cancer.


Thanks, by the way, for all the birthday wishes from yesterday!
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