Who doesn’t delight in juicy tales of disruption among the ranks of disruptive technologies (see John Carreyrou on Theranos or Nick Bilton on Twitter)? In Isaac’s deeply detailed account, Uber turns out to be the Jamba of corporate chronicles, centered on the charming but difficult founder, Travis Kalanick. The stories of abuse and excess in the upper ranks are abundant, and in places like Brazil the lax screening of passengers led to robberies, carjackings, even murder. Isaac, who covered Uber for The New York Times, is at his very best in the boardroom, where the poor oversight of Kalanick followed by his ill-handled ouster makes you wonder whether your last Uber driver would have been better on the board.
Even those who think American cable news strident and clueless have reason to appreciate Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC host blessed with a gift for humor-inflected, legal-based narrative and an ability to draw out the best from guests like Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren. (Hint to other hosts: Don’t interrupt.) That she also finds the time to write a compelling case against what she calls “Big Oil and Gas” is its own marvel, especially since the book’s mission is nothing less than to connect the dots among energy production, the Russian economy, and Putin’s efforts to mess up the 2016 U.S. elections. Blowout is that rare combination: entertaining and troubling.
If you had bought a single share of Disney stock at $24 when Bob Iger took control, in 2005, your stake would now be worth $132, an impressive enough gain but still a couple of dollars short of what it costs to buy a single-day adult ticket to Disneyland during the holidays. Iger’s revival of the company’s amusement parks is just one reason why he has become the most successful Hollywood mogul of our day, not to mention his purchases of Pixar, Marvel Entertainment, and Lucasfilm. Think of it: if you held a Halloween party this month and your friends came dressed as Donald Duck, Spider-Man, Jar Jar Binks, and Sheriff Woody, it would be one big happy Disney family. (It might also be time to get some new friends.)
Iger is an extremely likable man who has toyed with running for president, so do not expect any sharp takedowns or pointed gossip in The Ride of a Lifetime. After all, this is the man who agreed to keep confidential the news from Steve Jobs that his cancer had returned, information that arguably he should have shared with his board since Disney was buying Pixar that very day. He extols the traits that he says helped him, including optimism, fairness, hard work, and courage, and spreads credit around the way one might apply cream cheese to a Polo Lounge bagel. It is too soon to say if his acquisition of Rupert Murdoch’s Twentieth Century Fox this year was a worthwhile gamble, and if he does step down in 2021 as promised, the verdict on that purchase will still not be in. No matter: Bob Iger’s legacy is secure.