THE NEW IMPERIALISTS: How Five Restless Kids Grew Up to Virtually Rule Your World

Mark Leibovich, Author, Paul Saffo, Preface by . Prentice Hall Press $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7352-0317-4

Leibovich, a technology reporter for the Washington Post, sets out to explain the phenomenal success of five of technology's brightest luminaries—AOL Time Warner's Steve Case, Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, Cisco's John Chambers, Oracle's Larry Ellison and, naturally, Microsoft's Bill Gates. Leibovich assumes, rightly, that these men's ruthless drive must stem from childhood, and by the time readers finish the fifth profile, it's a predictable pattern: Some adolescent trauma (dyslexia, adoption) is followed by an inexorable rise through the high tech ranks. All but one of the five grew up affluent, and Ellison's middle-class urban upbringing only seems deprived compared with the suburban private schools and six-figure start-up money the other four families provided. Some of the most telling characterizations are in the margins: here is perhaps the best insight into the symbiotic relationship between Gates and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer; and then there's the sad story of Monte Davidoff, a Microsoft start-up employee who was left behind, a tale known within geek circles but not by the general public. Leibovich does not provide the close first-person access to principals that Michael Lewis did for Jim Clark for The New New Thing, and he acknowledges that corporate flaks were on hand for interviews and copied on e-mails. Yet all five profiles—essentially updated versions of Leibovich's work for the Post—are rife with juicy anecdotes that should please technophiles. And the time seems ripe for highlighting the human frailties of marquee high tech CEOs, who have lost their Midas touch reputation with investors. Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)

Forecast: Hardcore techies might be disappointed with the choice of these five men to represent the digital age, since three of them are actually salesmen and marketers. But this mix should please readers interested in business, technology and corporate culture.

Reviewed on: 12/10/2001
Release date: 01/01/2002
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