cover image The Adventures of Herbie Cohen: World’s Greatest Negotiator

The Adventures of Herbie Cohen: World’s Greatest Negotiator

Rich Cohen. Farar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-16961-9

A deal-making guru bargains with the world in this wry and affectionate biography. Journalist and editor Cohen (Sweet and Low) profiles his father, Herb Cohen, author of the bestselling business self-help title You Can Negotiate Anything, an adviser to the Reagan administration in arms negotiations with the Soviets, and the popularizer of the phrase “win-win.” In Cohen’s telling, Herbie is a latter-day Buddha preaching a detached philosophy of life as an all-encompassing negotiation in which one should “care, but not that much.” A consummate operator, he’s forever getting friends out of jams, bluffing his way into snooty restaurants sans reservations, and overflowing with wised-up aphorisms (“The meek shall inherit the earth, but not its mineral rights”). Full of vivid characterizations and sly wit (Herbie insisted on rewriting his son’s grade-school reports, “which explains the frequent mention of Bensonhurst and the Brooklyn Dodgers in my schoolwork”), the book also reads as a classic Jewish American striver’s saga, following Herbie from prewar Brooklyn—where his pals included future talk show legend Larry King—to the blandness of Chicago’s suburbs, to Florida’s retiree purgatory. His successes breed neuroses, including an ironically “over-caring” obsession with a bogus plagiarism lawsuit that he battled for years instead of negotiating a win-win settlement. This is a rich and beguiling homage to a larger-than-life father. Photos. (May)