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Disney War Hardcover – February 11, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

James Stewart has done it again. The author of the mega-bestselling Den of Thieves, about the 1980s insider-trading scandals on Wall Street, and Bloodsport, the 1990s tale of the Clintons' Whitewater affair, now gives us another epic story, this one culminating in late 2004. With DisneyWar, Stewart turns his investigative and storytelling lens on Michael Eisner and the corporate intrigue which has overtaken the Walt Disney Company in the last decade. He explains how this once-proud institution, long one of America's most admired and well-known businesses, has stumbled in recent years amid a disastrous swirl of egos, personalities, and bad business decisions.

Like one of the roller coasters at DisneyLand, Stewart's epic book takes readers through a wild up-and-down ride as it describes Eisner's regime as CEO. The tale begins with Eisner's early successes rejuvenating Disney's live-action movie franchise and theme parks, the kickoff of the modern animation era with blockbuster hits like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, and the cultivation of a highly talented cadre of lieutenants, which reads like a Who's Who of executive talent now dispersed across the Fortune 500: Stephen Bollenbach (Hilton Hotels), Steve Burke (Comcast), Geraldine Laybourne (Oxygen Media), Richard Nanula (Amgen), Joe Roth (Revolution Studios), and so on. Stewart makes clear that Eisner has had a major eye for strong creative content himself, both as a young executive in his pre-Disney years at ABC and at Paramount Pictures and more recently in building partnerships like Disney's extremely lucrative one with Pixar.

Just as he credits Eisner for various Disney successes, though, Stewart assigns blame for the failures, too. The thoroughly researched 534 pages of DisneyWar make clear that his overall verdict on the CEO is negative. Much of the book describes detailed and specific interactions between Eisner and his rivals. Readers interested in the entertainment industry or in the personalities which drive it will not be disappointed. The blow-by-blow accounts of Eisner's feuds with Dreamworks SKG founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was his chief aide for nearly two decades, and Michael Ovitz, the superagent from CAA who had been friends with Eisner for even longer than that, are amazingly detailed. They show Eisner to be creative, funny, and charming when he wants to be--and devious, dishonest, and horribly Machiavellian when he doesn't.

Though dispassionate in his writing, Stewart assembles a withering portrait of Eisner as a grasping, self-centered, manipulative, and ultimately self-destructive executive. He shows how the Disney CEO has consistently undercut his potential successors within the company, in many cases drawing on Eisner's own writings and conversations with board members. He shows how Eisner's erratic attitude towards paying severance to former employees--in some cases being overly stubborn (as with Katzenberg, to whom he had a chance to close out for $90 million, but whom Disney ended up paying $280 million) and in others being shockingly lenient (as with Ovitz, who received a $140 million golden parachute after one relatively ineffective year at the company). He shows the overreach of grandiose projects like Euro Disney, and the missed opportunities like Lord of the Rings, Sopranos, and Survivor, on all of which Disney passed.

In the end, Stewart has returned with DisneyWar to what he does best: drilling into a murky and complex subject, capturing an enormous amount of detail through personal interviews, emails, memos, court records, and other data sources, and then weaving together a rich tapestry of people and events to bring others to the same conclusions he has clearly reached himself. Though some readers might tire of the reams of detail Stewart offers--at certain points, the book reads like a gossip rag, with intricate he-said, she-said accounts of individual meetings--most will enjoy it. Beyond the entertainment value, this book also has serious value to students of corporate governance, as it presents a scathing portrait of Disney's captive board of directors and shows what happens with the lack of proper CEO oversight. --Peter Han

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The most explosive chapter of this exceptional, much-anticipated book may be its last, wherein Stewart (Den of Thieves, etc.) indicts Disney chief Michael Eisner on multiple charges: "Eisner squandered Disney's assets" [and] "committed personnel and judgment errors which... in the vitriol and publicity they generated, are without parallel in American business history." Eisner, Stewart finds, is a "Shakespearean tragic character" whose fatal flaw is "dishonesty," which in the author's view led directly to the ruptures with Steve Jobs (Pixar) and the Weinstein brothers (Miramax), the Disney Company's most important partners, and to former animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg's successful $280 million suit against Disney for moneys owed upon his firing. Stewart's DisneyWorld is a land riven by naked ambition and its necessary consequence, hubris, as during his reign (1984–present) Eisner left behind "a trail of deeply embittered former employees."One of Eisner's many achievements—Stewart tosses his subject petals as well as thorns—was the construction of the Team Disney headquarters in Burbank, buttressed by towering models of the Seven Dwarves; but there's no real place for Happy in the Disney world that the author portrays with unflagging precision. Stewart smartly frames his book with personal experience, opening with a description of his difficult training and inept performance in a Goofy suit at DisneyWorld, and closing with several encounters with Eisner (who, amazingly, cooperated with the book in part); at one, Eisner explained to Stewart that "Disney" is a French name, and that a Frenchman would pronounce the name D'Eisner as "Disney." Stewart understands the medieval nature of corporate life and presents business as a clash not only of ideas but of personalities. With a dream cast that includes Katzenberg and fallen überagent Michael Ovitz—both of whom come off no worse than Eisner, which is faint praise—plus heir apparent Robert Iger and ultimate Eisner nemesis Roy Disney (the book's hero, if there is one), Stewart has an astonishing story to tell. His notable accomplishment is that he tells it so well. The book is hypnotically absorbing—nearly 600 dense pages drawing on an impressive array of sources to build what reads like an airtight case against Eisner's leadership. There's much more craft than art here—Stewart's prose and approach are meticulous but lack the empathy and deep insight that can make a character truly Shakespearean; this is journalism told not with a novelist's eye but with a master journalist's—yet that craft is expert throughout and will help thrust this book toward the top of national bestseller lists. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (February 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684809931
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684809939
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.7 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #286,677 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James B. Stewart is the author of Heart of a Soldier, the bestselling Blind Eye and Blood Sport, and the blockbuster Den of Thieves. A former Page-One editor at The Wall Street Journal, Stewart won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for his reporting on the stock market crash and insider trading. He is a regular contributor to SmartMoney and The New Yorker. He lives in New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 76 people found the following review helpful By R P on March 7, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a huge James B Stewart fan (loved The Prosecutors and Den of Thieves) and an ex-Disney exec (I was there for five of the years discussed) so I was looking forward to this book. My net feeling is that it was fun, not a bad choice for the beach bag this summer, but (a) it takes a relentlessly negative point of view, even more than I think is justified, (b) there are some weird gaps in the story which I attribute to rushing to out to press (but maybe there's some other reason), and (c) finally and most importantly, it fails to rise above the facts it portrays to make any larger point. What does it tell us about or times, about corporations, about America, about the people discussed...? Unclear. Somehow Stewart didn't get enough perspective on it or insight into it to make the narrative into something more memorable and insightful than a solid recounting of some important events in Disney's recent history. That's too bad. I hope that in Stewart's next book he finds some larger meaning.

But, that being said, a lot of the events are nevrtheless quite fascinating:

It's unbelievable how Eisner burned Ovitz straightaway after hiring him. Just completely hung him out to dry when only weeks before he had been the most powerful man in Hollywood. Brutal and horrible.

The details with Katzenberg were awful too. That must have been the worst deal ever made (next to the Ovitz deal). And Eisner's carping about Roth, Iger and Wells behind their backs? He really comes off as a psycho freak you wouldn't want to work for.

Some of his problems were legitimate though. Katzenberg was equally psycho at least.
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123 of 148 people found the following review helpful By William Marshall on February 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I live in Burbank, CA, just up the street from the Disney corporate headquarters. When I heard the DisneyWars was coming out today, I rushed down to the local bookstore to get my copy. As I was making my purchase, the cashier mentioned to me that earlier today, the Disney Company had come to the store and bought out their entire stock of the book. There were a lot of copies on display, so it must have been quite an effort. But then a couple of hours before I came to buy my copy, they returned them all. What strange behavior. The must be afraid of what the Stewart wrote. Their apparent paranoia made me even more eager to read the book.

From what I've read so far, they should be afraid. It's quite a scathing expose. So far, it is proving to be an excellent book. What Walt Disney accomplished through the power of his genius and ability to tap into the genius of others is simply amazing. But this book is a stark revelation of the damage the current management has done to the Disney Company. If you are a Disney fan, I HIGHLY recommend this book.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Dobelli HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Pulitzer prize winner James B. Stewart paints a portrait of Michael Eisner that has more in common with a totalitarian dictator than with most CEOs. Stewart is careful, though, to trace the Walt Disney Company's growth and success under Eisner, even though he was really running Disney for the benefit of just a handful of people - including himself. And, just as carefully, Stewart traces the company's spiraling internal chaos. The pluses: the author tells an instructive, intricate corporate saga in intriguing detail. Minuses: He is no expert on the film industry and the narrative doesn't build much momentum. Frustratingly, although no doubt for sound reportorial reasons, he also mostly refuses to draw conclusions until the short final chapter. We recommend this troubling portrait of corporate excess and misbehavior to all managers and to students of entertainment and media as a lesson on the pitfalls of untamed corporate politics and unbridled CEO power.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on February 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
For the reader who has been to any of its theme parks or enjoyed any of the Disney films over the past two decades, this book is required reading. James B. Stewart has won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the corruption and hubris of the business community (for Mr. Stewart's writing at its best, see his "Den of Thieves"). "Disneywar" is his history of the 20 year reign of Michael Eisner as CEO of the Disney Company, culminating in a corporate high noon showdown between Mr. Eisner and Roy Disney.

Though the book could have been trimmed a bit, Mr Stewart presents a thorough account of how the finished Disney product that the reader knows (whether it is "The Lion King", the theme parks, et al) came to be. Why Mr. Eisner should granted such unprecedented access to Mr. Stewart is still unclear to me, for his public image will take a further tumble with the release of this book.

The reporting is impressive, the writing is clear and the behind the history tale is interesting. It is a fun read with the financial details make understandable for the non-MBA reader. A prequel of sorts is "Storming The Magic Kingdom" by John Taylor (1987) which tells the story of the corporate raiders who attempted to take over the Disney Company in the early 1980's.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By SAB on March 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I'm not sure the people who rated this book 3-stars read the same book that I did. All I can say is that it has been years since I have read a book that kept me as enthralled as this brilliant work by a pulitzer prize winner. I was amazed at how juvenile and insecure the people who ran the company were...the back stabbing and grab for credit was simply amazing.

Eisner comes across as slightly unstable and one has to wonder if he really was the right man to stay and run Disney for 20 years. When Disney hired Eisner it was a sleeping giant with enormous potential that Eisner and his cronies were able to "awaken" with some pretty easy fixes. After the obvious, well, that's when the tough part really began for all of these childish, boorish, and insecure men.

In my mind, Eisner's run as CEO will always be tarnished. Every man has flaws but Eisner has a lot more than his share. This book is one heck of an engaging read. I hated to finish and had trouble getting anything done while reading this engaging book. I'm not sure how anyone could not love this business soap opera. Stewart has always been a cut above and I am grateful that a man of his ability tackled this particular project. The reader is the big winner. 5 very enthusiatic stars!
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