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DisneyWar Paperback – March 10, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 176 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Edition Unstated edition (March 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743267095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743267090
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.6 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (176 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
Having grown up in the eighties and remembering first-hand movies like "The Little Mermaid" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and whats more gaining an affinity and admiration for their creators I plunged into DisneyWar. Having landed a job while in college at The Disney Store just after the Ovitz fiasco I first learned of the darker side to 'Uncle Eisner' that Disney character that played himself on T.V. Sunday nights.

Stewart's book is a juicy chunk of details involving Eisner and his (in his mind) bit players including Katzenberg, Ovitz, and Roy Disney. Each of these men in their rise within the Disney corporate structure and the chance at the coveted presidency threaten Eisner. A cycle of corporate double-speak and false promises ensues and with each one cost face and money. Michael Ovitz' record severance package, Katzenberg's infamous 2% clause that Eisner disputed and delayed to the tune of $280 million. Ovitz' hiring was among scores of conflicts of interests of which include the offering of a seat on the board to a fundraiser for the Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall. (Eisner wanted her to stop asking the company for money to help pay for it. Eisner himself never personally donated any money for it.)

That none of the characters are infalliable and essentially it comes down to battle of the millionaire's egos is not suprising. It is daunting to learn of Eisner's perception of power. True, he revitalized a dying brand but since then he has allowed pettiness or just plain lack of innovativeness to control his decision making. How else to explain not acquiring Pixar when he had multiple occasions? To pass on various projects such as 'Lord of the Rings'?
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