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Fools Rush In : Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Unmaking of AOL Time Warner Hardcover – January 6, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Munk's entry to the growing list of books about the AOL Time Warner merger provides a thorough recap of the debacle, with the author coming to her own conclusion on the causes behind the merger's failure. After more than 100 pages of the obligatory background on AOL and its chairman, Steve Case, and Time Warner and chairman Jerry Levin, Munk begins to make her argument that Case and Levin, who ran their companies with few checks and balances, bear the greatest responsibility for orchestrating a deal that had little chance to succeed. She presses her case by hitting hard on the fact that few Time Warner executives knew about the pending deal until hours before it was announced, and that even fewer executives supported the proposal. That due diligence for the $165-billion merger only took three days and that many of the merged company's top managers sold large chunks of stock (including Case who sold shares worth $100 million) shortly after the deal closed is further proof to Munk that the combination was not well thought out and that many managers had doubts about its success from the very beginning. For readers looking for a quick review of events surrounding the AOL Time Warner merger, Munk's book fits the bill, but for those who are already well versed on the subject, Munk (a contributing editor at Vanity Fair) adds little new information.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

As a senior writer at Fortune magazine, Munk began research for an article on Jerry Levin and the AOL Time Warner deal in the fall of 2000. Although that particular article was shelved, her work led to two pieces in Vanity Fair and a full-blown research project that culminated in this solidly researched, steadily paced book. Time magazine, first published in 1923 by Henry Luce, was the first in a series of wildly successful publications (including Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated) that set the tone for American public opinion and created a high-minded atmosphere that pervaded the company for years. In 1972, with television overshadowing print media, Jerry Levin revitalized the company by merging with Warner Cable in a stroke of genius that introduced satellite TV and the cable premium channel HBO. In 2000, the unprecedented merger with AOL was supposed to revive the company once again--and was a disaster of massive proportions for everyone but Steve Case and the former employees of AOL. The fallout included a loss of $220 billion in shareholder value and more than 30 lawsuits against the company and its executives. Although the merger has been covered extensively, this appears to be the most comprehensive and impartial account to date. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Collins; First Edition edition (January 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060540346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060540340
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,215,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nina Munk, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is a journalist and author whose work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Fortune. Among other literary prizes, she has been awarded three Business Journalist of the Year Awards (including "most outstanding winner of all categories") and three Front Page Awards. Her article about mismanagement at Harvard University was shortlisted for a Gerald Loeb Award and is included in "The Great Hangover: 21 Tales of the New Recession from the Pages of Vanity Fair."

Nina's newest book is "The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty," the profound and moving story of what happens when the abstract theories of a brilliant, driven man meet the messy reality of human life. Deeply reported over a period of more than six years, "The Idealist" is the result of repeated journeys to sub-Saharan Africa where Nina not only sat in on Sachs's official meetings with heads-of-state, but also immersed herself in the lives of people in two isolated villages, Ruhiira, in southwest Uganda, and Dertu, on the arid border of Kenya and Somalia. Accepting the hospitality of camel herders and small-hold farmers, and witnessing their struggle to survive, Nina reveals clearly and empathetically the hurdles that lie on the path to ending global poverty.

"The Idealist," nominated for the Lionel Gelber Prize and a finalist for the Governor General's Award and the National Business Book Award, has been widely praised. Reviewers have described it as "masterful," "incisive," "fascinating," "sharply rendered," and "riveting." It has been named a Book of the Year by The Spectator, Forbes, and Bloomberg, among others.

Nina's book "Fools Rush In: Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the Unmaking of AOL Time Warner" has been described by critics as a "tour de force" and "an addictive read." The New York Times Book Review lauded Fools Rush In for its "exemplary reporting" and its "lively, lucid writing."

"The Art of Clairtone: The Making of a Design Icon, 1958-1971," which Nina co-wrote with curator Rachel Gotlieb, records the sensational rise and collapse of the celebrated stereo manufacturer Clairtone Sound Corp. The book led to an important exhibition of Clairtone stereos and artifacts at the Design Exchange museum in Toronto .

Born in Canada and raised in Switzerland, Nina Munk lives in New York City. She has a Bachelor's degree in comparative literature from Smith College and a Master's degree in French language and literature from Middlebury College. She earned a second Master's, with honors, from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, where she was awarded the Philip Greer Scholarship Award for Financial Writing and the New York Financial Writers' Association C. Norman Stabler Scholarship. Before joining Vanity Fair in 2001, Nina was a senior writer at Fortune and a senior editor at Forbes.

As a sideline to her career as a journalist, Nina founded the website in 2000. The site was named "Best of the Web" by Forbes and "Best in Show" by Entertainment Weekly. The New York Times referred to it as a "pedigreed and permanent fixture within the city's zealous dog culture." In 2009, Urbanhound was sold to FetchDog, an e-commerce and catalog company based in Maine.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By B.Sudhakar Shenoy on January 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This was the biggest of them all. In the madness for tech stocks where millions rushed in to make a fast buck, as is the case with all such crazy manias starting with the legendary tulips , billions of dollars were generated out of thin air, virtually, and in the most recent decade , perhaps digitally. Suddenly, reality strikes, gravity starts acting and the rest is history. Sadly, history repeats itself.
This book is the story of AOL using virtual money to buy real assets. If the real story is interesting, Nina Munk has made it exciting. Grass on the other side is greener, the old saying goes. AOL wanted something real to latch on in its digital world while Time Warner was craving for digitization. A merger, would be a perfect marriage, as it appeared to the CEOs of the two companies. Three years since then, over $ 200 billion of stock valuations have evaporated back into where they belong - cyberspace. It is said that greed, optimism and herd mentality are the three drivers of capitalism . Need a better example ?
A repetition of these obvious facts is not what makes this book a good read. Nina Munk has diligently tracked the business histories of the companies involved, listed the key players and their biographies and then integrated this background into the main story of the merger and its problems.
Easy to read, and light on technical aspects. At the end, I personally feel that Time Warner in its new form has the capacity to come back. After all it is this true spirit of free enterprise that keeps America going. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tom Verghese on December 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Munk's book reads like a fast paced novel and is easy enough to understand. It has not received the publicity of books like 'Good to Great' although in many ways it provides fundamental information on how big business is really conducted- for the benefit of pushy and powerful owners, managers and special interests.

Read this book to get real insight into how compliant board members and clueless senior management can wreck your 401K account. If an insider like Ted Turner could lose $ 8 billion in a three year period, where does it leave Joe Blow who plans to retire on his stock market investments?

Munk's book surprised even a cynic like myself- how could 2 persons deceive and mislead so many professionals and investors and evaporate $ 200 billion in less than 3 years? If this story does not provoke actionable investigations into the effectivness of oversight and toothlessnes of the legal system (to protect investors), I am not sure what will. In this regard, it is a very valuable read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Having read Stealing Time by Alec Klein, I was sure that I didn't want to read another book about the AOL-Time Warner fiasco. But then I happened to see the cover of this book at the library and couldn't resist its delightful cover. And I'm glad that the cover drew me in.

Ms. Munk has written a delightful story of the world's worst large merger that features lots of texture about the key players (especially Gerry Levin) and is written in a simple, effective style. Her book has more balance than the Klein book which emphasizes the sales and accounting legerdemain at AOL.

One of the book's most engaging qualities is that it is filled with powerful and interesting quotes from the participants and the observers.

I have had the opportunity to observe Time Warner in the past as a consultant, and I was struck that Ms. Munk did well in capturing the management style of the company and its reclusive CEO, Mr. Levin.

I would have rated the book higher except that this report still leaves the central mystery of AOL-Time Warner unexplained . . . why didn't anyone at Time Warner or its advisors figure out that AOL's profit success was based on a three-card Monte game before the deal was announced? Either people were bought off or they were monumentally stupid. Getting to the bottom of that mystery will have to await yet another book on this subject, I'm afraid. Ms. Munk puts it down to Mr. Levin's "big-picture, don't-bother-me-with-the-details" mentality.

If you want smooth, easy reading that gets most of the facts right, this book is a good choice. I particularly commend this book to students who are learning about how to make (and more importantly, not to make) acquisitions. If you mainly want to know about the AOL shenanigans, I suggest Stealing Time instead.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
WOW- what a book. I'm not in business, but stumbled across this book and ended up reading it from cover to cover in one sitting. It really reads like a Greek tragedy; each character enters the story with certain fatal flaws and the end of the story is almost pre-destined. Hard to believe that it's non-fiction. There is a remarkable amount of research in this book- the author went to great lengths to interview what seems like hundreds of sources. Given that the AOL story is so "of" the late '90's, I think that this eloquent book will mark the time, much like Bright Lights, Big City marks the '80's. This book's going to be required reading form business students for years to come.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is an infectious read. The book itself is beautifully presented and Nina Munk writes like an angel. Well, if you're not Jerry Levin, et al., she does. She has a knack for making the words flow and the personalities as vivid as the sights of childhood. Her hard-edged but clean and crisp style will be widely imitated I predict. Her ability to research and to sift through the results of that research and to lay it all out in such an intriguing way is something close to amazing. I really don't give two hoots about Steve Case, Jerry Levin, the old Luce culture ("I am biased in favor of God, Eisenhower and the stockholders," p. 7), the Warner Bros. legacy (sleazy ethics and "foul tongues" and rumored "Mafia connections," p. 35), the dot com upstarts ("You people really need to start moving at Internet speed," p. 231), etc., but Munk makes it fascinating, like egomaniacs twisting in the wind, so to speak.
But this story isn't just about AOL Time Warner but about corporate America in general, about how merger mania and golden parachuted moguls can play fast and loose with our money, our livelihood, our country, and our future. It's about the collateral damage, the megalomania, the broken hearts and the evaporated portfolios. It's about the mentality of corporate CEOs like Levin who as he turned sixty wanted to be remembered for something other than the bottom line, "for integrity...high moral principles; and wisdom." (p. 133) Ah, yes, a lifetime of chasing money and power and now True Religion. One is reminded of Bill Gates with the very demanding problem of how to distribute all that money wisely before he dies.
Munk knows these people. How she got them to be so carelessly candid at times amazes me, especially her work with Levin.
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