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The Fall of the House of Forbes: The Inside Story of the Collapse of a Media Empire Hardcover – September 27, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Interesting reading...insightful...breezily written."— Kirkus Reviews          

"Insider Pinkerton bares all: B.C.'s boldness, Malcolm's man-chasing, Jim Michaels' tyrannically brilliant editing, and the failure of the distracted grandsons to stem the decline." — Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief, ProPublica

 "Forbes used be an important source of of business and finance insights, bristling with capitalist attitude, puncturing stuffed shirts, and breaking major news. But it's become increasingly trivial, unreliable, and irrelevant. With wit, depth and eyewitness authority, veteran journalist Stewart Pinkerton tells the astonishing story of how this happened. Here's all the dirty laundry—shocking and darkly comic." — David McClintick, author of Indecent Exposure

About the Author

STEWART PINKERTON is former Managing Editor of Forbes Magazine and former Deputy Managing Editor of The Wall Street Journal.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312658591
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312658595
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,084,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Having spent four highly formative years at Forbes in the early to mid-1980s, I immediately bought this book on my Kindle and then couldn't put it down. I read The Fall of the House of Forbes from start to finish in a single day. Stewart Pinkerton, an insider who lost his job in one of numerous downsizings, does a terrific job bringing to life many of the vivid characters in this drama: from entrepreneurial geniuses B.C. and Malcolm Forbes to editor-in-chiefs Jim Michaels and Bill Baldwin. I was fortunate to work at the magazine when both Malcolm Forbes and Jim Michaels were at the very top of their games. I consider it a privilege and an honor to have worked for both men. It was an incredible time in the history of Forbes because the magazine boasted an exceptional stable of writers, including Jim Cook, Allan Sloan, Richard Stern, and John Merwin, who all were masters of provocative business journalism.

For anyone interested in Forbes, business journalism, or the magazine business, this is a highly entertaining and thoughtful read. I would add a couple of comments, though: Pinkerton, who was an assistant managing editor at Forbes for quite some time, does not acknowledge that the editorial quality of Forbes badly deteriorated well before Baldwin took over. Michaels, who was a brilliant editor who understood that the key to Forbes' success lay in his edit strategy of giving the magazine a contrarian, edgy and provocative voice, lost his way toward the end. Baldwin, who has a formidable analytic mind but had as much right to succeed Michaels as the janitor in the building, hastened Forbes' editorial decline.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Pinkerton's version of the Forbes story is exceptionally well written, amusing, and provocative, as one would expect from a Jim MIchaels trained editor. But the thesis is misleading, and anyone wanting to know what really happened will have to look further.

Apart from money and fame, it's not a simple task to decipher the reasons for writing a book. Pinkerton's raison d'être may be obvious in that he tells a story of decline and decay from the perspective of a romanticized vision of the past. The truth behind the Forbes legacy is that the sons did what they had to do to survive the tumultuous aught years of this century--just as they previously did what they had to do to thrive in the go-go '90s.

My role in this colorful saga was as the magazine's publisher from 1990-1998, when Forbes was the leading magazine in America - today I am founder of Directorship Magazine where the bulk of this review was published ([...]).

I reported directly to Steve and Kip Forbes, the CEO and vice chairman, respectively (at the time), and later indirectly to Bob and Tim Forbes as well. I count those years as an infinitely better business education than a Harvard MBA mixed in with a Tony Robbins refresher course.

For directors looking for a tale of rags to riches to rags in three generations (Malcolm's father, B.C. Forbes, founded the magazine in 1917), you're in for a surprise: this third generation has actually gone from advertising-driven riches to a more diverse set of riches with far less risk. Others looking for the inside story behind the Forbes legend and its alleged downfall will need to keep in mind that the author's real beef is a longing for the good old days of paradise publishing under Malcolm Forbes.
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Format: Hardcover
At times, Stewart Pinkerton's energetic treatise reads like a modern parable. As the third generation inherits a mighty dynasty, founding principles become dilute, and some sons love the family principles while others love the family money. At other times, Pinkerton's tell-all resembles the "kiss of death" journalism that draws the very lurid audiences the author decries. It's up to the committed reader to separate one from the other.

Scottish expat Bertie Charles "BC" Forbes founded his eponymous magazine in 1917 as a mix of stock tip sheet and fawning profile rag. BC's son Malcolm made it a showcase for America's glittering postwar aspirations, and Forbes set the tone of economic debate for a decade after Malcolm's death. But in the new century, Forbes has foundered, becoming an in-joke and pale shadow of itself. It exists now as yet another tawdry blog platform and "content farm."

BC Forbes left his media empire to his sons, but only Malcolm had spirit enough to leverage his influence and seize control. The Forbes name rose alongside its flamboyant owner-editor. But none of Malcolm's four sons captains the ship, though Steve inherited a controlling share. Pinkerton compares the resulting split vision among relatives to "having to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner every day."

Pinkerton identifies only two specific missteps: Steve Forbes' two tragicomic Presidential bids, and the failure to integrate Forbes.com with the print Forbes. Rather than one Sophoclean downfall, Pinkerton describes a pattern of mismanagement. Good writers and editors got squeezed, the heyday vigor fell prey to timidity, and the Forbes brothers' compromises proved worse than the problems they solved.
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