Branson's empire--now encompassing interests in an airline, pop music, soda pop, e-commerce, and financial services--began when the dyslexic 16-year-old dropped out of school in 1968 to found the British magazine Student. His headmaster said, "I predict that you will either go to prison or become a millionaire." Briefly imprisoned for dodging customs selling records, Branson got his first million by releasing Tubular Bells, a maverick recording all the stuffy executives rejected. (1998's Tubular Bells III puts the series' sales over 20 million.)
Despite wild tales of Branson's wife-swapping and Keith Richards fleeing naked from Branson's studio at gunpoint with another man's woman, the most shocking parts of the memoir concern British Airways' James Bond-like "dirty tricks" campaign against Virgin Atlantic, resulting in the biggest award for damages in English history.
Though it's filled with famous names, witty quotes, and pulse-pounding accounts of lunatic balloon adventures, it is as a business thriller that the book really scores. His instinctive bet-the-ranch tactics could cost him all, or earn another billion. Either way, Branson will likely remain the most entertaining entrepreneur in Europe. --Tim Appelo