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There Must Be a Pony in Here Somewhere: The AOL Time Warner Debacle and the Quest for a Digital Future Hardcover – October 14, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From the Inside Flap
If you?re wondering what happened after ?a company without assets acquired a company without a clue,? as Kara Swisher wryly writes, it?s time to crack open this trenchant book about the doomed merger of America Online and Time Warner. On a quest to discover how the deal of the century became the messiest merger in history, Swisher delivers a rollicking narrative and a keen analysis of this debacle that is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what it all means for the digital future. Packed with new revelations and on-the-record interviews with key players, it is the first detailed examination of the merger?s aftermath and also looks forward to what is coming next.
It certainly has not been a pretty picture so far?with $100 billion in losses, a sinking stock price, employees in revolt, and lawsuits galore. As Swisher writes, ?It is hard not to feel a bit queasy about the whole sorry mess. . . . It felt a bit like I was watching someone fall down a flight of stairs in slow motion, and every bump and thump made me wince. It made me reassess old ideas and wonder what I had gotten wrong. And it left me deeply confused as to what had happened and, more important, what was coming next.?
For Swisher, finding the answers to what went awry is important because she remains a staunch believer in the digital future?maybe not in the AOL Time Warner merger, but in the essential idea at the heart of it that someday the distinction of old and new media will no longer exist. Borrowing from Winston Churchill, Swisher calls it ?the end of the beginning? of the digital revolution. ?By that, I mean that it is from the ashes of this bust that the really important companies of the next era will emerge. And that evolution will, I believe, be shaped by what happened?and what is happening now?at AOL Time Warner.?
To figure it all out, Swisher takes her reader on a journey that begins with a portrait of two wildly different corporate cultures and businesses that somehow came to believe, in the crucible of the red-hot Internet era, that they could successfully join forces and achieve unprecedented growth and success. When the merger was announced in early 2000, the irresistible combination was hailed as the new paradigm and its executives?Steve Case, Jerry Levin, Bob Pittman?as popular icons of the future. But after the boom so spectacularly turned to bust and the visions of New Media Supremacy lay in ruins, Swisher searches for clues about where the merger went wrong and who is to blame.
More important, she looks to the future of both AOL Time Warner and the Internet as she seeks to answer the key question that the noise of the disaster has all but drowned out. Will the demise of the AOL Time Warner merger be the final and inevitable chapter of the dot-com debacle or will it herald a new paradigm altogether? This book, then, is a primer for the time to come, using the story of the AOL Time Warner merger as the vehicle to show the troubled journey into the future.
Top Customer Reviews
What makes the book worthwhile is the author, her style and most importantly, the relationships she established with almost all of the main players. She had extraordinary access to them over time and they were comfortable enough with her to provide their own perspectives in something other than a self serving manner. There are no heroes only fools, some more gullible than others.
Buy it, you'll enjoy it and you will remember to look for Kara Swisher's by-line when you next read the Wall Street Journal.
The author makes a well detailed and successful case that the unraveling of AOL was associated with the bitterness of the Time Warner executives as the result of not being treated as equals. As a result, they conducted a quiet mutiny by consciously underperforming on all the projects and ventures related to AOL. And, they succeeded marvelously.
The author also makes a case that AOL is not over. And, that it has still a bright future within the internet and technology domain. Here the author is on much thinner ice. Her case is more about subjectivity and personal likings than anything else.
Nevertheless, this book is overall an excellent and easy read. The author style is very lively and makes for a fast page turner. It is also very personal. She seems to know and meet everyone in the industry and have interesting personal opinions on them all. This renders the book so much more interesting then just an extended Harvard case study which so many books of this type end up becoming.
The book looks at the storied and unlikely emergence of AOL, through an often dizzying and phoenix-like rising from the ashes of one failed concept after another. Throughout, the narcissistic antics of the leaders of the company are legendary. David Colburn, the famed deal maker at AOL, used particularly colorful language in his wholesale assault on those he sought to best (Page 46), never content to merely close a deal but demoralize people in the process. He is but one of the many examples.
Time Warner head Jerry Levin, who took most of the blame for the disastrous merger, was himself a study in what happens when leaders insulate themselves from feedback. The sections on Levin are perhaps the most interesting. Devastated by the murder of his son, and the events of 9-11, Levin occasionally demonstrated "jerry mcguire-esqe" moments of humanity, including a plea for the organization to dedicate itself to serving the public good. (Page 207) A plea that was met by outright hostility as it was timed with the release of the admission that the new AOL-Time-Warner would miss all of its projected financials. Steve Case, himself a unique individual, is profiled as an enigma. Both eventually take the fall for the financial debacle.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A blast from the past and a great perspective into the heady days of the "dot-com boom". As Kara Swisher reminds us, Netscape may have set off the race, but AOL was one of... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Ilya Grigorik
This along with its predecessor, AOL.com, are fun, information-packed, chronicles of the original 1990's dot com era and its aftermath. Read morePublished on December 22, 2010 by Joseph C. Kusnan
This is a witty, gossipy book that is a fun read about a very unfunny merger between the Internet bad boy AOL and the venerable Time-Warner entertainment conglomerate. Read morePublished on December 23, 2009 by Retired Reader
It's nice to read a book on a potentially technical subject that is written in a more colloquial manner. The author of this book has taken that too far, though. Read morePublished on March 3, 2008 by Dean Jens
Swisher's account is lively and engaging. The only quibble I have with it is that she injects herself into the story at several points, inappropriately, it seems to me; she's... Read morePublished on December 14, 2006 by TheBanshee
Swisher is a remarkable writer. She is able to capture the personalities, hubris, technological hype, and all the other elements that went into one of the worst merger deals in... Read morePublished on November 17, 2005 by Jonathan Brown
Probably one of the poorest written books I have ever attempted to read. The author repeats things over and over to gain word content, but says very little of substance.Published on November 20, 2003 by Del Riesenhuber