Couldn't Put It Down

Burrough and Surowiecki

Couldn't Put It Down

Burrough and Surowiecki

Couldn't Put It Down
New books dissected over email.
April 16 1999 12:36 PM

Burrough and Surowiecki

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Jim--

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Let me get this straight.

  1. We both say this is a great book. This is not surprising; everyone says that. Yet,
  2. Neither one of us, we agree, would have bought it in the first place. I believe you suggested you preferred to read the biography of a horse.
  3. You think J.P. Morgan did nothing sufficiently noteworthy to justify Jean Strouse's last 15 years if research.
  4. Neither one of us believe there was anything innately "special" about Morgan's talents.
  5. Both of us would choose to sit next to Whittaker Chambers over Morgan at the proverbial dinner party in the sky.
  6. But we really, really like this book.

Now. Has this been an exercise in generating specious criticism of an excellent book because it's too difficult to come up with 750 words a day counting the ways it's so brilliant? Or are we a couple of slip-streamers who don't have the intestinal fortitude to slam a book that all our leading lights are fawning over? I'd hate to think either is true.

Instead, let's close out the dialogue by suggesting that while Strouse has done a masterly job reassembling the life and times of an important man, it is also true that not all great men lead intrinsically fascinating lives, leave us a legacy of fascinating ideas, or muster unique talents in the furtherance of their interest. In sum, this is a superb biography, but one that will probably captivate only students of the period.

Now Jim, with all that out of the way, do you think Secretariat hated his mother?

Best,

Bryan

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Bryan Burrough, a special correspondent for Vanity Fair, is the author of three books, including, most recently, Dragonfly: NASA and the Crisis Aboard Mir (click here to buy the book) and, in 1991, Barbarians at the Gate (click here to buy the book). James Surowiecki writes "Moneybox" for Slate, and is a contributing editor at Fortune and a staff writer at Talk. This week they discuss Jean Strouse's Morgan: American Financier. (Click here to buy the book.)