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This book is badly over-hyped: the author was supposed to get unique access, with much travel for reporting, and from his experience as an internet entrepreneur but also as a writer, he would provide great insight into what made one of the great dealmaker's such a success. I read this book and other sources carefully, and I must say that it offers little beyond conventional wisdom and rather banal generalities, even stereotypes. If you have followed the press about Murdoch even superficially, there is very little to learn here.

So what do we know? He started out in tabloids, not as an effete journalist (i.e. those with hard-won knowledge, standards, and a mission to serve the public), but selling the public what it "wanted": lurid stories, grotesque personal and political smears, with an emphasis on selling at a low price to the lowest common denominator. Taking over various newspapers, Murdoch turned them around for 60 years, entering many related industries. He hates the "establishment" and sets himself against it as the perpetual outsider, his resentments nurturing extremely right wing views, and cares very little for the way that the more educated public despises him. During the 1980s, he became a master of making deals with leveraged debt, somehow making his empire profitable even as many of his newspapers continued to lose money. He maintains an iron grip of control, surrounding himself with yes men and knowing that most of his employees are dependent on him as they could never get similar jobs elsewhere due to the low standards of their work but also by his generosity to loyalists. He has few consistent values, never nurtured any lasting friendships, and almost ruined his family by repeated divorces, attempts at excessive control, and prolonged absences. He continually breaks his promises and everything he does is essentially about himself.

Aside from some facts about his personal life (in particular his talented if difficult children), that is it for the ideas. The rest of the book is structured around his buyout of the Wall Street Journal, in a way his attempt to redeem himself and set a higher standard for the industry. That deal proceeds little by little over the entire book, filling in details along the way. Unfortunately, given the current scandal of phone hacking and bribery in Britain, this makes the book - from its tone of awe to its content about how he built his empire - almost completely obsolete. Murdoch's current difficulties come from something rotten at the core of his company and perhaps of the man himself. Yet this book has virtually nothing to offer about those details, focusing instead on the glitz of deal making that was more lucky than prescient. Though in 2003 there was testimony (by the now disgraced Rebekah Brooks) that the company routinely bribed the police, this is not even mentioned.

The style of the book does not help. It is written with a breezy chattiness, repeating certain ideas way too often, and implying far more depth than it delivers. It is riddled with expletives, full of the author's opinions and snide observations - he particularly despises the dysfunctional Bancrofts, who owned the Wall Street Journal - and I could not wonder why the reader should care about any of that. Very little of what the author says is documented, the narrative is not linear enough to read quickly, and, worst of all, there are significant gaps. Murdoch's business models in the many industries he entered are barely covered, his underlying agenda (to the extent he has one) is neglected, and what makes him tick is left as a complete mystery, though he talks a lot about him falling in love with Wendi, the Chinese woman he married who is 40 years his junior. Fox news is a side show to the book, mentioned only in a few chapters and without comprehensive treatment. Given the promise of the subtitle, this is profoundly disappointing.

As a writer, I am working on a piece about the company and how it functioned as an ethical entity (i.e. not successfully). This book has useful information about that, but it is superficial and tediously arrogant in tone. I cannot recommend it.
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on 15 October 2009
Any readers of Vanity Fair will be familiar with Michael Wolff's columns. Usually a good, snappy read about media or political subjects. Murdoch too ought to be an interesting subject, so I was looking forward to this book. Unfortunately it was a big yawn.

Much of the book is written in a present tense, chatty style, which might fit a magazine article, but is fairly annoying across the length of the book. Although the takeover of the Wall Street Journal is the main focus there are also lengthy trawls through the Murdoch business history. Mainly it just seems a superficial hack job for a lot of the time. Two page portraits, for example, of all the Murdoch brood, but not much depth. I would hope a decent sketch of an oily creep like James Murdoch might tell me a bit more than this: ' James gets up early, works out at the gym, arrives in the office before anyone else, and leaves in time to put his kids to bed.' Really? What a smashing guy! And how interesting! I think your job is safe there, Michael.

As for Rupert, his defining feature, according to the book, is that he is a difficult man to pin down, vague, but successful, a kind of Warhol of the business world. That may be so, but it makes for an unenlightening read.

If you wanted to buy a book to read on a flight, with a view to picking up a few snippets of mildly interesting information, then, after a meal and glass of wine, doze off, finally leaving the book, by accident, of course, in the magazine compartment, this is a good purchase. Alternatively, pick up a copy of Vanity Fair.
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on 24 June 2010
Having read William Shawcross' 1992 study of Murdoch and watched as he has sought to conquer the media world, this was a fascinating insight into the man and his personal vision. Quite amazing that Murdoch (and his family) allowed it to happen - maybe he was distracted by thinking about his now-made-public offer for the rest of the BSkyB holding!

Grammatical style is not easy to follow at times and it could be argued it is too one sided and written with evident glee. But, as one who refuses to watch Sky TV, read the Times or the News of the World and, based on newsapaper reports of its style, would not watch Fox in the USA, I really enjoyed the analysis of the man and his motivation.
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on 2 March 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed the book on this media mogul. Time has shown that he intends to exercise power whatever the cost. It is a book that shows the moral mores of our time, and he had many followers of his modus vivendi throughout the establishment.
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on 2 December 2009
Bearing in mind the worldly importance of Murdoch, this book is a huge let-down. It details, at times minutely, the business deals or some of them of this colossus of newspaper and TV, but to my mind scarcely scratches the surface of the man himself, let alone the "secret world of..." ---where did that go to? The title of the book should be reported for misleading advertizing!

Murdoch, it seems, is of partly or largely Scottish and Nonconformist origins in Australia. I heard somewhere that his mother was partly Jewish but that may be wrong. At any rate nothing is said of it in this book. Of course, Scottish Nonconformists are "against Sin", they say, but (contrary to the words of Jesus Christ and John the Baptist) they do not seem to regard scrabbling for money as a sin at all. Perhaps that is one key to Murdoch. Another (unexplored in the book) is why he hates European and especially English culture and tradition so much.

Murdoch's degrading UK newspapers all drag down the popular level of debate; that applies not only to the Sun and the News of the World, but even the Times, which is now a facade of a serious newspaper turned into a dumbed-down tabloid over the past 20 years or so. His satellite TV stations in the UK (Sky) and USA (Fox) all pander to an ignorant public and to a very pro-Israeli neo-con agenda.

I felt that this book failed to get to the psychological and ideological roots of this most powerful of media oligarchs, who, judging by his son's recent London speech, has passed his views along to his successor in title. Why do these people hate the white Northern european people. It cannot be simply because Murdoch remarried a Chinese woman (and ex-employee) and some would say kow-tows to the Peking government. There seems to be a real animus to Europe somewhere, reflected in Murdoch's attempts to promote the USA (where he is a citizen, having renounced his australian citizenship, I believe), the "Pacific Rim" and anywhere else that is not Europe.

The book fails to say (apart from the obvious point of favorable or unfavorable newspaper coverage) why British politicians of the less ethical type, notably Blair, "have to" go to Murdoch like supplicants before getting the nod to apply for the job of Prime Minister of the UK.

A disappointment and a bore. Do not waste money on this book.
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on 12 August 2015
read this within 24 hours of receiving this, brilliant book on a brilliant man.
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on 2 September 2016
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