The book: Isaiah Wilner, The Man Time Forgot, HarperCollins, 2006.
I read most books long after they’re published, borrowing them from Livermore Public Library after (usually) browsing the shelves. That was the case this time; I find both business history and media/publishing interesting, so this was a natural.
It’s well-researched and fairly well written. It’s about Briton Hadden and Henry Luce–and the title of the book pretty much clarifies who’s supposed to be the wronged hero. (Well, that and a caricature of Hadden on the cover).
The story is supposed to be about how Hadden created Time Magazine and the whole Timespeak approach–and how Luce did Hadden wrong after Hadden’s early death. And if you pay attention primarily to pages 216-260, and read the previous chapters with one set of assumptions, that’s how this comes out.
But I found myself reading a different story than the one Wilner was writing, at least through most of the first 14 chapters; thus, my “semi-contrarian” heading.
Here’s what I saw–based entirely on what Wilner wrote:
- We have Character A, wealthy, extroverted, party-hearty, the life of every group. Apparently drunk most of the time as an adult.
- We have Character B, the son of a missionary, extremely bright, awkward, with a stammer, a “scholarship boy” who doesn’t quite fit in.
- Somehow, in their many dealings, Character A is always The Winner and Character B is, at best, The Sidekick. Not surprising: A’s a natural In-Crowd person and B’s a, well, charity case.
- Character A even uses a derogatory nickname for Character B, not only in school but in adult life–“Chink” because he was born in China.
- When they work together, agreeing to alternate editorial and business, somehow it’s almost always Character A’s turn to do editorial. When Character B makes a decision that makes it possible to sell Time outside the East Coast, but inconveniences Character A’s round of parties, Character A not only takes it badly, he reverses the decision as soon as Character B is out of the country.
- Even on his deathbed Character A tries to make sure Character B can never actually have control of the magazine they co-founded, writing a will that would hamstring Character B.
Character A is Briton Hadden. Character B is Henry Luce–or “Chink Luce” as Hadden pretty consistently referred to him. It’s pretty clear that Luce didn’t care for that nickname; if Hadden had actually regarded Luce as an equal rather than a Sidekick, he would have used his actual name.
To me, most of the book read as a “friendship” where Hadden was pretty consistently taking advantage of Luce–and Luce had to realize that after awhile. Was it appropriate for him to remove Hadden’s name from the masthead after Hadden’s death? Probably not–but I can certainly appreciate why he might have done so.
One book, two stories.
[No, I’m not a great fan of Luce either.]