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Izzy: The Passionate Life and Turbulent Times of Izzy Asper, Canada's Media Mogul [Hardcover]

Peter C. Newman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 29 2008 1554680891 978-1554680894 1st Edition

Izzy Asper was a true visionary and a self-made billionaire. In the kind of intimate detail that made his other books mega bestsellers, Peter C. Newman profiles one of the most charismatic and powerful Canadian tycoons of the past quarter century. A serial risk-taker with a fever in his blood, the always controversial Asper grew a tiny television station, operated out of a converted supermarket, into the CanWest empire. Under Asper’s guidance, CanWest became Canada’s most profitable television network, one that comprised Global Television, and more than 60 newspapers—including the National Post—and was run mainly out of Izzy’s briefcase from his beloved hometown of Winnipeg.

Izzy was the quintessential entrepreneur, constantly in flight and flux, each of his improbable ventures feeding on the next. Only his family occupied higher ground than his business interests, yet he combined the joys of home life with his killer instincts at work. Both were essential to his character.

In the end, Izzy Asper was addicted as much to the game as to its rewards. What made him so special was his ability to create warm, electric moments among his friends and loyalists, yet inspire fear in his critics and enemies. Izzy is Canadian business history at its best, a masterful portrait of the man who was, for decades, the country’s leading media mogul.


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Product Description

Quill & Quire

This year the machinery mythologizing the high rollers of capitalism is grinding mightily, with the focus turning to media magnates. Donald Trump still holds court on television’s The Apprentice; there’s a new biography of William Randolph Hearst by Maclean’s editor Ken Whyte; and two books about corporate daredevil Richard Branson are already in stores. Now the spotlight is being turned on two members of Canada’s media royalty.     Relentless is really three books in one: the story of Ted Rogers’ childhood and schooling, a retelling of his rise to power as head of Rogers Communications, and a brief set of principles for succeeding in business. The first act is certainly the most entertaining of the three. In effect, it is the archetypal orphan story, rewritten to star the young Rogers: Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One set at Toronto’s Upper Canada College. When young Ted’s father dies and his company is taken over by unfaithful business partners led by his wicked uncle, the boy sets himself the goal of rebuilding the elder Rogers’ legacy. A skinny boy at boarding school, he takes to boxing and, despite many a knockdown, perseveres to become a champion. He hooks his first pay-per-view audience in his dormitory by charging fellow boarders to watch the TV programs he captures with a jerry-rigged antenna of his own design.  From there, the book descends into a plodding timeline of investments, business deals, and power plays, punctuated with a litany of A-list name-dropping and astronomical dollar figures. The clichés come fast and thick. Throughout Relentless, Ted Rogers is portrayed as a proud Canadian, a maverick, a self-made man, and so on. More than anything, Rogers strives to be seen as a simple man, a desire highlighted by statements like, “I don’t use long words because I can’t pronounce them properly and I don’t know what they mean.” But these bids for everyman credibility come off as comedic rather than genuine. Rogers and Brehl are so desperate to paint many different pictures of the mogul that the final image is hopelessly blurred.      Newman’s portrayal of the late Israel Asper is equally flattering: the Izzy of Izzy is a stubborn iconoclast, a populist politico, a nation-building philanthropist, seemingly more concerned with the thrill of the enterprise than with dollars and cents. But Newman does manage to posthumously imbue his subject with an offbeat liveliness. Asper, with his passion for jazz, cigarettes, martinis, and business (in that order), comes across as part scrappy entrepreneur, part buffoon. He signed major deals going on little more than his trademark chutzpah, engaged Conrad Black in business and linguistic dueling, and single-handedly put Winnipeg on Canada’s business map. On the other hand, in true Hearstian fashion, he thought that just because he owned a printing press he could dictate what his papers reported. Newman quotes him as telling his daughter Gail, “Why would I want a paper if I couldn’t determine what it said?”  Unfortunately, Newman’s book falls into the same trap as Rogers’: there is only so much storytelling possible before descending into the nitty gritty of financing, contract-signing, and those other dull necessities of enterprise.   Rogers and Asper are Canadian entrepreneurial icons and both certainly had uncommon business acumen. But the assumption behind chronicling their lives is that these lives – the personas behind the business deals – and the lessons they can teach aspiring entrepreneurs are fascinating in and of themselves. This is where both Relentless and Izzy fall short. Even as primers on corporate success, the books are flawed. They represent the old school of business thinking based on big credit, schmooze-and-booze dealing, and overt political manoeuvering. Asper and Rogers are men who knew what they wanted and worked all their lives to get it. Newman aptly describes their common personality as “visionary workaholic.” But this is hardly groundbreaking. These two books share the predicament of most business bios: they are, ultimately, unnecessary. For better or worse, some men, like Richard Branson, are made for the spotlight, and gladly embrace it. Those who are not, like Izzy Asper and Ted Rogers, should not be thrust into it.

Review

?Newman recounts all the ups and downs of [Izzy?s] extraordinary life with his usual combustible brio: rococo anecdotage; character analysis that leaves you somewhere between Jung and harold robbins...You can?t help enjoying the rollicking ride.?
? THE GLOBE AND MAIL () --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars great subject and great author Aug. 12 2009
Format:Hardcover
Peter Newman is a biographer I have always loved. I grew up in Winnipeg so I know a little bit about Izzy. My strongest memories are related to his unsuccessful political career as leader of the Manitoba Liberal party. That was a tuff gig, to say the least.

I knew he was a heavy drinker. I once was on a flight from Toronto to Winnipeg with Izzy and Izzy was not feeling any pain when we finally landed, let me tell you. Of course many of us where not as well, as drinks where free in business class. in those days.

Of course, Izzy is a Canadian icon and Newman does a magnificant job here telling Izzy's story.

There is so much I identify with in Izzy especially his love of jazz, man!

He must be rolling over in his grave about now with the state of affairs Can West finds itself in these days.

I miss you Izzy very much!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of jazz, journalism and success Dec 14 2008
Format:Hardcover
When anyone mixes journalism, the most fractious and introspective of all professions, with the ego of business and the freedom of jazz, the result is a superb and always surprising story.

In Canada, where deference defines the national character in politics and business -- just as brashness defines American attitudes -- anyone with the ego of Izzy Asper is as rare as a humble Yank. Add Newman to this equation and the result is an insightful story about a remarkable media baron in the mold of Citizen Kane. Ho hum, so it's a biography of success? No, it's much more. Newman has an intense sense of Canadian nationalism, based on pride in what Canadians accomplish without fear, antagonism or deference to others.

Any book about Asper would be interesting; this one is superb because it adds the perpetual introspection of good journalists who criticize politicians, business leaders and quidnuncs. Newman blends personal experience with his story of Asper to illustrate and question the loyalties to objectivity versus a publisher with different goals.

For example: Antigone by Sophocles is a classic Greek play questioning loyalty to family versus the laws of society. Likewise, Newman examines divided loyalty between a publisher and an editor's conscience. In a time when the media is often criticized for much of what it does and everything it doesn't do, these elements of Asper's life are some of the most interesting reading.

A most revealing section covers the firing of Ottawa Citizen editor Russell Mills after he called on Prime Minister Jean Chretien to resign. It's an example of how two men -- in this case an editor and the newspaper owner -- with opposing viewpoints can both be absolutely right even though poles apart in their conclusions.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of jazz, journalism and politics Dec 14 2008
By Theodore A. Rushton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
When anyone mixes journalism, the most fractious and introspective of all professions, with the ego of business and the freedom of jazz, the result is a superb and always surprising story.

In Canada, where deference defines the national character in politics and business -- just as brashness defines American attitudes -- anyone with the ego of Izzy Asper is as rare as a humble Yank. Add Newman to this equation and the result is an insightful story about a remarkable media baron in the mold of Citizen Kane. Ho hum, so it's a biography of success? No, it's much more. Newman has an intense sense of Canadian nationalism, based on pride in what Canadians accomplish without fear, antagonism or deference to others.

Any book about Asper would be interesting; this one is superb because it adds the perpetual introspection of good journalists who criticize politicians, business leaders and quidnuncs. Newman blends personal experience with his story of Asper to illustrate and question the loyalties to objectivity versus a publisher with different goals.

For example: Antigone by Sophocles is a classic Greek play questioning loyalty to family versus the laws of society. Likewise, Newman examines divided loyalty between a publisher and an editor's conscience. In a time when the media is often criticized for much of what it does and everything it doesn't do, these elements of Asper's life are some of the most interesting reading.

A most revealing section covers the firing of Ottawa Citizen editor Russell Mills after he called on Prime Minister Jean Chretien to resign. It's an example of how two men -- in this case an editor and the newspaper owner -- with opposing viewpoints can both be absolutely right even though poles apart in their conclusions.

"Proprietors do have rights," writes Newman, citing his time as editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star. Any journalist who denies this needs to get a job flipping hamburgers and learn the "rights" of what it takes to make a good burger, let alone a good editor or publisher.

It makes this a gem for every journalist, politician and business leader who feels offended by something in the paper, and for readers who want to understand the media. Anyone who combines jazz, journalism, politics and Canadian nationalism into a paragraph, let alone a book, deserves to be read, remembered and quoted.

A good book is more than an interesting story; it is also a learning experience which gives the reader a new insight. As a former journalist who now looks after several hundred thousand discarded books, it's a pleasure to find, read and recommend books of this quality.
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