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DisneyWar Paperback – Mar 10 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The most explosive chapter of this exceptional, much-anticipated book may be its last, wherein Stewart (Den of Thieves, etc.) indicts Disney chief Michael Eisner on multiple charges: "Eisner squandered Disney's assets" [and] "committed personnel and judgment errors which... in the vitriol and publicity they generated, are without parallel in American business history." Eisner, Stewart finds, is a "Shakespearean tragic character" whose fatal flaw is "dishonesty," which in the author's view led directly to the ruptures with Steve Jobs (Pixar) and the Weinstein brothers (Miramax), the Disney Company's most important partners, and to former animation head Jeffrey Katzenberg's successful $280 million suit against Disney for moneys owed upon his firing. Stewart's DisneyWorld is a land riven by naked ambition and its necessary consequence, hubris, as during his reign (1984–present) Eisner left behind "a trail of deeply embittered former employees."One of Eisner's many achievements—Stewart tosses his subject petals as well as thorns—was the construction of the Team Disney headquarters in Burbank, buttressed by towering models of the Seven Dwarves; but there's no real place for Happy in the Disney world that the author portrays with unflagging precision. Stewart smartly frames his book with personal experience, opening with a description of his difficult training and inept performance in a Goofy suit at DisneyWorld, and closing with several encounters with Eisner (who, amazingly, cooperated with the book in part); at one, Eisner explained to Stewart that "Disney" is a French name, and that a Frenchman would pronounce the name D'Eisner as "Disney." Stewart understands the medieval nature of corporate life and presents business as a clash not only of ideas but of personalities. With a dream cast that includes Katzenberg and fallen überagent Michael Ovitz—both of whom come off no worse than Eisner, which is faint praise—plus heir apparent Robert Iger and ultimate Eisner nemesis Roy Disney (the book's hero, if there is one), Stewart has an astonishing story to tell. His notable accomplishment is that he tells it so well. The book is hypnotically absorbing—nearly 600 dense pages drawing on an impressive array of sources to build what reads like an airtight case against Eisner's leadership. There's much more craft than art here—Stewart's prose and approach are meticulous but lack the empathy and deep insight that can make a character truly Shakespearean; this is journalism told not with a novelist's eye but with a master journalist's—yet that craft is expert throughout and will help thrust this book toward the top of national bestseller lists. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Compelling and often brilliant . . . A monumental achievement." (The Washington Post Book World)
"A messy, fractious story complete with its own Seven Dwarfs: Sneaky, Screamy, Pushy, Greedy, Grabby, Nasty and Snarky. Snow White is nowhere to be seen." (The New York Times)
"A deliciously toxic [package] . . . a lust roll in greed and spite. In other words, a good old-fashioned Hollywood production." (Time)
"The fall of Michael Eisner, with its Shakespearean overtones, is a business history, a character study, and a record of how lives are lived at the peak of American business . . . in every way admirable and finely written." (Orlando Sentinel)
"Stewart's story speeds ahead as smoothly as a theme park ride, with a narrative more like a psychodrama than a business book . . . a smooth read." (USA Today)
"[Stewart] weaves the creative, corporate, financial and personality streams of the Disney Co.'s fate into one astonishingly complete and gripping real-life drama." (Houston Chronicle)
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is methodically researched, primarily from first hand interviews (including with Eisner himself), and from publicly available material, and presented chronologically in a straightforward and engaging manner. Stewart's Pulitzer Prize winning prose flows smoothly. The level of detail leads to a long book - critics might argue far too long - but it also is crucial in providing the definitive account of Eisner, his character, and the personal dynamics that led to the incredible early successes of his reign and the incredible failures of the latter years.
In addition to its focus on Eisner, the scope of the book is epic. Disney executives such as Jeffery Katzenberg and Michael Ovitz - both of whom won staggeringly large judgements against Disney after their separate firings - and Robert Iger who leads the firm now, as well as board members Roy Disney, Frank Gold, and former US Senator George Mitchell are central to the proceedings. Even more interesting is the incredible number of major Hollywood players who enter into Disney's orbit, like a who's who of the entertainment industry over the past score years.
Equally interesting is how little analysis goes into major decisions such as where to locate a Disney theme park in Europe (Paris proved to be a poor choice), whether to purchase a US television network (they grossly overpaid for ABC), or how to integrate the internet into operations (Go.com made barely a ripple in the online world).Read more ›
After taking a lot of convincing (over a long period of time), Michael Eisner agreed to letting James Stewart follow him for a certain period of time and to write a book about it. The book was supposed to be somewhat biographical in nature, both about him an how Eisner managed Disney day-to-day. As things ended up, the timeframe was during the fall of Eisner's reign, so Stewart landed a goldmine.
With a TON of extensive research and interviews, Stewart gives an inside look at what happened behind the scenes at Disney during their 1990s heyday and then their 'fall' after that. There was a lot of good that came from Eisner's run as Chairman and CEO, but of course there was also some not-so-good things. There is a ton of back stabbing and ego within these pages, but at the same time there is a lot of insight into all of the characters of this story.
It may be lengthy and a time investment, but despite knowing how the story ends it is interesting to get all of these details in Disneywar. If you are a Disney fan, definitely give this one a read.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
But, that being said, a lot of the events are nevrtheless quite fascinating:
It's unbelievable how Eisner burned Ovitz straightaway after hiring him. Just completely hung him out to dry when only weeks before he had been the most powerful man in Hollywood. Brutal and horrible.
The details with Katzenberg were awful too. That must have been the worst deal ever made (next to the Ovitz deal). And Eisner's carping about Roth, Iger and Wells behind their backs? He really comes off as a psycho freak you wouldn't want to work for.
Some of his problems were legitimate though. Katzenberg was equally psycho at least. What do you do with an employee who is good at producing animated films, has failed to create a profitable live action motion picture division, advocated a failed strategy of producing 40-50 films per year and now wants to be the President and COO of a Dow 30 company? Developing animated films is no better preparation for being the COO of a major corporation than being an agent is. So what was Eisner to do with this jumped up producer? Tough one. But what he did do was probably not the right choice. Katzenberg is in the right job now as head of a free standing Animation studio.
The parts that are somewhat mysteriously left out are the massive increase in value at the Disney Channel and ESPN. I suppose it doesn't fit the "Eisner is an idiot" theme, but if he's such an idiot how did all that happen? That's why I feel the book is a little unfair. Also, the fact that Eisner didn't lose his *** on some horrible internet deal like Gerry Levin probably deserved more emphasis.
I was surprised at a few negatives that were left out: why wasn't there more discussion of the talent exodus -- Dean Valentine, Gerry Laybourne...? I don't know. Also, what about some of those sketchy investments -- magazines? Professional sports teams? I guess the book could only be so long.
I also wish that Stewart put more data in the book. If Eisner's reign was a failure, let's see a bar chart with actual cash flow. Why not? There was essentially no data, which I thought was odd for a business book.
But, again, I wish that Stewart had gotten some insight out of all this. Let's just stipulate that Eisner's a smart guy who accomplished a lot. So why did he make all these horrendous difficulties managing other people? That 'Rosebud' answer is what we don't get here.
From what I've read so far, they should be afraid. It's quite a scathing expose. So far, it is proving to be an excellent book. What Walt Disney accomplished through the power of his genius and ability to tap into the genius of others is simply amazing. But this book is a stark revelation of the damage the current management has done to the Disney Company. If you are a Disney fan, I HIGHLY recommend this book.
Though the book could have been trimmed a bit, Mr Stewart presents a thorough account of how the finished Disney product that the reader knows (whether it is "The Lion King", the theme parks, et al) came to be. Why Mr. Eisner should granted such unprecedented access to Mr. Stewart is still unclear to me, for his public image will take a further tumble with the release of this book.
The reporting is impressive, the writing is clear and the behind the history tale is interesting. It is a fun read with the financial details make understandable for the non-MBA reader. A prequel of sorts is "Storming The Magic Kingdom" by John Taylor (1987) which tells the story of the corporate raiders who attempted to take over the Disney Company in the early 1980's.
Stewart's book is a juicy chunk of details involving Eisner and his (in his mind) bit players including Katzenberg, Ovitz, and Roy Disney. Each of these men in their rise within the Disney corporate structure and the chance at the coveted presidency threaten Eisner. A cycle of corporate double-speak and false promises ensues and with each one cost face and money. Michael Ovitz' record severance package, Katzenberg's infamous 2% clause that Eisner disputed and delayed to the tune of $280 million. Ovitz' hiring was among scores of conflicts of interests of which include the offering of a seat on the board to a fundraiser for the Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall. (Eisner wanted her to stop asking the company for money to help pay for it. Eisner himself never personally donated any money for it.)
That none of the characters are infalliable and essentially it comes down to battle of the millionaire's egos is not suprising. It is daunting to learn of Eisner's perception of power. True, he revitalized a dying brand but since then he has allowed pettiness or just plain lack of innovativeness to control his decision making. How else to explain not acquiring Pixar when he had multiple occasions? To pass on various projects such as 'Lord of the Rings'? Worst of all, to think that his ideas have a place anymore in creative places such as his embarassing 'Pomp and Circumstance' suggestion in "Fantasia 2000". The book itself reads like a listing of facts with no particular voice...like a Vanity Fair article turned into a book. It spends a little too much time on the ABC acquisition and not enough on animation. For a book on a man that controls a company with such vast departments Stewart does maintain a good balancing act of addressing Eisner's approach to each. Indeed it becomes clear that Eisner's inability to see that he may be overextending himself and thus impair his judgement (especially after his heart surgery) is Machivellian to say the least.
Ironically the conclusion is that he is the kind of executive that he hates...he creates bad publicity and is risky in the wrong places. Disney movies, particularly animation continually lose money and the brand itself is tainted: the name synonymous with greed. Read the book and see just how the magic faded.
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