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Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood.

The non-book book is not a new phenomenon in publishing, but it has become more commonplace. Bob Woodward, among the best reporters on the planet, exploits the genre in The Choice, a rushed account of this year's presidential contest. It ends before either party has an official nominee and before the voters have spoken, but nevertheless clamors in June to tell us the dozen or so vice-presidential names on Bob Dole's mind in May.

A non-book differs from a book in several respects. It feels padded, reading more like a newspaper or magazine story in which a lack of time, adequate space, or brain matter keeps the writer from conveying complexity, perspective, gravitas. It trains its eye too much on today's headlines. And it too often prosecutes rather than explains. These are the chief failures of Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood, Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters's lively account of the breathtakingly dumb decisions Sony has made in Hollywood and the odious cast of characters behind them. As is common in the non-book book genre, the authors succeed in making the reader feel something--in this case, outrage--but fail to advance our understanding of the principal actors, particularly Peter Guber. A real book, a genuine biography, not only presents what someone does but helps us understand why they do it.

Not that Hit & Run doesn't have sterling moments. The extravagance of Hollywood, the conflicts of interest, and the nepotism are all amply recounted here. Jon Peters, who along with Guber was recruited to run the studio, emerges as a frighteningly engaging combination of thug, charmer, egomaniac, and naif--half illiterate, half marketing genius. Walter Yetnikoff, the record company impresario who recruited Peters and Guber, is hilarious, if unintentionally so, doing his impersonation of a mad Napoleon.

Anyone wanting to understand why the Japanese have generally fared so poorly in software as opposed to hardware will glimpse in this book how tone-deaf Sony executives were to people. The accounts of how Warner Bros. chairman Steve Ross and investment banker Herbert Allen took Sony America's chairman, Mickey Schulhof, to the cleaners are reason enough to argue that just as businessmen should be quarantined from politics, so physicists like Schulhof should stick to science.

What is missing from Hit & Run is Peter Guber. Not that his name is absent; he is mentioned throughout. He is the heavy, the greedy guy who wants only money, fame, and possessions--all of which is, no doubt, at least partly true. The problem is that Guber comes off as one-dimensional. The authors did not talk to him because he would not cooperate. And though they spoke with people who worked for or with Guber, the portrait that emerges is unrelievedly scathing. Oh yes, they assert that Guber is brilliant, a compelling salesman, a seer when it comes to technology. But rarely do they offer an example of his "brilliance," or an anecdote that makes him come alive as anything other than a monster. In my own limited experience with Guber, I did not find him brilliant. I found him almost incoherent. Yet he rose to the top of a major studio and was coveted by Warner Bros. and others as a producer, so a full rendering of Guber should leave the reader with an understanding of his talents as well as his enormous flaws. This book does not. It even lapses into sexual innuendo--insinuating that Guber had relationships with assistants, and that his wife may have had a fling or two as well.

By page 150 or so I felt fatigued, almost sorry for Guber. I felt as if the authors were presenting a prosecutorial brief, punishing him for not talking to them and clubbing me, repeatedly, with his dastardly deeds, as if I could not be trusted to get it the 10th time. An author's task is to understand and explain, not exhort.

In many ways, this interesting but ultimately unsatisfying book is a reminder of a weakness common to access journalism. It is a little like plea bargaining with a prosecutor: Those who cooperate do better than those who don't. Peters cooperated, and appears as a fully developed character, as more than the hairdresser and paramour of Barbra Streisand he was when he became a producer. Guber did not cooperate, and comes off as a monster. In real books, history is supposed to speak with the authority of fact; the passage of time has allowed some distance, some perspective. In mere journalism, those who talk get to write the first draft of history. Thus Bob Dole cooperates with Bob Woodward while Clinton does not, and the Republican emerges the more sympathetic character.

These gaps do not mean that the book is not a good read, full of interesting material. It does mean that Hit & Run is, well, too hit-and-run.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Auletta, Ken
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1996
Words:810
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