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Publishers Weekly, 1998-11-16 Originally under contract to Viking, this searing biography of media titan Si Newhouse was canceled, claims Felsenthal Power, Privilege and the Post) in her introduction, by Penguin Putnam chief Phyllis Grann because a friend of Grann's appears on almost every page. To be sure, Felsenthal's work is filled with unflattering descriptions of the men and women found in the top circles of New York's magazine and book publishing scene. She begins, however, with a lengthy history of the media empireŠAdvance CommunicationsŠassembled by Newhouse's father, Sam, a self-made newspaper tycoon born on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The elder Newhouse added Cond? Nast to his holdings in 1959; it was these magazines that drew the attention of the younger Newhouse, who, after Sam's death in 1979, left the running of the newspapers to his younger brother, Donald. As Felsenthal charts Newhouse's rising influence in the world of publishing, particularly through his acquisitions of Random House and the New YorkerŠtrophy companies, she says, meant to increase his prestige among the media eliteŠshe denounces his business style, reporting that under Newhouse's ownership the quality of both the publishing house and the magazine declined dramatically, as did their profitability. It is Advance's newspaper and cable holdings, she contends, that prop up Newhouse's side of the business. Felsenthal misses little in documenting the many hirings and firings that have taken place under Newhouse. Publishing insiders won't learn much here (indeed, most of her financial reporting comes from the Wall Street Journal and other secondary sources), but other readers will find her narrative brimming with dishy suspense. Felsenthal leaves little doubt about what she thinks of Newhouse and his top aides: she calls Alberto Vitale "vile" and Newhouse himself "vacuous and self-indulgent," comparing him unfavorably to William Randolph Hearst and Rupert Murdoch. This undisguised contempt for her subject blunts what is otherwise an often penetrating look at the Machiavellian politics that lie just beneath the ultra-sleek facade of the Newhouse empire. Pictures not seen by PW. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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