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Malcolm Forbes: filling in the details on the Capitalist Tool

Published Oct. 21, 1990|Updated Oct. 18, 2005

MALCOLM FORBES: The Man Who Had Everything by Christopher Winans, St. Martin's Press, $19.95. By emblazoning the slogan "Forbes: Capitalist Tool" on every possession from his hot-air balloons to his motorcycle jackets, Malcolm Forbes turned what was intended as a put-down of capitalism into a battle cry.

Last year, his published retraction of an AIDS story in his "Fact and Comment" column led to a delicious new controversy: whether members of the media should shield the public from each other's sexual preferences.

Malcolm Forbes, who died last February, knew how to stoke the fires of controversy.

In his biography of the editor of Forbes magazine, Christopher Winans is breathless about Forbes' considerable talents, instincts and surefire grasp of advertising and publishing for the business elite. He's also shameless in dwelling on whether Forbes was lonely and gay.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise that a zillionaire publisher, who rode Harleys and dated Elizabeth Taylor, would not be cast in the mold of a guy with three sons named Fred MacMurray. Malcolm Forbes treated his stupidest sayings like sermons from the mount and paid collector prices for old toys. A biographer could add little to his story as told by the media as he lived it.

Collected, these stories illuminate the facets of a fascinating man. Not the least fascinating aspect is that virtually every breath he took was tax deductible, courtesy of a smart accountant and an ability to have fun and make money at the same time.

Forbes' image as he himself wrought it is fascinating enough to stand on its own, so Winans merely had to etch that portrait finer to make up for a lack of depth. He's established himself here as a skillful anecdotist with a compelling subject.

_ Michael Pellecchia, New York Times


MASTERS OF THE VICTORY GARDEN by Jim Wilson, Little, Brown and Co., $29.95, $19.95 paperback.

Jim Wilson, southern host of public television's Victory Garden, is at it again with his second book in a year, Masters of the Victory Garden.

If you like Wilson in Victory Garden, you'll like this book. He delivers excellent information about people and plants from all over the country in his folksy, blue-jeans style.

You'll visit the Smiths' rhododendron garden in Seattle, drop in on the Wilkins and their Michigan garden and stop by for a chat with Brother Charles Reckamp and a tour of his day-lily field in Illinois.

Similar visits highlight enthusiasts of roses, antique fruit trees, herbs, wild flowers, dwarf conifers, peonies, lilies and peppers.

Wilson did not settle for the "quick look and let's get back in the tour bus" approach that shows you superb gardens but leaves out information on how you might grow those plants.

He includes ample, excellent color photographs, and his clear descriptions of gardens, plants and techniques provide how-to information on hand-pollinating day lilies, grafting dwarf conifers or fruit trees and making herbal wreaths.

Even though the horticultural advice may be regional, there is a message that is universal and inspiring: Gardening is fun. By paying homage to these ordinary people who became so good at it, Wilson offers an irresistible invitation: You can do it, too.

Take him up on the offer.

_ Mark Stith, Cox News Service

THE MACHINE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD, by James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos, Rawson Associates, $22.50.

This new book should be required reading not only for the captains of U.S. auto companies but for anyone desiring a dispassionate examination of the auto industry here and abroad.

Relying on research rather than rhetoric, it offers convincing evidence that the traditional mass-production system used by most U.S. and European automotive companies is vastly inferior to the production systems at leading Japanese firms such as Toyota and Honda.

The book documents a five-year, $5-million study undertaken by MIT's International Motor Vehicle Program (IMVP), using a battalion of researchers from 13 countries, most of whom have extensive experience in manufacturing. The book was written by three senior managers of the IMVP and co-authors, along with Alan Altshuler and Martin Anderson, of The Future of the Automobile, published in 1984 by MIT Press.

Their new work demolishes widely held myths about the phenomenal ascension of the Japanese auto industry. It is not the result of lower wages, government support or protective trade policies, the authors say.

Rather, the Japanese have succeeded largely through the use of "lean production." That means waste is eliminated at every step of production. Compared with traditional mass production, lean production requires less human effort in product development and in the assembly plant, less development time, less parts inventory and less factory space. More important to the consumer, it results in fewer defects.

How is this achieved? The key, the authors say, is adopting a different organizational framework with such key components as teamwork, job satisfaction rather than career climbing and more flexible machinery.

_ Chris Verner, Cox News Service


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