Fools Rush In:
Steve Case, Jerry Levin,
and the Unmaking
of AOL Time Warner
The New York Times Book Review
Marrying exemplary reporting with lively, lucid writing, [Munk] makes a convincing—nay, devastating—case that Levin wrecked the legacy of Henry Luce, the founder of Time Inc., in the service of his ego.... There is a larger point in Munk's acid portrait. No one stood up to Levin, though many later claimed to have seen the folly of the AOL deal. Levin had become, in his own words, an "imperial C.E.O." Such chief executives, abetted by pliant boards, submissive underlings and craven accountants, bankers and lawyers, have the sort of arbitrary power of which despots can only dream.
Eminently enjoyable, Fools is a gossipy, in-depth look at a deal doomed from the start. Rarely were two corporate cultures so badly mismatched: 'It was like trying to mate a horse with a dog,' said one participant... Case and Levin wanted the megamerger to define their careers. Munk, a former writer at Fortune, admirably shows that they may have gotten their wish.
Munk, a magazine writer and Vanity Fair contributing editor, strikes a devastating deadpan tone that she uses to tear the merger to shreds, thus setting this book apart from many others in the business genre, which has long been dominated by fawning executive profiles.
Read Nina Munk's great book, Fools Rush In. This quick, absorbing read reveals that at one time the stars aligned and every crackpot non-businessman, self-promotional hype artist alive came together to form this merger. I found myself laughing out loud at what a bunch of jokers Steve Case, Bob Pittman and Jerry Levin were. You couldn't make up their kind of arrogance cum stupidity.
People tend to forget that Jerry Levin left a series of disasters behind before he engineered what he saw as the enduring legacy of his career, the AOL/Time Warner merger. Most notable was the 1990 merger between Time Inc. amd Warner Communications, which left the combined company reeling under $15 billion in debt. Within a few years, the combined company was in such precarious shapes, notes Nina Munk in her delightfully scathing account of the AOL/Time Warner merger, Fools Rush In, that the New York Post printed a daily "Jerry-O-Meter" gauging the chances that Levin would get booted from his job as CEO. Munk's voracious reporting style is perfectly fitted to the sprawling story and its scheming central cast: Levin, a backstabbing corporate climber given to quoting the Bible, Heraclitus and Camus; and AOL chief Steve Case, an emotionless "visionary" who preached the power of AOL to change people's lives.
This is unquestionably the best book on the subject to date. Munk has done a superb job of solidly researching the background, as well as thoroughly interviewing all the participants.… The scenes just prior to the merger announcement on January 10, 2000, especially crackle with excitement and Machiavellian intrigue. Two villains clearly stand out here: AOL's Steve Case and Time Warner's Jerry Levin both deserve to be nominated to the corporate "Hall of Shame" for setting in motion the chain of events that led to a loss of over $200 billion in shareholder value and the near-demise of the company, now known as Time Warner. Perceptive and well written, Munk's account is highly recommended for all libraries.
The holiday break allowed me to read at least one book: Nina Munk's superb Fools Rush In. The book is a fast read and a tour de force that explores the motivations and actions of all the key players in that sad drama. But it's also a reminder of how crazy things got in the late '90s boom. Can you imagine that: In the Spring of 1999, AOL was worth more than General Motors and Boeing combined? Or that by 1999 more than two thousand (stock option) millionaires were working at AOL?... Or that Fortune magazine actually put AOL Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin on its cover as "one of the smartest people we know"?
The Globe & Mail
"Not since Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco . . ." is the way every book documenting a failed takeover is described, referring to Bryan Burrough and John Helyar's 1990 bestseller. But not many authors manage to combine Burrough and Helyar's meticulous research and dramatic, richly detailed narrative. Munk's book, though, lives up to the billing…. Munk's narrative is sharply paced, a superb reconstruction."
The Financial Times
The latest in a cluster of books on the AOL-Time Warner debacle, [Fools Rush In] is the most detailed account yet of Mr Levin's thoughts and actions leading up to the merger and after it. What emerges is a fascinating close-up of an imperial chief executive of the breed that dominated large US corporations in the 1990s: wielding absolute power, unchallenged by a docile board and cheered on by gullible shareholders and the media... Ms Munk, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, has done extensive research and enjoyed a lot of access to Mr Levin. She has also constructed a compelling, fast-paced narrative.
Munk, who has a keen eye for detail, has peppered her book with the kind of compelling colour that is so often missing in business tomes.
The Washington Post
Munk's book deserves points for its breezy style and agile handling of the business issues… Munk tells the story with dish and sparkle and does a great job of sketching the men who in early 2000 decided to merge America Online and Time Warner and thereby create the "first global media and communications company of the Internet century."
What is truly amazing in this mesmerizing tale of corporate intrigue is not that Stephen M. Case of AOL wanted to take over Time Warner, but that Gerald M. Levin was so easily persuaded to go through with it, even after the warning signs against it became clear.... Munk, a former senior writer for Fortune magazine and contributing editor at Vanity Fair, has picked up all the pieces of a complex story and woven them together in a series of compelling biographies that provides an easy-to-follow accounting of how events conspired to create one of the greatest devaluations ever of a corporate giant.
The Globe & Mail
Nina Munk had access to all the main players in the AOL Time Warner saga. In Fools Rush In, she presents an absorbing and nuanced account of why it happened and how it started to unravel from the moment the deal was being consummated in haste over a weekend.
If you want to understand how a glittering, monumental Deal of the Century can go horribly wrong, turn to Fools Rush In by Nina Munk…. A former writer for Fortune magazine, Munk focuses on the men who decided to merge the two companies to create the "first global media and communications company of the Internet century." The result is a lively and scathing depiction of Time Warner boss Levin, who is portrayed as a back-stabbing corporate climber given toquoting the Bible, and America Online's Case, described as an emotionless visionary who preached the power of AOL to change people's lives.
Report on Business Magazine
Not long ago, the media went red in the face cheering on AOL's Steve Case and Time Warner's Jerry Levin as they converged their companies. Now bookstore shelves groan with tomes censuring the two brainiacs who managed to wipe out $200 billion (U.S.) in shareholder value overnight…. What Munk adds—making this an addictive read even if you know the story well—is a ruthless winnowing of her bales of research so that only the most illuminating facts remain.
The New York Observer
Fools Rush In really delivers in its vivid portrait of Jerry Levin, the perfect mark for the con of the century.
Disaster-wise, the 2000 merger of Steve Case's AOL with Jerry Levin's Time Warner ranks somewhere between the Titanic and the Hindenburg.… Author Munk, who has written extensively on the merger for Vanity Fair, spent hundreds of hours interviewing the principals. Her narrative is colorful, but then so is the cast of characters. Especially helpful are the biographical sketches of the major players in the epilogue. Read them first, then enjoy the disaster.
In Fools Rush In, investigative financial journalist Nina Munk provides a comprehensive, compelling, and truly entertaining account of the Time Warner-AOL merger. If the idiosyncratic Turner serves mostly as comic relief, Levin is the central figure in Nina Munk's captivating post-mortem, Fools Rush In. Munk, a seasoned magazine writer, lays out the inside story of the AOL-Time Warner merger in a breezy, narrative style.
“A fascinating close-up of an Imperial chief executive.”
The Financial Times
“A mesmerizing tale of corporate intrigue.”
“A tour de force.”
“Absorbing and nuanced.”
The Globe & Mail
“Perceptive and well-written… highly recommended.”
“A quick, absorbing read.”
“An addictive read.”
Report on Business Magazine
“Comprehensive, compelling, and truly entertaining.”