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Tina Brown's Must-Reads: The Failures Of Excess

by NPR Staff
Apr 22, 2010 (Morning Edition)

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For Morning Edition's feature "Word of Mouth," Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown joins NPR to talk about what she's been reading — and what's made an impression. This month, Brown has been reading about money, power, sex, murder and — most of all — excess.

'The Greatest Trade Ever: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How John Paulson Defied Wall Street and Made Financial History'

First up on Brown's list is Gregory Zuckerman's The Greatest Trade Ever, a book about a hedge-fund manager's 2006 hunch that the housing bubble was about to burst. John Paulson positioned himself to make millions off of the crash by engineering a trade that is now at the center of the Securities and Exchange Commission's suit against investment bank Goldman Sachs.

"What is interesting about this book is not the details of this trade so much as the window it gives you into this world in Wall Street where how these bets land has no consideration for the people that it lands upon," Brown tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "There they are, rooting for everybody else to fail — and of course they did, and they made out like bandits."

'Rachel Uchitel Is Not A Madam'

Brown's next pick is another eye-opening look at a culture of excess. Lisa Taddeo's New York Magazine feature "Rachel Uchitel Is Not A Madam" uses the story of Tiger Woods' indiscretions to dive into the world of VIP clubs that enabled them. One of the many women alleged to have been among the golfer's mistresses, Uchitel is a VIP-club hostess who makes a fortune introducing high-profile clients to discreet but available women.

"The girls are paid in tips and in trips and in goodies and gifts," Brown says. "They're not paid in cash, so you can't call them hookers, but you can call them girls who are really for sale, in the sense that it's all about the goodies they can collect."

"It's really one of those old-school New York Magazine pieces of the Tom Wolfe days that gets into a social ecosystem," Brown says of Taddeo's piece. "She really takes the lid off this whole teeming club world of the 'VIP hostess.'"

'Angel Face: The True Story Of Student Killer Amanda Knox'

If you somehow haven't heard about Amanda Knox, the American student who was convicted of a murder committed during her study abroad in Italy, Brown's next pick will fill you in. Daily Beast writer Barbie Latza Nadeau's book Angel Face (published by the Daily Beast's Beast Books imprint) gives a startling account of the gory details surrounding the murder of Knox's British roommate, Meredith Kercher, at their apartment in Perugia.

"What Nadeau really sketches very well," Brown says, "is how a girl who was a thrill-seeker, a girl who really liked to live on the edge — when you get a toxic chemistry of the town, the place, the man she was hanging out with — was tipped over into a moral abyss that she may never have got to if she hadn't been in that kind of company." Knox's conviction has been controversial, especially in the U.S., and both Knox and her co-defendants have maintained their innocence. Appeals were filed recently in the Italian courts; still, Brown says, Nadeau "does paint a very, very convincing picture of Amanda's guilt."

'Hot-Air Balloons'

Brown's last pick is James Wolcott's Vanity Fair essay that looks at the excessive egos of the rich and powerful. "Hot-Air Balloons" examines an impulse that arises sometimes among celebrities — Lou Dobbs, Chris Matthews, Mort Zuckerman and Larry Kudlow, to name a few — who have reached a certain level of fame and power: the desire to run for office.

"He's very funny about Lou Dobbs," Brown says. "He says that people like him 'preen their opinions even more and practice the false humility of pretending to answer a clamor that is mostly in their heads.'"

Despite the discouraging track record of media figures running for office, the reasons for such campaigns seem pretty clear.

"You get wonderful attention," Brown notes. "And at the end of it you pull out, demurring and saying you've taken soundings, but you're not going to do it."

Naturally, we couldn't help but ask: Is Brown by chance planning a run for office?

"What a lovely, hilarious, awful thought," she says. "No thank you!"

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