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Book Review: by Lang Reid
Profiles in Folly
were two very similar new books on the shelves at my local Bookazine, both
by the same author, Alan Axelrod. The first was Profiles in Audacity, and
the second was Profiles in Folly (ISBN 978-1-4027-4768-7, Sterling
Publishing, 2008). I chose the latter.
Axelrod begins with the epic of the Greeks and the Trojan horse, and shows
that the actual horse being brought into Troy was only the final folly in a
litany of follies, all produced by one goddess being left off the A-List at
a society wedding! This is history that I can relate to (never having made
The first section is called The Decision to Gamble and Hope and includes
General Custer (who gambled and ended up with his last stand), the Titanic
(whose master gambled on invincibility) and NASA and space shuttles
(gambling on information being flawed).
The second section is called the Decision to Manipulate and includes the
infamous Dreyfus affair, Richard Nixon and Watergate and Ken Lay and Enron
and Dick Cheney and the Iraq war. Author Axelrod shows remarkable restraint
at times, but does appear to be in control of the facts (just as well as the
perpetrators of the folly, but their decision to conspire was deliberate).
The other sections cover the Decision to Leap (without looking) and
chronicles King George III and the American Revolution, who if he’d looked
could have changed the entire course of modern history, the Decision to
Destroy starring Roberto Goizueta and the ‘New Coke’ fiasco, the Decision to
Retreat detailing (amongst others) the mistakes made by the UK over the
India and Gandhi situation and the Decision to Drift with the Ford Motor
Company getting their dose of nasty medicine with the Edsel debacle and also
JFK with his Bay of Pigs.
Axelrod’s bona fides to write such a book as this comes from his background
of writing about historical situations in his many books. However, he does
also write, “Those who expect objective history are doomed to be
disappointed. For that matter, those who seek objective history from any
writer are doomed to perpetual disappointment. No history is objective.” And
of course he is correct, and the reader is allowed to compare their slant on
the various situations in their own way. However, I believe Axelrod is not
I found this to be a most enjoyable read. Alan Axelrod has a colloquial,
flowing style of writing, and has a droll sense of humor that comes through
repeatedly. At B. 650 and hard cover to boot, this is a book which will give
you many hours of amusement, time and time again. It is almost the ultimate
folio of follies. In his foreword, the author writes, “If the narrative
vignettes in Profiles of Folly are intended to pique interest, satisfy
curiosity, and not least of all, deliver the occasional jolt of gee whiz,
they are also meant to teach.” And teach they do. Showing us just how some
captains of armies and industries can make some of the worst decisions,
which can affect every one of us. An enlightening book. Get it.
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