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When a Mogul Dies Young: Book Review

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Tea and gentleness. A soft Saturday morning afloat with music that soothes but doesn’t demand&#8212sweet violin sounds, thoughtful piano riffs.

Melodies emanating from the haunting pipes of South America. This is a joy I have forsaken for many months&#8212getting up on Saturday morning and not opening the email or reviewing the task list. This is my favorite time&#8212feeling so alive, so quiet, so open to whatever might want to come and visit. Inspiration, the muse, joy, understanding, letting music touch deep, welcoming what will be.

In such a spirit did I begin reading the small paperback book called Not Fade Away, A short life well-lived (by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton, © 2003 Perennial, by Harper Collins).

A book pouring out passion for life as it describes the death process for a once-high-powered man—among many other accomplishments, he was one of the co-founders of Liberty Media, the original and largest home of cable television—as he’s going through the last stages of cancer. The ultimate reality show. No staging required; all sets, plotlines and characters supplied by Life itself.

Crisp insights about the process of life&#8212comparing the stages of death with those of life. Seeing similarities and synchronicities. Reliving pivotal moments&#8212his father dying suddenly at age 45 when he was just a young boy. Reflecting on the way words spoken to a child&#8212for good or for bad–can affect him the rest of his life.

The moment when he realizes that only twice in his life has he lived fully in the present&#8212when as a young man of 22 he and friends quit school and lived out of a truck (they wanted to go skiing for as long as possible on as little money as possible) and from the day he accepted that he was dying.

Precious insights that throw an intense light on things we live each day but may not be able to see clearly: changing your attitude&#8212from battling a disease, a situation, a person&#8212to accepting, which doesn’t mean giving up or giving in. He admits how he struggled to see that it really only means looking at things a different way. He welcomes feelings of redemption&#8212finding yourself redeemed each time you find something good, or right, or beautiful in the bad, the wrong or the ugly.

“Resignation,” he writes, “isn’t a single emotion&#8212it’s a dance of a hundred emotions that sometimes rise to philosophical detachment, then descend again to the most desperate, childish clinging.” Who among us hasn’t lived through such a time?

On living in the present moment, he rails. In business, where this man was so wildly successful, he says the whole point is to figure out what WILL happen before anybody else does&#8212and then plan how to take advantage of it. So he admits he wasn’t really living in the moment, but he sure was having fun. My reaction to that is he was a little off in that modest self-deprecation—I firmly believe that when you’re having fun, really having fun, you’re so thoroughly immersed in the present moment you don’t have to think about it!

Love this one: he says he was pretty much a screw-up during most of high school, he figured, because he’d had too much pressure to “be the man of the house” after his father died so young. He started doing better in school when he realized at last (after his young widowed mother struggled to put him in a very good prep school) that school is a game and “as with any game, it’s more fun if you win.”

This man who founded empires played hard, married late in life–eventually retired early, became the best husband and father anyone could ask for, and died of stomach cancer at age 51&#8212could not leave without recording his dying thoughts.

I couldn’t put the book down. I thrilled at the young man’s audacity (as a college student, he decided to play orange juice futures with his meager student loan so he could pay off all of his tuition and board), chafed a bit jealously at all the success his wild and wooly tactics brought him throughout his life, and marveled at his willingness to chronicle his thoughts so honestly.

And I cried when he died.

He invited a writer to help him with this book. They became friends over the long months he spent dying. It’s a moving book. A testament to how loving are the lessons that life teaches&#8212though her tactics may be less than lovely.

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