David Halberstam, 1934 - 2007
Board: Berkshire Hathaway

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By Garranova
April 24, 2007

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I will not veer too far off topic with a biography of this excellent author, nor will I give synopses of his many books. However, there are two books of his which I believe would be of great interest to the readers of this Discussion Board:

The Powers That Be (1979) - In this book, Halberstam profiles the LA Times; Time, Inc; The Washington Post; and CBS. He gives excellent and entertaining histories of each organization and their founding families/individuals. Buffett and Munger have taught us much about the Newspaper/Media business, Halberstam's book adds texture and color to our knowledge. It is required reading for businessmen and investors in Media. I had hoped that Halberstam would add a few more chapters, as much has changed in the 28 years since it was published.

The Reckoning (1986) - Halberstam gives us a good history of the American auto business, mainly as it relates to the decline of the US manufacturer at the hands of the Japanese manufacturer. Like the The Powers That Be, Halberstam narrows the industry down, in this case to Ford and Nissan, both 2nd place in their respective countries. The histories of both companies and the corresponding unions are fascinating, and the cast of characters is equally interesting.
This is also required reading for investors. Halberstam plainly lays out the advantages the US automakers had, and as early as 1986 (even 1976!) it was obvious that the Japanese were gaining.

I find it interesting that in many posts in diverse bulletin boards, folks like to place the blame for US auto woes on the UAW (or unions in general). While I agree that the UAW shares much responsibility, after reading this book I believe that the burden of proof is mostly on owners and management. While in 1976 and 1986 I might excuse owners for being complacent, I cannot forgive them for not doing much through 1996, and I believe shareholders of the US automakers in 2007 are getting what they deserve.
I had also hoped that Halberstam would add some chapters to this book. In his closing chapter Ford was just getting started on the Taurus.

I recommend these books, and if they don't make you a better investor, I hope they offer interesting and entertaining reads.

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