A year and a half ago, a relative who remains a true believer in the cocktail hour was purchasing a gift for me on Amazon. Without a link to my wish list, he simply searched for my name on Amazon. Of course, you could do this for anyone’s name and Amazon, being interested in selling you something, will show you a few items you can buy. If you were looking for something for your cousin Joe Grisham, Amazon would be happy to show you all the books that have flowed from John Grisham’s prolific pen. Of course, the search results would have nothing to do with your cousin’s wish list, but after a few gimlets, what’s the difference?
And that is how I received High Wire Act: Ted Rogers and the Empire That Debt Built by Caroline van Hasselt for Christmas. Note the last name, and you’ll understand how this result came up. It is a non-fiction , my favorite genre, and it is a vaguely “techie” book about the communications industry, so it wasn’t a totally unreasonable choice for a gift. But it was never on my wish list, despite said relative’s protestations to the contrary.
Being a good sport, I promised I would read the book instead of returning, a decision I regret. Over a year later, I did just that. I now have read more than I ever wanted to read about the Canadian cable and telecommunication industry, particularly the inner workings of Rogers Communications under the leadership of Edward S. “Ted” Rogers. The book is over 450 pages long. With all due respect to the author (who may be some distant relative?) it is a well written book, but a snappy magazine article would have easily covered the same ground. Instead, there is page after page of excruciating detail about board meetings, meetings with banks, discussions with partners, leveraged buyouts, and anecdotes about Ted Roger’s hyper-competitive style of ruthless entrepreneurship.
The really tiresome part of this book is the overall feeling that Ted Rogers was no real innovator, just a fortunate opportunist with a keen knack for seeking out opportunities in a growing field with few competitors. If he had not been present on the scene, surely some other company would have built a sprawling communications empire across the Great North. After all, it is hard to imagine such a modern country without cable and cell phones. Rogers deserves credit for building his empire, an astounding feat of business acumen, largely by force of will with more than a little good luck. Yet, I’ve read shorter books on Gandhi and Martin Luther King, figures that eclipse Rogers relatively puny achievements.
In the end, I can’t recommend this book to anyone, except perhaps the rare soul interested in the Canadian cable industry. If you want a quick understanding about what this book is about, go to the Wikipedia, and read the article on Ted Rogers. It covers all the ground this book does with a lot less pain.
Oh, and you’ll find a link to my wish list at the bottom of this page.