Audit Notes: Hank the hero, Des Moines, Norwegian wood

The FT's John Gapper reviews the former AIG CEO's autobiography

John Gapper’s Financial Times review of the new Hank Greenberg (the disgraced former AIG CEO, not the All Star baseball player) autobiography is well worth a read.

In Greenberg’s own mind, he is a kind of Chuck Norris, a master of all kinds of different situations. So when his corporate jet loses its engines, the pilot is trained so well that he asks Greenberg his opinion on what to do next:

If it is unclear to you why a pilot should take advice on how to tackle an air emergency from the head of an insurance company, you clearly don’t know Greenberg, who took the helm of AIG in 1967 and was kicked out by his board in 2005. The Greenberg of The AIG Story is a cross between Henry Ford, Henry Kissinger and James Bond…

The problem with this book, co-written by 87-year-old Greenberg and Lawrence A. Cunningham, a law professor at George Washington University, is that by the time we get to their version of these epic events they have lost credibility. Their story combines the stiffness of a corporate annual report with the ludicrousness of a communist dictator’s hagiography.

In other reviews, CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo calls it “An engrossing tale.”

Surprise, surprise.

The Wall Street Journal, which rose to its dominant position in business news on the strength of its Midwestern sensibility, has had some cheap yucks with Des Moines, Iowa in the last few days.

Here’s an A2 story on the International Olympic Committee’s decision to drop wrestling:

The International Olympic Committee’s vote last week to eliminate wrestling from the 2020 Games invoked fury in global centers of power like Moscow.

And Des Moines. That’s right: Iowa. It may not be the center of American politics. But wrestling is so central to Iowa culture that from the governor’s office to the congressional delegation, and from both sides of the aisle, Hawkeye State politicians are vowing to fight the IOC decision.

And here’s a story on Des Moines-based Meredith Corporation buying most of the Time Inc. magazines:

From afar, it might appear as though the country bumpkin were about to marry the sophisticated city slicker. But while not as much in the limelight as its New York rivals, Meredith in recent years has evolved into a diversified publishing company, selling interactive marketing, licensing its brands to retailers and steadily expanding its portfolio to get more scale.

— For a more sophisticated take on People Different Than Us, read Sarah Lyall’s excellent New York Times piece on the Norwegian fondness for firewood:

The TV program, on the topic of firewood, consisted mostly of people in parkas chatting and chopping in the woods and then eight hours of a fire burning in a fireplace. Yet no sooner had it begun, on prime time on Friday night, than the angry responses came pouring in.

“We received about 60 text messages from people complaining about the stacking in the program,” said Lars Mytting, whose best-selling book “Solid Wood: All About Chopping, Drying and Stacking Wood — and the Soul of Wood-Burning” inspired the broadcast. “Fifty percent complained that the bark was facing up, and the rest complained that the bark was facing down.”

He explained, “One thing that really divides Norway is bark.”

Twenty percent of the country watched the firewood special, a rating about one-third higher than the much-hyped Alabama-Notre Dame national championship game got here last month.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,