Steve Case, Jerry Levin, and the
Unmaking of AOL Time Warner
By Nina Munk
HarperBusiness; 352 pp; $26.95
Ted Turner banged his fist on the boardroom table. The collapse of AOL Time Warner's (TWX
) share price had halved his fortune, and even his position as vice-chairman of the newly merged outfit seemed to be in jeopardy. Uncorking his rage, Turner told a group of cable-industry execs in November, 2001, that his greatest regret was that he hadn't himself bought Time Warner, "so I could have fired Jerry Levin before he fired me."
With a vivid recounting of episodes like this in a July, 2002, Vanity Fair article, Nina Munk staked a claim on the saga of AOL's merger with Time Warner. Now, in Fools Rush In, Munk examines the story, and the palace intrigue that doomed Levin, in greater depth. Unfortunately, the book lacks the verve of Munk's magazine writing and hits its stride only halfway through.
In contrast to two previous books on the deal -- Alec Klein's Stealing Time and Kara Swisher's There Must Be A Pony In Here Somewhere -- the focus of Fools Rush In is more on Time Warner than on AOL. The central figure here is Levin, who appears as an odd, solitary, ruthless man. His negotiation of the AOL deal, in which longtime senior Time Warner execs had no input, would backfire. Such high-handed ways, along with culture clashes between the merger partners, would culminate in former Chairman Stephen M. Case's successful campaign to eject Levin. Later, Case himself would resign under shareholder pressure.
The best part of Fools Rush In is the epilogue, which tells what the drama's players are doing today. Chief AOL ad salesman Myer Berlow, who once bled clients with exorbitant terms, now spends tranquil days making wooden bowls. Levin, too, seems unruffled: He is creating a holistic mental-health clinic in Santa Monica, Calif. If only Time Warner shareholders could find such serenity. By Catherine Yang