Entertaining, irreverent and smart, it was probably no surprise that Stanley Bing’s 2006 business book Rome Inc.: The Rise and Fall of the First Multinational Corporation easily made my Best Books Read in 2009 List. Therefore, when I spotted his 2000 book What Would Machiavelli Do ?: The Ends Justify the Meanness sitting on the shelf at my local public library I quickly grabbed it, hoping one of Bing’s earlier books might be as good as his Rome Inc. Well, after finishing it a few weeks ago I have to say that Bing’s Machiavelli-inspired book is succinct, reasonably well-written and entertaining. But unfortunately it’s no Rome Inc.
Inspired the life and writings of Renaissance-era political adviser and author Niccolo Machiavelli, Bing’s book is a kind of extended advise column for those special corporate executives who, in order to succeed, are willing to be mean, nasty and ruthless towards those around them. With generous examples from the business practices of such corporate sweethearts as Ted Turner, Michael Ovitz, Martha Stewart and former Sunbeam CEO “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, (as well as the occasional quote from Pol Pot, Caligula and Stalin), Bing shows how effective business leaders should do whatever it takes to get ahead, be it cultivating a few well-loved enemies; firing his/her own mother; or feasting on the discord of others.
While many Amazon reviews saw much of Bing’s book as satirical, I really didn’t see the value in encouraging wealthy and powerful people to act nastier. While I thought Bing did a fine job providing a window into the hearts and minds of many corporate leaders and did so with humor and intelligence, overall I thought his book was good. But unlike Rome Inc, it was not great.