“Martha Inc.: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia” by Christopher Byron, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 405 pages.

Author Christopher Byron certainly doesn’t have anything nice to say about cook-craftsperson-homemaker-TV personality-author-entrepreneur Martha Stewart.

Although he met with her once before writing the book, she decided not to cooperate with him in telling her business story. And apparently Byron couldn’t find one person with a few positive words about Martha.

What we have in this book is rather a one-sided view: Martha became mean because her father was. Martha was too busy for her child and husband. Martha isn’t nice to her neighbors. Martha built on other people’s ideas. Martha is hard to work with. Martha wants it all.

Well, the rest of us want as big a chunk of the good life as we can get, and Martha has helped many of us live a more gracious life, even if we’re at the bottom of the socioeconomic rung. That’s why she has become such a success.

While I am not a handcrafter nor do I set much of a table, I can’t help admiring how much Martha can do. Byron doesn’t.

He hasn’t a good word to say about how this woman can consistently come up with great ideas, how she apparently has the world’s most active work ethic and expects those around her to thrive on achieving things, too.

If she wants to dedicate most of her time to working in her garden, just let her.

Byron digs out every iota of dirt he can possibly find, from conflicts with neighbors to charges that, as a stockbroker, Martha didn’t really know as much as she should have.

Why couldn’t Byron have done what a good reporter would do at least more consistently put in a paragraph or two saying that Martha had commented to this or that to Newsweek or the New York Times. It wouldn’t have hurt.

It’s a quick read, but this book leaves one feeling uninformed. We don’t find out much about why Martha has operated the way she does or how she endures those long, hard hours?

There’s a feeling that the author never really got inside Martha Stewart’s business empire but is just reporting on discontented former employees.

Of course, now that Martha is on the evening news facing allegations of insider trading, this book might make its way onto the best-seller lists. Life works that way.

People will buy the book because they want to know the bad things about others who have become rich. But this book leaves the reader unsatisfied and feeling slightly ashamed, as if they’d just eaten an entire three-deck cake all by themselves. It looks good, but it’s not all that good for you.

The writing in this book is fairly well done, in a crisp journalistic style. It is well organized and doesn’t skip in time the way many such volumes do.

But Byron should use his talents to pursue more interesting business subjects than Martha Stewart. How about one of those Enron guys or even the vice president? But he should treat his next subject more fairly.

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Sandy Battin