By Armand Hammer with Neil Lyndon (General Publishing, 5kk pages, $32.95)
The memoirs of business tycoons are usually commercial successes—when the subjects use their everyday business shrewdness to engage
professional writing help. Iacocca: An Autobiography, Chrysler Corp. chairman Lee Iacocca’s 1984 autobiography, co-written by Canadian William Novak, rode the best-seller lists for more than a year. This year’s hit is likely to be Hammer, the epic life-story-to-date of Dr. Armand Hammer, 89-year-old Russo-
phile, art connoisseur, commissars’ chum and chairman of the gigantic Occidental Petroleum Corp. (Oxy).
As told to Neil Lyndon, the tale spans decades and continents, detailing business coups in everything from Russian lead pencils to Kentucky bourbon. The rich and famous—from Leon Trotsky to Mikhail Gorbachev, from King Farouk of Egypt to Britain’s Prince Charles, from Henry Ford to J. Paul Getty—litter the book as though it were a hardcover edition of People magazine.
A wealthy American-born medical doctor and the son of a founding member of the American Communist Party, Hammer first went to the Soviet Union in 1921 to fight famine and stayed for nine years to make a fortune exchanging western products for Soviet raw materials and objets d’art. He recounts how an early decision to arrange financing for shipments of U.S. grain to the starving masses of postrevolutionary Russia led to a private audience with Lenin—which Hammer parlayed into lucrative Soviet business concessions.
Hammer portrays Lenin as a fearless and dedicated leader, disillusioned with Communism, working tirelessly to convert the Soviet Union to state socialism when he died in 1924. Another acquaintance was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom Hammer admired so much that he purchased and refurbished the Roosevelt family summer home at Campobello, N.B., later ceding the property to the U.S. and Canadian governments as an international park.
Hammer was adept at turning a dollar—or turning a ruble into a dollar. He made successive fortunes in an amazing number of fields: pharmaceuticals, Soviet minerals, Ford tractors, antiques, distilling, cattle and broadcasting. Explaining his success, he says, “One thing led to another.” He also acknowledges his luck. In 1956 he invested a mere $67,000 in the then-tiny Oxy—a company that, fuelled by discoveries of new oilfields in Libya and the North Sea, had gross revenues of approximately $21 billion by 1986.
Despite his advanced years, Hammer continues to work hard and think big. Last year he played important roles in rushing American doctors to Moscow to help deal with the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and in repatriating U.S. journalist Nicholas Daniloff following his arrest by Soviet authorities on espionage charges. Now, he writes, he lives in hope of an improvement in East-West relations. Reading Hammer’s version of his life leaves the strong impression that an individual with energy and imagination could just bring that goal closer to reality.
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