Wow. Microsoft’s billionaire cofounder Paul Allen got ripped in the New York Times Book Review over the weekend. Allen recently published a memoir called “Idea Man” in which he took his former partner Bill Gates to task and pretty much promoted himself as a friend of celebrities. He entertains them regularly on his gigantic yachts and his Beverly Hills mansion, where he plays guitar with his hired rock band. The Times Book Review’s freelance review, Gary Rivlin, didn’t much like “Idea Man” and went after Allen mercilessly.
In the review Rivlin writes: “He’s [Allen is] like Forrest Gump in his own autobiography. There’s [Mick] Jagger chatting about gardens and Bono cajoling Mick to join in on a jam. But who’s that bland-looking bespectacled fellow in the picture? Oh, it’s his boat, his guitars. Allen is never so interesting as when he’s quoting others. He has only just met Paul McCartney but reports Sir Paul as saying, “Everyone wants to talk about John, John, John. You know, I wrote some songs, too.” That might have been a moment for the author to delve into his own psyche (“Bill, Bill, Bill, but I wrote some code, too, you know”). The book is supposedly a “memoir” — the word is right there on the cover — yet the author reveals almost nothing about himself. Peter Gabriel, he tells us, is the kind of person who will offer you a spot of afternoon tea. But after 350 pages, it’s not clear what kind [of person] Allen might be.
That’s not all: Rivlin also accuses Allen of not being very philanthropic, which I guess is true, kind of. Allen did give away $14 million in 2009 from his personal charitable foundation. But compared to Gates, it’s a drop in the bucket. As I noted last week in Cannes, Allen brings his 414 foot yacht to the film festival, invites celebrities and miscellaneous groupies, and is the only big name not raising money for a good cause.
And: I’m pretty sure Allen doesn’t mention in “Idea Man” how in the summer of 2008 he spent millions hiring helicopters and photographers to find a new born litter of wild dogs in Botswana. (By coincidence, this reporter and his friends stumbled on them for free and got the pictures.)
Rivlin writes: “Gates might have played his old high school chum at the birth of Microsoft, but at least he is trying to do good with all those extra billions that ended up in his pocket. Allen, in contrast, is the accidental billionaire who reveals himself to be little more than an overgrown kid playing with his money.”