Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: David Ogilvy Admired; Memoirs Miniaturized; and Sexual Perversity Embraced

Is there still room in our hearts for a business hero? Wall Street buccaneers are toxic for now, but what about a business titan safely segregated from high-finance chicanery? Kenneth Roman’s The King of Madison Avenue (Palgrave Macmillan, $27.95) is an admiring but clear-eyed portrait of David Ogilvy, arguably the greatest advertising man ever—and a character so compelling, so vibrant and unusual, that it would be a pleasure to read about him even if he hadn’t perched for decades at the pinnacle of a notoriously unstable industry.

If your first thought is Mad Men, think again. Though Ogilvy, a Scot born in England who remained a British citizen all his life, loved to make a splash (arriving at his New York office in his chauffeured Rolls-Royce, sporting the finest tweeds and a black, full-length, crimson-lined cape) and certainly looked the part, tall, handsome and fond of pretty women, he was also a tireless worker—“the least lazy person,” a colleague called him.

It helps, if you’re reading The King of Madison Avenue, to have some interest in advertising, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Though Ogilvy’s peculiar genius was most successfully expressed in his professional life, it was manifest in many other areas as well. A shame that Norman Mailer snared the title Advertisements for Myself—it would have suited Ogilvy admirably.

“I’m a lousy copywriter,” he liked to say, “but a good editor.” Mr. Roman, who worked with him at Ogilvy & Mather for 26 years, is more effusive:

“Being edited by Ogilvy was like being operated on by a great surgeon who could put his hand on the only tender organ in your body. You could feel him put his finger on the wrong word, the soft phrase, the incomplete thought. But there was no pride of authorship, and he could be quite self-critical. Someone found a personally notated copy of one of his books in which he had written cross comments about his own writing: ‘Rubbish,’ ‘Rot!’ ‘Nonsense.’ He would send his major documents around for comment, with a note: ‘Please improve.’”

That’s my kind of hero.


A WORD OF advice to the duo (Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser) who edited Six-Word Memoirs on Love & Heartbreak (Harper Perennial, $10): Three books of six-word memoirs is too many (and so is two, but the urge to publish a follow-up to the original volume of mini-memoirs, Not Quite What I Was Planning, must have been irresistible—especially after the debut spent a talismanic six weeks on the best-seller list). Of course there are some gems in the new collection, but not enough of them to warrant a second sequel. Quit while you’re ahead!

Six favorites:

“Don’t trust a man who waxes.” —Noelle Hancock (a former Observer reporter)

“Met him online. Blogged our divorce.” —Kristy Sammis

“It never hurt as good again.” —Marc Ecko

“I should have seen him coming.” —Kelly Bruce

“He sees the me I don’t.” —Mary Catherine Hamelin

“I was smitten, now I’m smote.” —Bobby Wynne


AND SPEAKING OF love and heartbreak, Daniel Bergner’s The Other Side of Desire (Ecco, $24.99) is just as good as the various rave reviews promise. With a minimum of psychobabble and a maximum of tight-focus unsentimental and unsqueamish reporting, Mr. Bergner tells the story of four people with “abnormal” sex lives: a foot fetishist, a dominatrix, a man obsessed with his stepdaughter and a man sexually attracted to amputees.

The reader, of course, is transformed into a voyeur—but the author’s cool authoritative tone and openhearted acceptance of what he’s exposing wash away all taint of kinky vicarious thrill. It’s enough to make you think that in this case, good reporting isn’t just morally neutral. It spreads the love. Our Critic’s Tip Sheet On Current Reading: David Ogilvy Admired; Memoirs Miniaturized; and Sexual Perversity Embraced