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The Dream Maker: William C. Durant, Founder of General Motors by Bernard A. Weisberger (160,000 words, 39 illustrations)

“Billy Durant (1861-1947) put together General Motors, model by model, and twice lost it — to the bankers and the engineers, and to ego. It’s a big, meaty, broadly suggestive story that Bernard Weisberger tells — properly qualified and documented — to rescue Durant from the ‘oblivion which is the price of failure in America.’ Durant’s fate, it appears, was in his stars. His energy and drive came from maternal grandfather Henry Howland Crapo, midwest magna-merchant, first citizen of Flint, and twice Michigan’s governor. The failure — dreaded and repeatedly — was that of his wastrel father. Leaving school young, he quickly ‘unveiled his true, shining gift, which was salesmanship’ — but not of the conventional, glad-handing sort; rather, he conveyed his own faith in the product, opening new vistas for the customer. The problem, to find a worthy product — or to make one — was solved with the appearance of a simple cart, mounted on ingenious springs, that didn’t jounce. Within hours Durant had bought out the cart ‘factory,’ raised the necessary money, and acquired a partner — the first of the exceptionally able associates (Nash, Champion, Kettering, Chrysler, Sloan) whom he fired with his dreams. The crucial jump into auto production — ‘a whole new physical and economic landscape’ — came with the foundering Buick; and it was then that Durant discovered, critically, the ability to raise money in the stock market from the sale of nebulous assets. As Durant goes on by this means to incorporate GM, to add a parts division, to diversify (‘Frigidaire’ was his name and baby too), Weisberger returns intermittently to his dual nature — the empire-builder impatient of routine and detail. But it was also pride that he’d proven himself not his father’s son that brought Durant down — for he lost GM the second time by trying single-handedly, in 1929, to prop up the tottering market for its stocks; and this madness the Morgans and Du Ponts could not excuse. Nothing, however, becomes Durant more than his failure to admit defeat; after the collapse of another auto company, launched under his name, he returned to Flint to set up, foresightedly, a respectable bowling alley. His ‘pathetic dignity and courage’ cap a memorable personal portrait far above the business-biography norm.” —

“Billy Durant deserved a good biography, and he got one... Weisberger has... collect[ed] every scrap of information that could be found and [put] it together in a complete picture of Durant and his work. It gives the first comprehensive account of his family background and private life... A variety of interesting figures appear, some well-known, others now forgotten — Alfred P. Sloan, Pierre Du Pont, John J. Raskob, Charles W. Nash, Walter Chrysler, Louis Chevrolet, David D. Buick. Each has a biographical sketch. Durant himself is appraised remarkably dispassionately, good points and bad, from his ability to see the great opportunities in the automobile industry to speculative mania that ultimately destroyed him... [Durant] emerges in this book very much like the protagonist in a Greek tragedy. He rose high and fell far because his great talents were offset be equally great flaws... Billy Durant could make dreams. He just could not make them come true.” — John B. Rae,
The Washington Post

“[A] monumental work... Weisberger, ha[s]... painstakingly explored and researched America’s greatest success story.” — David Brooks,
The Lantern (Columbus, Ohio)