on July 12th 2016
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Published by Spiegel & Grau
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
“When Bloomberg News invited the young American journalist Alex Cuadros to report on Brazil’s emerging class of billionaires at the height of the historic Brazilian boom, he was poised to cover two of the biggest business stories of our time: how the giants of the developing world were triumphantly taking their place at the center of global capitalism, and how wealth inequality was changing societies everywhere. Eike Batista, a flamboyant and charismatic evangelist for the country’s new gospel of wealth, epitomized much of this rarefied sphere: In 2012, Batista ranked as the eighth-richest person in the world, was famous for his marriage to a beauty queen, and was a fixture in the Brazilian press. His constantly repeated ambition was to become the world’s richest man and to bring Brazil along with him to the top. But by 2015, Batista was bankrupt, his son Thor had been indicted for manslaughter, and Brazil its president facing impeachment, its provinces combating an epidemic, and its business and political class torn apart by scandal had become a cautionary tale of a country run aground by its elites, a tale with ominous echoes around the world.”
This is a book that I would not have picked up if I wasn’t consciously trying to read more books set in South America. I’m glad I read it.
Alex Cuadros was selected for an unusual job. He was to monitor the billionaires of Brazil. He needed to maintain an up to date list of the net worth of the richest people in Brazil. In trying to find out who these people were, he started to look at the world around him. Who owns the company that makes your soap or the roads you drive on? There may be a hidden billionaire behind it. Some billionaires weren’t so hard to find. Eike Batista was one of these. He flaunted his wealth. He bragged on Twitter whenever he moved up in the rankings of richest people. Then suddenly he lost it all.
The rise and fall of Eike Batista is told along with the stories of other Brazilian billionaires. Some are in construction or broadcasting. There is even a billionaire pastor. Cuadros brings up the question — Is is possible to amass this amount of money in an ethical way in a country with such rampant poverty? Is corruption endemic in a country founded on a system where slaves do all the work and higher classes live off of others?
I didn’t know anything about Brazilian history or politics. This was a great introduction in an engaging story. I enjoyed listening to the author narrate the book so I could hear the proper pronunciations of places and names in Portuguese.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to combine the voyeurism of watching how the super rich live with an education in the culture and politics of Brazil.