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The Making of a Public Man by Sol M. Linowitz (Little, Brown: $19.95; 288 pp.)

February 02, 1986|Jeff Riggenbach | Riggenbach is the daily economics commentator of CNN Radio, and executive producer of the nationally syndicated daily public affairs radio programs "Byline" and "Perspective on the Economy." and

Sol Linowitz tells us early on in this book that he spent years resisting the fervent efforts of his family and friends to get him to write it. "I didn't think my story was all that interesting," he says. Unfortunately, the book proves he was right.

Linowitz is well known as the man who, with Chester Carlson and Joseph Wilson, built the Xerox Corp. into one of the largest and most successful business enterprises in the United States, and then went on to serve Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter as a diplomat and negotiator in Latin America and the Middle East. His extraordinarily successful career as an international corporate lawyer is less widely recognized. So is his long record as a generous donor of money and time to charitable and philanthropic organizations.

As a businessman, Linowitz has pioneered the doctrine of corporate good citizenship. As an attorney and negotiator, he has worked to resolve disputes fairly and equitably without resorting to litigation or coercion. As a philanthropist, he has endeavored to help the less fortunate realize some of the rich rewards his own life has brought him.

Yet it is difficult to read "The Making of a Public Man" without wondering why Linowitz has enjoyed such success. He says that "much of my good fortune has been just that; I have been lucky." And again he seems to be right.

To judge by his account, the role he played in the development of Xerox could have been played as well by almost any other competent attorney. He had nothing to do with the invention or perfection of the xerographic process; he never really came fully to understand it. He was intimately involved, as a friend and confidante of Joe Wilson, in the discussions that led to Wilson's decision to take the economic future of the small Rochester, N. Y., photographic products company he had inherited from his father and gamble it on the commercial development of xerography. But the decision was ultimately Wilson's. Linowitz didn't become an officer of the company until long after the commitment had been made.

And as for his career in government, that too looks less impressive when closely examined. Linowitz devoted his years as a public servant primarily to three projects: an effort to establish a Latin American Common Market which came to nothing when the Johnson Administration was replaced by the Nixon Administration; the negotiation of the Panama Canal treaties which ended up satisfying neither the Americans nor the Panamanians, and an attempt to work out an agreement among Israel, Egypt and Jordan that would guarantee Palestinian autonomy and participation in Mideast talks. This last project also came to nothing--again, in Linowitz's view, because the President (Jimmy Carter) who launched it was replaced by one (Ronald Reagan) who had no interest in finishing the job. In politics as in business, Linowitz seems to have meant well without accomplishing a great deal.

However, meaning well has been enough to bring him into close contact with most of the movers and shakers of the past three decades. His book is studded with famous names. But it offers nothing in the way of insight into the characters behind the names. It doesn't serve up any information about them that isn't already common knowledge. About Carter, for example, all Linowitz can tell us is that "one had to be careful in working with (him) not to let the conversation be dominated by details, for he seemed to feel that he had to know them in order to be truly in command."

Oddly, "The Making of a Public Man" could be faulted for getting bogged down in small details. It will be of interest to any serious student of U.S. business and diplomacy during the 1950s, '60s and '70s. But the general reader will find it too colorless and bland to reward the effort of reading it.

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