A Ghost's Memoir
Published in 1964, My Years with General Motors was an immediate best-seller and today is considered one of the few classic books on management. The book is the ghostwritten memoir of Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. (1875-1966), whose business and management strategies enabled General Motors to overtake Ford as the dominant American automobile manufacturer in the 1920s and 1930s.
What has been largely unknown until now is that My Years with General Motors was almost not published. Although it was written with the permission of General Motors—and slated for publication in October 1959—at the last minute General Motors tried to suppress the book out of fears that some of the material in it could become evidence in an antitrust action against the company. This book, by John McDonald, Sloan's ghostwriter, tells the behind-the-scenes story of the book's writing, its attempted suppression, and the lawsuit that eventually led to its publication. McDonald's narrative is partly the David-and-Goliath story of a lone journalist taking on the world's then-largest corporation and partly a study of strategy in its own right. McDonald's struggle to publish the book led him to navigate a complicated course among the competing interests of General Motors, Fortune magazine (his employer), and Time, Inc. (Fortune's owner). In many ways this "book about the book" parallels the Sloan book as a tale of successful, brilliantly planned strategy.
"McDonald has given us what may be the best book about business, and about book publishing, to appear this year." —John Maxwell Hamilton, Marketplace (American Public Radio)
"More than a book about a book, it describes how a gutsy gadfly thwarted a giant corporation..." —Rich Barlow, Boston Globe
“McDonald’s manuscript is written with a rare combination of verve and strong documentation. The story it tells is an important one—of a collaboration that produced what Bill Gates called ‘probably the best book to read if you want to read only one book about business.”
—Steven J. Brams, Professor of Politics, New York University
“This book is a gem and reads like a thriller. John McDonald was a superb business writer who combined an innate understanding of context with an appreciation of strategy. The book should be read by all who are concerned with business reporting, business, and legal advice.”
—Martin Shubik, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University
“John McDonald created one of the masterpieces of American management literature, Alfred P. Sloan’s My Years with General Motors. How the book was created is itself an intriguing story about the making of books today. What happened afterwards, and how credit and money were apportioned, is equally intriguing, and McDonald, a master journalist, tells the story well.”
—Nathan Glazer, Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, Harvard University