Be honest: If you had a multimillion-dollar salary, millions more in bonuses and stock options, company-maintained penthouses, a corporate jet or three, fiat to trade the pieces of your conglomerate like Monopoly properties and the blinding sex appeal that comes with all this, causing supermodels one-third your age to melt at your feet, how would you behave?
Perhaps, like former Sunbeam head "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap Jr., you would be the sort of man who allegedly terrified his first wife with a knife and wondered aloud about the taste of human flesh. Or maybe you'd be like former General Electric chieftain Jack Welch, who reportedly ran with a pack of young Turk executives who treated company secretaries as personal comfort girls.
Now suppose you are author and New York Post columnist Christopher M. Byron, who has covered the media for three decades and written a bestseller (Martha Inc.). Would it be rewarding enough to chronicle the hijinks of the vainglorious and foolhardy men -- fine and wickedly satisfying reading -- or would you fall temptation to playing amateur evolutionary psychologist and pasting on scientific data that you hope explain the root cause of their troglodyte behavior?
In Testosterone Inc.: Tales of CEOs Gone Wild (Wiley, $27.95), Byron falls into the latter trap, which is plenty crowded -- nearly every newspaper and magazine feature writer has put a subject on the couch for a little retro-therapy. Using this tactic, Byron scrutinizes Dunlap, Welch, Revlon tycoon Ronald Perelman and Tyco International's former chief executive, Dennis Kozlowski.
Unfortunately, the device is empirically unsustainable. Grafting on medical studies to aid the effort increases the book's reach, but not its grasp, steering the whole enterprise into silliness.
For instance, one possible reason for Dunlap's brutish behavior, Byron speculates, is a particularly devastating block in a 1956 high school football game that left the young Dunlap seeing stars.
A lengthy footnote begins: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that Americans suffer 300,000 sports-related head injuries yearly."
Indeed, the book quickly turns into two parallel and only tenuously connected books. The first is more or less a chronology of four corporate titans. Fine. The second, however, is a tiny-type hodgepodge of far-flung cultural explainers (the legend of Scheherazade is helpfully recounted) and medical studies into male behavior, psychology, testosterone levels and, yes, even jaw size. (What? No one measured the distance between Dunlap's eyes with a caliper?)
Which is too bad, because Byron's got plenty of good, juicy material. Some of the best stuff comes from the copious divorce filings bobbing in the wake of these shark-men. And Byron truth-squads a number of assertions that Welch made in his bestselling 2001 memoir, Jack: Straight From the Gut, as well as those furthered by the many hagiographers of Dunlap and Kozlowski.
Welch's memoir, Byron writes, "is not the story of a man's life and career; it is simply a work in progress by a man engaged in the serial reediting of his personal failures." (Welch reportedly is unhappy with the book.)
For every nicely hewn sentence like that, however, Byron undercuts himself by attempting literary somersaults, which too often finish with the author landing groin-first on the balance beam of restraint.
"Yet, none of these men, with their glib turns of phrase and their mesmerizing vision of tomorrow, were in any way prepared for the temptations that success would place before them, and in the end nearly all fell victim to the tug of earthly desires -- of mammon and the flesh -- that few men can resist."
[Sound of book being flung across room.]
Byron's book would have profited handsomely from more content and less conjecture. In business parlance, it could have used a little downsizing.
-- Frank Ahrens
Frank Ahrens covers the media and entertainment industries for The Post's Business section.