Books offer a study in contrasts

To become rich, entrepreneurs must be ruthless and tenacious — even if it means eating cat food to prove that you’re selling a good product.

Kevin O’Leary, the so-called “mean one” on the Dragon’s Den, reveals how he earned his fortune in his new book The Cold Hard Truth. To become rich, entrepreneurs must be ruthless and tenacious — even if it means eating cat food to prove that you’re selling a good product (which O’Leary did at the beginning of his career).

O’Leary’s Scrooge-like quest for money involves insane work hours and a willingness to chew up and spit out anyone who gets in the way of success. When deciding whether to take over a new company, the amount of money he stands to make is more important than the quality of the company’s product. That attitude got him kicked out of Steve Jobs’ office but earned him premium product placements at Wal-Mart and millions of dollars.

O’Leary’s story is not just a glimpse into a life of high-stakes investing, it also lays bare his failures — not all of them consciously disclosed. He asserts that no self-respecting entrepreneur would talk about work/life balance, and yet says a forced holiday with his family was the best two weeks of his life.

Around the house, I’ve been calling O’Leary’s book “The Cold-Hearted Truth.” It’s unfair to couple a review of his book with a reader-recommended book, Half the Sky. But because I found myself reading these books at the same time, the irony was too much to resist.

Half the Sky, by Pulitzer prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, is on the opposite end of the greed spectrum. Through a series of essays, the authors plea for an end to the three major abuses of women around the world: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence including honour killings and mass rape; and maternal mortality.

I didn’t expect to enjoy reading Half the Sky. I knew the profiled individual stories would be difficult to stomach, and I was worried that solutions offered to the problems would be unrealistic and simplistic. But I was riveted by this intelligent book.

Half the Sky not only lays bare the atrocities, it gives thoughtful ideas about how to fix the situation. Kristof and Wudunn suggest that the best answer to alleviating suffering is to educate women, and to help them become financially independent.

O’Leary’s motto is money equals freedom. And for many people around the world this is true. I have no idea how much time, energy or money O’Leary gives to charity, and can only hope that his quest for riches means he has more share with those truly in need.

Heather Allen is a writer, reader and book lover living in Penticton. allenh@telus.net