Inigo Thomas

Public relations disaster

Private lives of the rich or celebrated or infamous kinds in New York often resemble one of those inside-out buildings designed by the architect Richard Rogers in the 1970s; like the Pompidou Centre in Paris, with its exterior escalators and air-conditioning ducts, or the Lloyd’s building in London, where lifts and pipes are part of the facade, what one expects to be private in New York is public discourse.

An entire book could be written on the spectacle and politics of emotional display in New York, and if Tom Barbash’s On Top of the World is not that volume, it is an addition to the extensive raw material, as well as another contribution to that burgeoning subcategory known as ‘Nine Eleven’.

Howard Lutnick is the head of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading firm whose offices were once between the 101st and 105th floors of the north tower of the World Trade Center, the first to be struck on 11 September, 2001. No one on or above the 96th floor, where the United Airline plane exploded, survived. Among those who worked for Lutnick and who died were his brother and his best friends; Cantor lost 658 employees – a third of the company.

If Lutnick were the type of man who could settle at a desk he would have written this book himself, but he’s not that kind of man. He is a Master of the Universe, who became chief operating officer of Cantor at 29, its CEO soon after, and is, one senses, too impatient by temperament to write a book. Standing in for Lutnick is a college friend, Tom Barbash, who tells us that Cantor Fitzgerald, as much as any other US company, exemplifies American capitalism and Lutnick American moneymaking prowess – in other words everything al-Qaeda resents and wishes to destroy.

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