ELI and THE OCTOPUS
Can social responsibility and capital accumulation coexist in the world of modern multinational corporations? Trying to reconcile the two proved the undoing of immigrant entrepreneur and former rabbi, Eli Black, and the end of the most storied U.S. food corporation, United Fruit Company, in 1975.
Order your copy of ‘Eli and the Octopus’ now and embark on a captivating journey of one man’s quest to do good while doing business.”
“As the beating heart of capitalism, New York City provided Eli the perfect vantage point to imagine this future, and his place within it.” (24)
At 8 a.m. on February 3, 1975, Eli Black leapt to his death from the 44th floor of Manhattan’s Pan Am building. The immigrant-turned-CEO of United Brands—formerly United Fruit, now Chiquita—Black seemed an embodiment of the American dream. United Brands was transformed under his leadership—from the “octopus,” a nickname that captured the corrupt power the company had held over Latin American governments, to “the most socially conscious company in the hemisphere,” according to a well-placed commentator. How did it all go wrong?
Eli and the Octopus traces the rise and fall of an enigmatic business leader and his influence on the nascent project of corporate social responsibility. Born Menashe Elihu Blachowitz in Lublin, Poland, Black arrived in New York at the age of three and became a rabbi before entering the business world. Driven by the moral tenets of his faith, he charted a new course in industries known for poor treatment of workers, partnering with labor leaders like Cesar Chavez to improve conditions. But risky investments, economic recession, and a costly wave of natural disasters led Black away from the path of reform and toward corrupt backroom dealing.
Now, two decades after Google’s embrace of “Don’t be evil” as its unofficial motto, debates about “ethical capitalism” are more heated than ever. Matt Garcia presents an unvarnished portrait of Black’s complicated legacy. Exploring the limits of corporate social responsibility on American life, Eli and the Octopus offers pointed lessons for those who hope to do good while doing business.
table of contents
- 1. Talmid
- 2. An Honest Business
- 3. Pyramids
- 4. Shadows
- 5. Israelite
- 6. Half a Picture
- 7. United, We Fall
“Eli and the Octopus is a deeply informed study of one of the most enigmatic figures to arise in the Mad Men era of merger mania and conglomerate-building. Beyond its inherent tragedy, this story adds richly to our understanding of how corporate America became what it is today.”
—Diana B. Henriques, author of The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust
“Piecing together the Shakespearean saga of rabbi-turned-business tycoon Eli Black, Matt Garcia offers a compelling, cautionary tale on the limits of corporate social responsibility. The unvarnished—but not unsympathetic—portrait is a history with great current relevance.”
-Miriam Pawel, author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography
“A marvelous book that embodies the inherent tension between our religious and ethical senses and the compromised and corrupt business of our daily lives. Eli Black’s rise and fall is but an exaggerated illumination of the human condition.”
—Nelson Lichtenstein, author of State of the Union: A Century of American Labor
“A revelatory exploration of Eli Black and his struggle to remake modern business into a vehicle for positive social change. In a moment of growing inequality and corporate power, Eli and the Octopus could not be more timely or more important.”
—Karl Jacoby, author of The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire
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