Brazillionaires: Wealth, Power, Decadence, and Hope in an American Country by Alex Cuadros: A review

The photo that accompanied the New Republic`s review of `Brazillionaires` perfectly captures the essence of Brazil during one of the country`s most challenging times. The photo showed bathing beauties catching some rays perched next to a 5 star hotel`s roof-top poolside. The nonchalant bikini-clad girls were juxtaposed with a photograph of a crowd at street level vehemently protesting against the Government during the 2013 winter of discontent. Rio de Janeiro is burning! Quick pass the sunscreen. A tale of two cities redux.

Get ready for a journey that will take you on a white knuckled ride that goes from palace to shanty town (favela/comunidade) in a heart beat. The author has a historian`s eye for detail but his delivery is fast paced and compelling.

The author`s brilliance is that after painstaking research he has endeavored to `join the dots` between various time-periods and a cast of billionaires during Brazil`s turbulent history. The author openly offers his personal opinion regarding the commonality of the super-rich even though they hail from very different backgrounds ranging from elected politicians, military dictators, evangelists, media men, super-market magnates to white shoe private-equity bankers.

The tale seamlessly blends the author`s experiences from the corporate helicopters and penthouse board-rooms reserved for the elite to the public buses and urban slums where the majority of Brazilians inhabit. The author earned my respect by reporting from his personal experiences direct from the tear-gassed streets of Av Paulista during the protests.

The author usefully includes benchmarks for North America readers to appreciate that Brazil is indeed a land of superlatives. The vastness of the land described in his courageous bus trips, the frustration of weaving through government bureaucracy and the immense wealth of his targeted subjects are all captured here. E.g Bible thumping Edir Macedo (founder of Igreja Universal) is compared with Oral Roberts and local media moguls, `the Marinhos` are compared with Rupert Murdoch; btw the Brazilians are much richer and influential. But the star of this captivating soap opera is reserved to relating the rise and fall of ex-billionaire Eike Batista, once the world`s 7th richest man…no one has ever lost so much money so quickly.

The book starts with a headline grabbing tabloid story which may appear to be frivolous to the reader, but the book comes around full-circle and the closing page offers a poignant personal opinion of what really led to that same event.

I am a huge fan of the book/author but the criticisms that I reluctantly offer is that certain billionaires were completely excluded e.g. the bad boy banker Daniel Dantas. More time could have been spent on the Safras — the deadly fire in Monaco and the Safra`s purchase of Swiss Re`s London Gherkin probably deserved inclusion. Christina Onassis also lived for a short period in Sao Paulo and it would have been interesting to read about who attended her Court.

I myself am a native of Trinidad & Tobago, attended University in the UK and hopped around Puerto Rico, Germany, Argentina, Mexico before making Brazil my home in 1997. Even after living 19 years between Sao Paulo & Rio de Janeiro I was able to learn a great deal from Brazillionaires. For me it was an eye-opening, spellbinding, page turner. Right now with the economic/political challenges, there is an exodus of the ex-pat community fleeing Brazil. The wounded executives then whine that things were just too hard, nothing worked, there was too much red-tape, everything was too expensive, taxes are exorbitant, the business community was a closed network, blatant corruption prevailed, no one was professional, the longest business plans never exceed 12 months etc.. I would especially recommend `Brazillionaires` to any executive who is thinking of moving to Brazil. I hope that they might understand, as Tom Jobim once quipped, that Brazil is not for amateurs.

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