Cover: Eli and the Octopus: The CEO Who Tried to Reform One of the World’s Most Notorious Corporations, from Harvard University PressCover: Eli and the Octopus in HARDCOVER

Eli and the Octopus

The CEO Who Tried to Reform One of the World’s Most Notorious Corporations

Product Details


$27.95 • £24.95 • €25.95

ISBN 9780674980808

Publication Date: 04/18/2023


280 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

12 photos, 4 maps


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An engaging chronicle of an idealistic but flawed businessman as well as a dissection of the postwar merger craze with no small relevance to today.—Roger Lowenstein, Wall Street Journal

Garcia’s portrayal of Black is sympathetic and somewhat rueful, finding pathos in the disconnect between Garcia’s ‘good intentions’ and the inevitability that the ‘imperatives of turning a profit and serving investors’ would outweigh ‘any virtuous impulse.’ The result is a plaintive study of the challenges of trying to change a system from within.Publishers Weekly

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 gripping story worth telling. In this deeply researched book, Garcia weaves together American Jewish history, American business history, and American labor history, all through the many lives of a remarkable and ultimately tragic individual.—Hasia R. Diner, author of Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World

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

In this riveting tale of United Fruit’s Eli Black, Garcia walks right into the center of business history, adds union power into the mix, and shows the impossibility of pursuing both corporate profits and social responsibility. Black wanted to believe that his private machinations were for the public good, in keeping with his Jewish faith. But meatpacking workers in the Midwest, the United Farm Workers in California, and banana workers in Honduras—all of which Garcia links in a seamless narrative—paid the price for Black’s market-driven policies. Eli and the Octopus is a powerful and cautionary tale of the true nature of corporate strategy, however well-meaning the outrageously wealthy who pursue it.—Dana Frank, author of The Long Honduran Night

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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