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Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness

3.82  ·  Rating Details  ·  722 Ratings  ·  55 Reviews
Howard Hughes has always fascinated the public with his mixture of secrecy, dashing lifestyle, and reclusiveness. This is the book that breaks through the image to get at the man. Originally published under the title Empire: The Life, Legend, and Madness of Howard Hughes.
ebook, 688 pages
Published April 11th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1979)
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Sep 03, 2008 Maureen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Maureen by: George Dean
Shelves: biography
Howard Hughes lived life large. He simply did not exist in the same universe with the rest of the world. His cousin told me about a time that Howard had his car stolen. It was a brand new convertible. Howard told his cousin that he was not upset about losing the car, but about losing the Saturday Evening Post in the back seat. It had a serial in it that he had been reading.

Bartlett and Steele are two fine investigative reporters for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and they are able to wrap their gift
Apr 27, 2016 June rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Money buy wealth one doesn't earn, fame that's an illusion, loyalty without true friendship, public admiration given no empathy; money also allow one pursue self-interest with no concern of others, cultivate human nature to evil growth, disclose the absurdity of life, and make HRH a spectacular loser!
Besides HHMI being the highest honor one can get in life science research as I was raised to admire, Marty and Leo's "Aviator" (supposedly inspired by this book) lured me to dig into HRH's real life
Oct 18, 2013 Luke rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
You know the Simpsons episode where Monty Burns runs a casino and lives in his room, afeared of Freemason-spruiking germs and wearing Kleenex boxes on his feet? Like this:

Well, that's basically the story of Howard Hughes, except Hughes isn't wearing any pyjamas. Oh, and he's jacking enough codeine and Valium to kill the average person. No biggie.

The book is exceptionally well researched - coming from a journalistic background it'd be a surprise if this wasn't the case, I suppose - but to the po
Mar 29, 2008 Tosh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Howard Hughes sort of represents the American dream (nightmare). Talented yet misguided in business affairs. Sort of a dreamer who didn't have a practical bone in his body - yet had his Dad's money to do things.

He wanted to create, yet eventually destroyed everything he put his hands on. The great thing about this book is that they go into the money deals that were made and one wants to shake his shoulders and say to Hughes 'don't do it!"

One of the great things about this book is that they repr
Feb 13, 2016 Dakota rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An exhaustively researched book about a very strange man I knew nothing about. Not a business genius, rather someone who built an empire from the profits of his dad's company and somehow didn't burn through ALL of it. I recommend checking out the abridged version.
Aug 28, 2016 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Megalomaniac, insane business people trying to control your government and public life? Let's start with Howard Hughes as an example (1905-1976).

A friend had reviewed this book, commenting, "(When) we get into the business stuff and the book bogs down for me. It's incredibly well researched--normally that's a plus with me--but it means that there is mind-numbing detail about every single one of Hughes' acquisitions and losses. It's punctuated periodically with much more interesting bits about hi
It's unfortunate Goodreads doesn't let us give half stars, because although it's not a 3 star book, it deserves more than the 2 I gave it.

I'm pretty familiar with Hughes' rise and fall in Hollywood, but I was intrigued enough by this book to pick it up because it tells not just that aspect of his life, but also covers parts of the story I'm less familiar with: how his family came by its wealth, his early life, and his post-Hollywood period.

The biography starts off well. The background of Hughes
Jul 15, 2015 djcb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Biopic about Howard Hughes, the American business tycoon, aviator and perhaps the last Classical Capitalist.

Book was well-researched and gave a good overview of Hughes life; basically, his parent's early death left him with millions which he spent on funding movies and airplanes, both on a almost grotesque scale; in the meantime also making fame flying around in the world in the 1930s when only very few people had done so.

The oil-related business kept on generating huge amounts of cache which he
I became interested in Howard Hughes after seeing 'The Aviator' (edited version)! He was definitely a womanizer and manipulator but you can't deny his courage and determination in both the field of movie production and aviation. The 'Spruce Goose' is on display at an air museum in McMinnville, Oregon which was very close to where we used to live so it had a lot more meaning for me when I got to see the plane after reading about Howard Hughes.
Grindy Stone
Mar 26, 2015 Grindy Stone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive, though at times overly so - a digression into Howard Hughes' alleged roles in Watergate, for instance, added nothing to the reader's understanding of Hughes. Book lays out a lot of the goofy stuff that Howard Hughes did over his lifetime, but leaves it up to you to figure out the motivation for keeping his own urine in jars on the shelf, watching "Shanghai Express" over and over, dictating procedures on how his grilled cheese sandwiches are made - this book is a goldmine of anecdo ...more
Dec 12, 2011 Laurie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies, madness
Good thing I'm reading this 2 weeks until Christmas. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a 700 pg book on aviation and germaphobic warfare. I'm not complaining though. No one can pull off ocd sexier than Howard Hughes.
Jul 31, 2015 Navaara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very long book, over 630 pages, and is single spaced. It does give quite a detailed history of Howard Hughes, some things I could have gone my whole life without knowing. I once had a respect, albeit at arms-length, of HRH, but now I really have no respect for him at all. He was very much what the "1%" are now. Reading this book showed me in detail how the Government is manipulated, from the IRS, FCC, Civil Aeronautics Board, to the White House. Disgraceful! And Hughes was not the firs ...more
Mar 13, 2016 Marian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Originally, I wanted to rate this book with 3 stars because lots of times I had to literally force myself to keep reading sometimes boring and informatively exhausting chapters without any end in sight. It was only after finishing the book that I could really appreciate the value and picture that this book provides. Not only about Howard Hughes, but about politics, governments, big companies and human society in general. As the number of remaining pages was approaching zero, the whole picture su ...more
Dennis Osborne
Boy is this guy weird. After watching The Aviator I was fascinated by this guy. This book does much to dispel the myth around his supposed money making genius. What a terrible business man who micromanaged everything. Everything he touched turned to crap and if not for the company he inherited from his father , he'd of been penniless
This is a classic example of how not to conduct yourself in business.
As for his personal life, we was weirdness personified. This is a very detailed exhibit of his l
Jul 22, 2015 Ted rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Howard Hughes is a fascinating character. Unfortunately these authors have rendered his life story boring by burying the interesting material underneath a mountain of tedium. The book contains endless details about the corporate deals and business executives of the Hughes empire. It contains far less material about Hughes's bizarrely intriguing mind, personality, and lifestyle. I say skip this one and read Citizen Hughes instead.
The authors are Philadelphia newspaper reporters, and the book materially and stylistically reflects this - it is fairly light on the tits and ass, and long on the business dealings. The authors are quite critical of the Mormon Mafia and are not in love with Bob Maheu either. Hughes is portrayed as almost completely incompetent in his last year or two. Written so soon after Hughes's death, certain details are missing (e.g. later developments in the estate battle, and some of the Watergate revela ...more
The guy was definitely a jerk, but you have to have some sympathy for him...he was tormented by his mental problems. It was a perfect storm of an overbearing, germ-phobic mother, a genius intellect, a near-fatal plane crash, lots of money, and a lifetime of yes men who were more than happy to keep the gravy train going. It is disgusting that HH deteriorated for decades and nobody had the common human decency to try to do anything about it. They all lived off him like leeches, and in fact, indulg ...more
Feb 13, 2008 Roy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I find Howard Hughes to have been an utterly fascinating person and this book is about as thoroughly researched as a bio can be. Although I did enjoy it a great deal, I thought it got bogged down in too many details about the many many business dealings that Hughes was involved with, whether directly or those being done in his name. I wanted to learn more about Hughes the man rather than quite so much about his accomplishments and failures as an entrepeneur. I found myself becoming less interest ...more
Dec 15, 2015 Tobe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well-paced book about a fascinating man. He led a truly bizarre life. The authors display great insight to Hughes' personality and psychological decline. I ended up without much respect for Hughes I must say, although his sad end earns him a little sympathy.
David Wen
Never really looked into his history, but never realized how much of a problem he was. Between personal issues and poor management, he basically screwed himself and a lot of people over in the process. Was looking for a more uplifting story I guess.
Apr 01, 2016 Zhihua rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The authors hate Howard Hughes.

I appreciate the authors' effort to collect all the details about the people and the events related, or not related, to Mr. Hughes. But, please, I don't need so much information. A lot of them are useless for me to understand him. Putting all of them into a big book is just wasting of money and reader's time.

Another thing I hate this book is I don't believe that Howard Hughes was all bad. Why did the author spend more time to discuss how Howard Hughes successfully
Tom Hunter
Dec 04, 2014 Tom Hunter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you ever want to read a book that makes you pity a rich person, this is your book. Hughes had the potential for a great life and because of mental illness, he threw it all away. Fascinating.
Edelhart Kempeneers
Ik wist wel dat de man in de laatste 10-20 jaren van zijn leven een wereldvreemde zonderling was geworden, maar dat zijn hele leven een aaneenschakeling was van wanbeleid en omkopingen, dat was nieuw voor mij. Een interessant boek, maar in sommige gedetailleerde beschrijvingen van zijn gedragingen soms toch een beetje langdradig.
Mike  Kelley
Jun 21, 2013 Mike Kelley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

A great story of a deeply gifted and deeply flawed individual. One of those individuals who in retrospect could only have been an American. Handsome playboy, aeronautical engineer, filmmaker, businessman, and billionaire.

Probably the closest this country has come to producing an ubermensch. Hughes left the impression of being a force, an individual so powerful that the challenges which keep us all interested and humble never seemed to exist for him, only those fantastic visions and inspiration
Jan 18, 2016 Adan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Highly detailed biography on Howard Hughes to the point where it's boring and unnecessary information. It does recap some pivotal moments in history though.
Dec 10, 2012 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness is a detailed account of Hughes' business dealings, and his descent into illness and self-imposed isolation. Authoritative and well-researched, it was the first biography of Hughes that I felt explained his major breakdown in 1957, when he spent months in one room watching movies over and over, naked and urinating on the floor. The book is lengthy in places, particularly when discussing the complicated lawsuits involving TWA, but the insight into Hughes' probl ...more
Jan 27, 2008 Krotpong rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been to Howard Hughes' grave in Houston. It is a nondescript little spot near the entrance of the cemetery. You get no indication of what the man was about from his plot. This book fills it all in for you.It stars off with Hughes on his private plane, trying to push a syringe full of Codeine into his feeble junky arm, and from there recounts his whole twisted life. Everyone thinks they know the crazy stories about Howard Hughes, it is a cliche' after all. The (heavily documented) truth is ...more
May 18, 2014 Steven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think I'll have some blue bombers, a few 8E's, then end the day with a big E. Wow Howard Hughes was totally fucking nuts.
Jun 24, 2013 Eric rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: did-not-finish
The writing itself is just fine. Exactly what I would expect and want from a biographer. However, despite what I thought going into the book, and from what I remember of the movie staring the awesome Leo DiCaprio, the subject matter, Mr. Hughes, was awful. The man was, for the most part, a failure. Paranoid, delusional, a generally terrible businessman, bad with people and relationships, selfish, and of course, a drug addict. It became too much of a chore to read this long, detailed book about s ...more
Kathleen Hanes
Feb 13, 2016 Kathleen Hanes rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
(1979) Thus far just read a few engaging pages, but fear this will turn into "a buswoman's holiday."
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