American Business Leaders. Neil Hamilton. ABC-CLIO CD-ROM, 1998. System Requirements: Windows 95, or Windows NT 4.0 (with service pack 3), Pentium-compatible processor running @ 75 MHz or faster, 16MB RAM, hard drive with at least 10MB free recommended, SVGA monitor (640 x 480, 256 colors), Windows-compatible mouse or pointing device, 4X CD-ROM drive, 16-bitsound card. MAC: System 7.5.3 or later, 68040/33 MHz or PowerPC/60 MHz processor or faster, 16MB RAM, hard drive with at least 10MB free recommended, 14-in. monitor (640 x 480, 256 colors), 2X CD-ROM drive.

From the ABC-CLIO Web site and
American Business Leaders.
CD-ROMs may not necessarily affect encyclopedia content, but they certainly transform one's ability to cull information from these reference sources. ABC-CLIO's American Business Leaders, written by historian Neil Hamilton, is an excellent example. The disk contains biographies of more than 400 major figures in American business history. Though the entries' substance are not particularly notable, the CD-ROM allows for a variety of ways to search the database that can aid research projects in American social, business, and labor history.

Los Angeles Times publisher
Harrison Gray Otis. From
American Business Leaders.
The basis of American Business Leaders is the individual biographies themselves. They include 413 personalities spanning virtually every time period and economic sector. Each occupies several detailed paragraphs, and offers a comprehensive sketch of the figure's life and significance in American business history. The vignettes provide what can be considered minor points of interpretation, though they generally put forth arguments of such breadth and common acceptance that while some may be considered incomplete, few will find any of them particularly controversial. The biography of Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis, for instance, mentions both his notable publishing history as well as his fierce anti-union activities. Each biography ends with a brief bibliography, most of which are extremely limited and not helpful for those seeking detailed studies of or sources about the figure. The bibliography for Harrison Otis, for example, ignores detailed scholarship on his life and enterprises and instead simply lists David Halberstam's The Powers That Be.

Map of New York State.
From American Business Leaders.
Each entry contains hypertexts of key words which lead readers to a useful glossary. Relevant maps are also included, along with the ability to view the person's life on a timeline of business history. Those reading about Samuel Kress and his dime store empire, for instance, can look at a map of Pennsylvania, or read definitions of "Stock," "textiles," and "corporations." The timeline feature is not particularly useful. It simply lists other biographies in the same period alongside a graph of major events in political history.

Various search engines on the CD-ROM not only make this reference tool easier to use, but shed much light on the collection's focus and perspectives. The basic search tool is a name index. Readers can scroll through an alphabetical list, from Revolutionary-era merchant and businesswoman Mary Alexander to 20th-century real estate developer William Zeckendorf. The name index also provides readers a brief summary of each figure. A subject search is also included which encompasses dozens of descriptors ranging from advertising (which produces 74 names) to World War II (which produces 65 names).

Subject index. From American Business Leaders.
Key terms range from time periods and type of industry to items such as religion and "employee-friendly practices." This latter search produces 27 names about which the person's employee relations are discussed. One could at first view the positive title of the list with suspicion, but the accounts are moderately balanced. Henry Ford, for instance, is lauded for paying his workers well, but the sketch also critiques his moralistic paternalism.

An "attribute search" allows readers to peruse the database by the categories of occupation, dates of birth and death, gender, ethnicity, and place of birth. One can imagine students and scholars finding these types of searches valuable for a variety of research projects. They also make the group's demographics easy to study. In fact, more notable than the collection's content may be questions of who was and was not included. Any effort to create a list of "the nation's business leaders" will necessarily be incomplete, and this collection of 413 is no exception. The group is a good example of the traditional canon of American business history. The list privileges Eastern firms, and leans heavily on the twentieth century. Manufacturers and financiers are the most represented groups with 172 and 82 entries, respectively. Agriculture garnered only 16 biographies, and entertainment only 12. The selection is a largely white male group. Only eight of the 413 entries are persons of color, and only 24 are women.

African-American biographies listing.
From American Business Leaders.
ne can of course argue effectively that white males from Eastern manufacturing firms should dominate a list of significant figures in American business history. What becomes problematic about this assertion, however, is when such lists serve to make invisible and limit knowledge about the far wider assortment of players in America's economic development. An Wang, founder of Wang laboratories, is certainly not the only significant Asian American businessperson in this nation's history, but he is the only one included here. Similarly, there have been more than one Hispanic and six African Americans who "have played significant roles in American business history." Angel Kwolek-Folland's new book, Incorporating Women, also finds far more than the 24 women who occupy this database. Such critiques are, of course, easy to make, and I do not assert that this is inherently an unreasonable list. But it is an incomplete slice which focuses only on the most chronicled and visible moments in American business history, and any use of it should be careful to keep that in mind.

As a reference tool, this is an important and valuable work. It is easy to use and contains a rich collection of biographies, maps, and timelines. These along with notebook and bookmark features will serve well history and business students.

Clark Davis
La Sierra University, Riverside, CA

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CD-ROM Review of ABC-CLIO American Business Leaders
Copyright © 1999 by The Journal for MultiMedia History

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