Book Review: Born Losers

“‘Nobody wins.’

This may be a core truth, but it’s usually ignored or scanted by historians and social scientists, for whom triumph is an irresistible story and who tend to write about losers only when they go down in spectacular flames: Napoleon at Waterloo, Hitler in the bunker, Sonny Liston flat on the mat. Yet though the losses and setbacks with which most of us are familiar rarely are dramatic, they are intensely human and have a lot to say about us as individuals and about the society in which we live. They are stories that deserve to be told.

Which is what Scott Sandage has attempted to do in Born Losers. By examining the lives and careers of a number of businessmen who failed during the 19th century, he portrays what we reflexively think of as the dark side of the American dream but what is, in reality, an only slightly exaggerated mirror of the reality with which ordinary people — i.e., thee and me — are fated to contend.” (Washington Post)