Cantor Fizzle

It was supposed to be one of the fall’s can’t-miss blockbusters: Howard Lutnick’s dramatic account of life at Cantor Fitzgerald in the aftermath of September 11. But then On Top of the World – a HarperCollins book slated to arrive in bookstores on September 17 with a print run of 250,000 – mysteriously never materialized.

It turns out that the hard-charging Lutnick withdrew his name as co-author from the project at the last minute. Not, it seems, in the manner of David Geffen, who infamously fell out with his chosen biographer, Tom King, during the reporting process, but after a draft of the book had been written. HarperCollins will now publish the book in January, written by Lutnick’s co-author and Haverford classmate, novelist Tom Barbash.

Lutnick says he was just too busy to play co-author: “It was intended to be a collaborative thing, but I wasn’t able to participate at the level I wanted to. I thought it was fair for it to be Tom’s book.” Barbash, who’s just published a well-reviewed first novel, The Last Good Chance, also says cheerfully that the break was not acrimonious. “Howard realized he didn’t have the time or energy to write a book. I did.”

Still, Lutnick’s change of heart seems to have come after an intense series of all-night Diet Coke–fueled editing sessions at his Fifth Avenue apartment in late August. The Cantor CEO apparently began to have second thoughts as he pored over virtually every sentence with Barbash and HarperCollins executive editor David Hirshey. “Howard was so busy with Cantor Fitzgerald business that he wasn’t available to work on the book until 10 or 11 p.m.,” says Hirshey, adding that some sessions went until 5 a.m.

“We ran out of time.”

Rumors are swirling that HarperCollins has cut its print run and negotiated a reduction in Lutnick’s reputed $1 million advance. Lutnick dodged the money issue, and HarperCollins senior publicity director Patti Kelly said, “We’re not announcing our marketing plan or our print run now.”

The news will surely disappoint booksellers like Borders, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Howard came to our offices in July, and everyone found him extraordinarily compelling,” says spokeswoman Ann Binkley. Borders was expecting Lutnick to plug the book – as Binkley puts it, “Getting Howard out there is important.”

While Lutnick indicated he’ll help promote the book (his royalties go to the Cantor relief fund), it’s unclear if he’ll actually hit the road for it. Of course, an unauthorized book has the potential to be much more compelling than the brokered version. And HarperCollins may need all the dramatic intrigue it can get: Most 9/11 books are rapidly dropping off the best-seller list.

Cantor: Post 9/11
Howard Lutnick’s Second Life
Days after September 11, Cantor Fitzgerald’s notoriously hard-edged CEO wept and promised a new mission: to take care of the families of his 657 dead employees. Then he stopped their payroll. It was weeks before he was prepared to make good on his promise. Was it a mistake? He still says no. (December 10, 2001)

Hope Checks Out of the Pierre
Walking into the Pierre ballroom, the crowded and chaotic headquarters for the families of missing Cantor Fitzgerald employees, psychiatrist Kerry Sulkowicz braced himself. (September 24, 2001)

September 11, 2001 Coverage

Cantor Fizzle