Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dawson Black: Retail Merchant by Harold Whitehead

I have to admit that when I saw the title of this book at Project Gutenberg, I thought it was going to be a parody of some sort, the title playing in my head as read by a deep-voiced radio announcer. But the introduction by author Harold Whitehead quickly put that idea to rest, as it was obvious that this assistant professor of Business Method at the College of Business Administration at Boston University had serious intentions: to illustrate to those who feel that business is not a place for creative endeavor that the opposite is in fact true.

Whitehead does his job admirably in what is, I believe, his only novel. It is hard to find much information about him online, but he seems to have been best known for his nonfiction writing on business, including a popular, long-running column called "The Business Career of Peter Flint" (a collection of which is advertised in this book's pages).

Dawson Black: Retail Merchant is the story of a young and ambitious businessman, tired of working as a clerk, who buys a local hardware store. Black is a clever fellow full of creative marketing ideas, and the story shows his varying levels of success as he learns business management, sales, and advertising the hard way: on the job. His direct competitor, Stigler, is not happy about his new competition, however, and is determined to knock the youngster down a few pegs.

Luckily, Black left his previous employer (Barlow, the market leader by a long shot) on good terms, and the kindly gent is free with guidance. Black also has his highly supportive wife, Betty, to comfort and advise him as well.

Whitehead tells an absorbing yarn of drummers, jobbers, and endless opportunities told through the first-person experience of the title character. Dawson Black: Retail Merchant is one of the best books I've read this year, both in its narrative energy and its informative power.

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