Monday, February 7, 2011

Kid Carolina

Kid Carolina is a biography of R.J. Reynolds Jr, of R.J. Reynolds tobacco fame. I found this book randomly browsing on Amazon one day.

I like biographies and this one promised a bit of mystery as its subtitle was "R. J. Reynolds Jr., a Tobacco Fortune, and the Mysterious Death of a Southern Icon." I recognized the name R.J. Reynolds and know that the tobacco wealth funded a lot of charitable activities in the South. That's about all I knew though, so I was able to read Kid Carolina without any prior knowledge, which made the book seem really fresh. (Sometimes the non-fiction books I read are on topics similar to ones I've read before and I can get kind of bored. I've started another book on China, but put it down because I feel like I'm reading the same thing over and over again. )

Richard Joshua "Dick" Reynolds had huge amounts of tobacco wealth, but wasn't involved in the R.J. Reynolds corporation. He did, however, get Delta Airlines off the ground and was involved in many different business activities. The real meat of the book was about his personal life though. And what a train wreck it was. Just like any train wreck, it was hard to turn away from the mess that was Reynolds's life.

Reynolds had a drinking problem. He killed a motorcyclist in a DUI when he was only 21. He drank himself to death. Sadly, his alcohol problem seemed to take away from the good he did in his life. He gave lots of money to Wake Forest University and the University of Georgia (my alma mater, I didn't know this fact), he presented some forward thinking ideas during the time he was mayor of Winston-Salem, NC, he created parks, and was a good employer. He was a very talented sailor.

Reynolds was on his forth marriage when he died. He abandoned his kids. He trashed his ex-wives. Really, his personal life was one disaster after another.

Kid Carolina was an interesting read and a warning of the dangers of alcohol abuse. Reynolds was a smart guy and had the world at his fingertips. Unfortunately, all too often, he wasted the opportunities he was given and hurt those around him.

It's hard to say what actually happened with Reynolds's mysterious death, but I thought the author did a good job of showing the different information without drawing too many conclusions. It will definitely keep me wondering.

Good biography of him and social history of the wealth of early-mid century US, interesting whodunit of death, and a morality lesson (good one, not preachy) all wrapped up in one. This one was a winner.

In the wise words of The Notorious B.I.G., "It's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see."

1 comment:

  1. The B.I.G. comment at the end has me singing at my computer!