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A TYCOON’S TALE: The life and times of Fiat supremo Gianni Agnelli, who died in 2003, will be the subject of an upcoming book by London-based Vendeline von Bredow, a business correspondent for The Economist and a distant Agnelli relation. The book, which is to be published by Penguin in the U.K. and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in the U.S., is technically an authorized biography, as the family is cooperating fully, but von Bredow promises it won’t be a hagiography of the dapper billionaire. “Yes, I intend to be gentle and discreet, but I will produce a credible book,” she said. “It will be comprehensive and truthful. There have been a lot of false things written about Agnelli over the years,” added the author, who’s talked to a host of Agnelli friends and family members, including Margherita Agnelli de Pahlen, the tycoon’s only daughter, who is currently battling with her family to uncover the extent of Gianni’s foreign assets and full net worth. “Margherita adored her father, and is very much on board,” said von Bredow.
She has also interviewed Henry Kissinger, one of Agnelli’s closest friends, who regularly attended Juventus soccer matches with him, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Oscar and Annette de la Renta, Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, Lord Jacob Rothschild and David Somerset, the Duke of Beaufort. The author herself has distant links to the family: Her great-uncle, Prince Tassilo von Furstenberg, was married to Gianni’s eldest sister Clara. Tassilo was the father of the late Egon von Furstenberg. In fact, it was Egon’s son, Alex von Furstenberg, who introduced von Bredow to John Elkann, one of Agnelli’s grandsons, the vice chairman of Fiat, and heir to the family empire. Elkann approached von Bredow about writing the biography in late 2007.
While von Bredow said any bombshell revelations are “unlikely,” she added there are a lot of “small, unknown things” that will add to her portrait of Agnelli, who does not yet have a proper English-language biography. Until now, the best-known English-language book about the billionaire has been Alan Friedman’s 1989 book “Agnelli and the Network of Italian Power,” which focused more on business and politics, rather than on the star of the show. — Samantha Conti