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August 17, 2020

The BookLife review of Too Good to Be True, Brown’s memoir detailing the 1980s privatization of the Central Arizona Project Water Treatment Plant in Scottsdale, Ariz., praised the book as “useful and often gripping reading for MBAs and executives as well as urban planners and officials.” Additionally, our review described the memoir as expertly evoking “the 1980s era of greed-is-good corporate efforts.”

The events in your book happened almost 40 years ago. Why write about them now?

It was a crucial time in my life. I was struggling to support a family while figuring out who I was and what I should do. That experience is timeless. Now, I’m finally old enough to share it honestly, without embarrassment. It’s a story many have asked about, and now they have my answer.  

With the numerous mistakes and people involved, was it difficult to portray a clear picture of what occurred?

Once I decided to be candid about my motivations and fears, it became an easy story to tell. There are no villains in the story. I wasn’t looking for anyone to blame. I liked the people I worked with and am still in touch with many of them. Luckily, I held on to my diaries and files from those years. That enabled me to reconstruct events and bring them back to life.

Why or how do you think this book is particularly relevant now?

The 1980s was a fascinating and perilous time, especially for an ambitious MBA in corporate America. I survived, but the country still struggles with the ghosts of Reaganism. It’s a perfect time to reexamine how we got here. The “greed-is-good” philosophy was born in the 1980s—and it lives on.

If you could pick anyone to give this book to, who would it be and why?

Well, I have already given the book to many young professional engineers and planners. It’s about a complicated western water project. The readers who enjoy it the most often have an interest in that topic. I hope they take away this message: do not be afraid to attempt bold challenges. The future depends on your creative thinking and actions. Real innovations can’t be achieved without making mistakes along the way. Learning from our failures is essential. I have tried to share what I learned.

What’s next for you?

I am writing a book about my grandfather’s life. It’s a detailed account of an Italian immigrant in America and Canada. He was born in Italy in 1885, arrived in Boston in 1899, and retired as a romance language professor at the University of Toronto in 1956. He also made a few mistakes along the way. He was an inspiration to me during his retirement, and I have been fascinated by his story since I was 17. It’s about time I get that book done.