The Build-Up Boys by Jeremy Kirk (a pen name for Richard Powell) originally published in 1951
Somewhere along the way, TV developed the formula for a good type of show: have ridiculously smart and pretty people work at a high level in some insanely competitive field (legal, medicine, law enforcement) by creating and executing incredibly complex long-term strategies for personal or professional gain while never missing an obscure piece of evidence or detail as they engage in speed dialogue with each other and their adversaries where no super-smart quip is ever missed, long philosophical speeches are spit out extemporaneously and no one ever wishes they had said the smart thing later as it's always said at the time.
Oh, and all these good-looking people have sex with each other if their show runs long enough. "The Practice" might have been the first one of these shows that I ever saw, but there are many shows like it as it's a proven formula that's kept series like Grey's Anatomygoing for seventy five seasons.
The only problem is if they don't humanize the characters - don't give them faults and traits we recognize in ourselves and others, don't have them fail at big and small things now and then and act stupid and petty at times - after a season or two (or less), the shows can feel soulless. This is why so many of those characters are given drug or alcohol addictions or the inability to sustain loving relationships as, otherwise, they just become big, boring successful brains sitting on the shoulders of very attractive people.
Okay, that's a long TV-inspired introduction to a book from 1951 when most of TV was, well, not good at all other than, for us today, in a cultural curio way. But this book anticipated all those "smart" shows that were coming decades later. In The Build-Up Boys, we see a handsome public relations man, Clint Lortimer, take an obscure and insecure head of a small dairy company and turn him into a "Captain of Industry" in charge of one of the largest dairy consortiums in the country who, now, is being considered to lead a major government war-recovery program.
Back then, public relations was seen as an offshoot of advertising where you "built up" a client by creating an incredible public image for him or her, while also boosting his or her self confidence. Think of it as combining the flummery of advertising with the cynicism of false flattery. It's all that, but as we saw in Mad Men, it's also a cutthroat business that - when fictionalized, as it is here - has super-smart people hyper competing ruthlessly for clients, copy, connections and power.
Clint jousts with both his ex-boss - an "old pro" who would sooner give up one of his children than an account and who, effectively, exiles Clint from New York (where "anyone who is anyone works") - and his new boss - a (sexually smoldering) middling female ad exec whom Clint builds-up (sleeps with) and then can't control. Along the way, newspaper stories are fabricated (as Clint schmoozes or seduces women reporters), promotional contests are created out of whole cloth and congressional appearances are turned into victories through back-dated stock certificates and brazen lies.
It all happens because the "winners" create incredibly sophisticated long-term strategies that - contrary to the real world - work most of the time. Simultaneously, they engage in rapid-fire conversation that never misses a beat as every brickbat that could be said is while some life-philosophy is mixed in on the fly - and, of course, they all sleep with each other.
In the end, the characters - Clint, his old and new boss and the female reporter he seduced (discarded and brought back, who, then, turned the tables on him) - are, like the reader, exhausted. Yes, similarly to the lead character from the TV show House, these people live for "the game," but occasionally come up for air to see that their lives are missing something - anything - truly soul satisfying. But these brief moment of personal reflection are not enough to make them fully humanized / to make them regular people with faults and foibles / to make them three-dimensional characters.
It's a quick enough read that it's almost, but not quite, over before you end up hating all of them - usually something that leaves me cold to a book. But like the TV shows noted earlier, it is an, overall, entertaining ride and, for us today, interesting to see as an antecedent to an entire genre of TV shows. And if you hate business - especially advertising and public relations - and politicians, you'll feel right at home.