Li Ka-shing, widely regarded as one of the richest men in the world, is the subject of extraordinary veneration in Hong Kong. When mentioned in conversation, balding 68-year-old Mr Li is treated with a respect verging on reverence. Over the years he has been given a string of flattering nicknames including 'Superman', 'Mr Money', 'Taipan Li', and the 'King of Plastic Flowers'. When faced with this wall of veneration, what most of us are crying out for is a book that offers a more objective view. Anthony Chan's biography fails to do so. Rather than a searching account of what makes Mr Li tick, Hong Kong's Elusive Billionaire is another votive offering at the Li shrine. A look at the adjectives used to describe Mr Li in this book provides ample evidence. He is alternatively described as brave, honest, sensitive, thrifty, loyal, intuitive, expansive, trustworthy, having an 'aura of omnipotence', and being a 'key barometer of the erratic upturns and downturns of business in the colony'. All the central tenets of the Li myth are here - his early days as a budding plastic flower entrepreneur, his modest tastes including his $50 Citizen watch and plastic-soled shoes, and that he is only paid $650 a year in director's fees. Chan gets carried away here - Mr Li is paid more like $55,000 a year. More importantly, there is no mention of the millions in dividend payments he receives annually. Chan does mention what many consider to be the major blemish on Mr Li's record - the controversial insider dealing charges levelled against him in 1986. But the issue is not dwelt on in much detail and Mr Li is painted as having 'taken the fall' for Wang Guangying, a brother-in-law of Liu Shaoqi , who had approached Mr Li about the property deal that led to the charges. 'Whatever the smudge on Li's record,' Chan concludes, 'he evidently would never suffer in business dealings because of it.' Apart from its sycophantic tone, the biography fails to inspire in other ways. The story of Mr Li, who arrived in pre-war Hong Kong as a shoeless 14-year-old and who now heads a $60 billion corporate empire, ought to make riveting reading. Here it is somehow flat. Rather than digging deeper into what makes his subject tick, Chan chooses to record, step by exacting step, the business ventures which Mr Li used as rungs up the corporate ladder. From reading the biography it appears that Chan has simply collated press articles and synthesised them into a life history. No interview with Mr Li, nor anyone closely connected with him, appears to have been undertaken to add depth. However, there are one or two events which Chan gives a more detailed treatment and which as a result linger longer in the memory. Both deal as much with Mr Li's two sons as with the tycoon himself. The first is the purchase of the Vancouver Expo 86 site, orchestrated by Mr Li and his eldest son Victor. The deal, signed in 1988, met with heavy opposition from people in Vancouver, many of whom thought the government had sold the site too cheaply. The Lis toughed it out despite the furore - and despite Victor's standing being tarnished for selling a block of flats to Hong Kong investors rather than Canadians. Another well-constructed section deals with the creation of STAR TV by the Li group in 1990, and its sale to Rupert Murdoch three years later. The section includes an uncharacteristically critical depiction of Mr Li's younger son Richard, appointed to head the satellite broadcaster. 'Though he would win his share of admirers,' Chan writes, 'he would also gain a reputation for being relentlessly ambitious, supercilious and patronising, his frequently abrasive operating style making for a brittle relationship with staff and colleagues.' Chan's ardent nationalism bubbles to the surface in several historical asides. The British receive a number of stinging rebukes, from their role in the opium wars to their reputed hypocrisy in contesting China's version of democracy for Hong Kong. Far more invective is reserved for the Japanese. One wonders if it was really necessary to include a four-page discourse about the Japanese soldiers' 'Rape of Nanjing' in a book about a Hong Kong businessman. Despite its faults, the punters are apparently lapping it up. A friend who works at Oxford University Press said this is one of its best-selling books in Hong Kong.