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A Full Cup: Sir Thomas Lipton's Extraordinary Life and His Quest for the America's Cup Hardcover – July 8, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Michael D’Antonio on The Great Lipton

If he hadn’t been so successful, so rich, and so damn charming, Thomas Lipton would have been truly annoying. No one had a better knack for popping up in the middle of big events and getting his name and picture in the press. The Queen’s Jubilee? Lipton puts on a banquet for 40,000 and earns a knighthood. Admiral Dewey’s return from Manila? There’s Lipton at his side for the daylong parade in New York. War breaks out in the Balkans, and yes, it’s Lipton who recruits doctors and nurses, and steams into the fray at the helm of a hospital ship. The guy was everywhere for half a century, and yet no one tired of seeing him. Indeed, for a time when he wasn’t around, people flocked to the theater to see a look-alike actor play him onstage.

Long before anyone heard of Richard Branson or Larry Ellison or, for that matter, Bill Gates, Thomas Lipton created the persona of the happy captain of industry who used self-promotion, or philanthropy, or sport (he used all three), to become a household name. Before him, no self-made rich man had had so much fun becoming famous. After him, everyone borrowed from the Lipton method. He succeeded because he knew, firsthand, the lives and feelings of the poor and working people who were his customers, and they knew that as improbable as it was, the story he told about himself was almost entirely true.

Born in Scotland to parents who had fled the Irish famine, Lipton spent his early childhood in abject poverty. On a journey to America he learned the tricks of modern retailing and the value of an entertaining stunt. Having returned home to open a chain of groceries, he used pig parades and elephants to draw crowds to his stores. He also dropped leaflets from hot-air balloons, scattered authentic-looking Lipton banknotes in the streets, and commissioned the world’s largest cheeses for his shop windows. After groceries he went into tea, and on the strength of outlandish advertising became the world’s largest supplier. But his greatest stunt was a challenge for the America’s Cup, which became a thirty-year quest that captivated millions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Having parlayed his fame into a profitable friendship with the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, Lipton volunteered when Britain needed a rich man to try for the coveted cup. He spent a fortune on his boat and crew and on parties in New York for the social set. He was thoroughly trounced on the racecourse but spectacularly successful with the press and the public. He would mount four more challenges, losing every time and yet winning more hearts. By the last challenge, he had most of America pulling for him and the great Will Rogers begging his fellow Yanks to just let the old fellow win.

What was it, in the end, that made Lipton so popular? First, he was the antithesis of the robber barons and monopolists who were so hated in his time. Second, with his adventures and philanthropy he used his money the way others imagined they would. Finally, he constructed himself with inspiring and loving attention to detail. Lipton loved being Lipton, and his enthusiasm—he called himself The Great Lipton—was infectious. His few critics said he eventually became the caricature he played for so many years. This was, in fact, true, and it made the man happy for nearly all of his days.

--Michael D'Antonio

From Publishers Weekly

Lipton, the world's first millionaire sportsman, revolutionized the world of tea before sinking millions of dollars into a thwarted quest to win the America's Cup for England. D'Antonio excels at capturing the excitement of the races, and the good sportsmanship that endeared Lipton to America and England both. Lipton seems to have vanished into history, and D'Antonio is to be commended for capturing him so thoroughly but the author falls short in effectively exploring two intriguing, and important, aspects of Lipton's life: His long residence with another man, and his support for Irish independence (while maintaining close ties with English royalty). While D'Antonio does point out that "if Lipton had relationships with men, indiscretion would inevitably mean the loss of his reputation, his business and possibly his freedom," he leaves it at that, suggesting a choice to avoid less savory aspects of Lipton's life and giving the impression that the author is treading water. D'Antonio deserves praise for bringing Lipton's remarkable life to our attention, even if we end up wishing he'd probed further. Photos. (July) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books (July 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159448760X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487606
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Linda Bulger VINE VOICE on August 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Good biographies are about much more than their subjects, and "A Full Cup" is certainly a good and exhaustive biography of Thomas J. Lipton. Here are a few quick facts about "Sir Tea:"

* Born in 1848 in Glasgow, grew up in the slums, went to America as a lad, saved up a grubstake and learned some crazy American commercial ways

* Back in Glasgow he opened a grocery store, advertised it with pig parades, jingles, and other crazy stuff

* Added more stores, MANY stores, integrated vertically by going into meat packing in the U.S. and buying tea plantations in Ceylon

* Had more money than Croesus, was a bigger publicity hound than P.T. Barnum, and (like Forrest Gump) when any big thing happened, he was there

* Hung out with the Prince of Wales (Bertie), later King Edward VII; though being in trade and from the slums, he was never quite comme il faut with the upper class, always "the king's grocer"

* Was never married or known to be in a relationship, and the book suggests that he was homosexual but, with admirable editorial restraint, never mentions it again

* Spent millions of dollars building yachts and mounting five unsuccessful challenges for the America's Cup between 1899 and 1930; America loved him and presented him with a cup for being "the best of all losers"

* Lived the fullness of his years, and though his grocery chain is gone, his tea empire lives on under an international conglomerate

Author and journalist Michael D'Antonio presents Lipton's life in the context of the forces that shaped his success.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
An entertaining, comprehensive biography of Sir Thomas Lipton, who founded the Lipton's retail grocery business in the United Kingdom in the late 19th century, and went on to found the global Lipton's Tea empire that still flourishes today as a Unilever acquisition.

Thomas Lipton's family fled from famine-struck Ireland to Scotland in 1847, only to settle in Glasgow's worst slum, the Gorbals. At age 17, Thomas emigrated to America, where at first he labored in the post-Civil War cotton fields, but later obtained a coveted job at a famous New York City department store, A.T. Stewart's. At A.T. Stewart's, Thomas picked up a bit of retail wisdom that served him well for the rest of his life: "The man who on his trade relies/Must either bust or advertise."

At age 19, Thomas staged a triumphant return (by horse-drawn cab) to his parent's Glasgow home and miniscule grocery shop. Soon after, using his hard-won savings, he opened his first Lipton's grocery. From then on, he applied his advertising genius and amazing entrepreneurial talents to building a chain of successful grocery stores that would always be known for quality goods and low prices.

By age 32, Thomas was a rich man, although he always remained a favorite of commoners on both sides of the Atlantic, even after he became an intimate friend of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward) and regularly associated with millionaires, military heroes, and aristocrats.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is not only an exploration of the life of Sir Thomas Lipton, it is a fascinating exploration of social history, both in the US and the UK. Raised in a slum in Scotland, rising to dizzying heights among the nobs and swells - Sir Thomas led a rich and varied life.

The book is not only a spirited description of the rise of the middle classes and those who enabled such, but also an absorbing story describing the rise of a UK version of Horatio Alger. The details of Lipton's poverty-stricken childhood and his brilliance in assessing a need and filling it - cheap, good quality food stuffs , is beautifully presented in this fine book.

Contrary to the title,the book not only offers a riveting description of one mans quest for a yachting victory, but also allows for a riveting view into the life and times of a fascinating individual.

From giant cheeses, to elephants on parade, dining with the King of England and hobnobbing with American Presidents....this book has it all. Sir Thomas Lipton seems to have invented self-promotion and developed that skill to dizzying heights, yet, he demonstrated a compassionate, honorable and caring side to one and all. This book is well worth the read, a parable of all that can be accomplished with hard work, dedication and a certain flair for life. A highly recommended book!
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Delightful. Detailed biography of a famous man who everyone knew at one time - now he's a drawing on a box of tea, and nobody knows who he is. What a fascinating life he lead with gusto. Hard to believe someone's universal fame could fade so quickly - Hollywood, beware. ;-)
A great read. Terrific photos.
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