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How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else Hardcover – September 20, 2007

384 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The son of New Yorker writer Brendan Gill grew up meeting the likes of Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway. A Yale education led to a job at prestigious J. Walter Thompson Advertising. But at 63, the younger Gill's sweet life has gone sour. Long fired from JWT, his own business is collapsing and an ill-advised affair has resulted in a new son and a divorce. At this low point, and in need of health insurance for a just diagnosed brain tumor, Gill fills out an application for Starbucks and is assigned to the store on 93rd and Broadway in New York City, staffed primarily by African-Americans. Working as a barista, Gill, who is white, gets an education in race relations and the life of a working class Joe . Gill certainly has a story to tell, but his narrative is flooded with saccharine flashbacks, when it could have detailed how his very different, much younger colleagues, especially his endearing 28-year-old manager, Crystal Thompson, came to accept him. The book reads too much like an employee handbook, as Gill details his duties or explains how the company chooses its coffee. Gill's devotion to the superchain has obviously changed his life for the better, but that same devotion makes for a repetitive, unsatisfying read. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Yale graduate, prosperous ad exec: Gill has it all. Then he turns 60 and finds himself precipitously bounced from his job and saddled with the triple threats of a ruined marriage, an unexpected newborn, and a brain tumor. Despairing at the prospect of looming poverty, he stops at a Manhattan Starbucks to comfort himself with a latte. By chance he sits down next to Crystal, a young African American woman recruiting new workers for the coffee giant, and she offers him a job. Almost as an act of desperation, he accepts, and he dons the uniform of a barista-in-training at an Upper West Side Starbucks. This son of privilege who had hobnobbed with Queen Elizabeth, T. S. Eliot, and Jackie Onassis, now keeps daily company with a diverse crew of brash young New Yorkers for whom Starbucks' progressive employee benefits and demanding, inspiring standards of public service offer hope. Gill starts at the bottom, cleaning the bathroom, and he has trouble mastering the cash register. Over the months he learns to deeply respect Crystal, to appreciate the mutual support of his coworkers, and to genuinely cherish the passing parade of customers, each unique. To his own astonishment, he realizes that he actually looks forward joyfully to every hectic, exhausting workday. Other corporate giants can only envy the sheer goodwill that this memoir will inevitably generate for Starbucks. What a read. Knoblauch, Mark

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham (September 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592402860
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592402861
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (384 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Gates Gill was born with all the material advantages that America can offer, with an acclaimed New Yorker staff writer for a father, and spent his childhood surrounded by famous intellectuals and socially connected people. After graduating from Yale he was given a job with the help of a classmate as a Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, the most successful and largest advertising agency in the world. Then after 25 years of devoting his life to work, he was suddenly fired and his life at the top of the American establishment became derailed. He found himself broke, his marriage dissolving, learned he needed a brain operation, and was desperately looking for work to help support his five children. Then he found a job at Starbucks where he still works as a barista.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

122 of 134 people found the following review helpful By John Leighton on September 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This is the story of a wealthy ad executive who is laid off (in a case of blatant ageism) and must then turn to finding an hourly job at Starbucks to make ends meet. He has the classic rich Manhattanite life trajectory: private school, Ivy League, corporate job with lots of income. He does spend a lot of time away from family though, which prefigures events to come later. He is, both through the reader's own instinct and his telling us so, one of those New Yorkers who has never really met middle class people. It's a sheltered life, but comfortable.

Gill tells his story well and doesn't hold back on the self-deprecation, not at all. His divorce came about for the understandable reason that he met a single, 40ish woman into the arts who lived alone. Mysterious enough for you? So, intrigued and feeling emotionally unmoored with no job, he has an affair and fathers a child. His family is understandably devastated, and the scenes in this memoir of them are wrenching.

Thrown out of the house, with no job, his money runs out and he must learn to be middle class from nearly scratch. He decides Starbucks would work when he reflects how he spends times there and when the local manager and him have one of those conversations blacks and whites have that sound mistrustful but are actually seeking closeness and racial harmony.

From there, Gill confronts all the things that he'd never learned to do; like the simple self-satisfaction of work, independent living, how to handle solitude, and getting to know people unlike himself. Time and again, Gill points out how his pre-fall opinion of someone and how wrong he was, and his post-fall new, more mature appreciation of them.
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79 of 88 people found the following review helpful By daSBUX1 on October 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michael Gates Gill's "How Starbucks Saved My Life" is a riches to rags, fish out of water story about a once privileged sixty-something guy who works as a lowly Barista and learns lots of lessons.

I got the feeling Gill wrote his memoir and then plugged Starbucks in as it fit. About 20% of the book happens at Starbucks. The rest is devoted to lambasting the advertising industry (they fired Gill), to family and personal tales (often about how clever Gill was as an advertising account manager), and to dozens of dropped names (e.g., tea with Queen Elizabeth, coffee klatch with Robert Frost, assisting Jackie Kennedy in a charitable endeavor, etc.)

The book is about life changes for Gill, but often his epiphanies are over the top. For instance, only after he loses his job, is divorced twice, goes broke and starts work as a Barista does he discover that subways are crowded, that a black woman can run a successful business, that advertising is different from retail, and that a workaholic doesn't spend enough time with his children.

His Starbucks experiences are also over the top. He cherry picks the good stuff, and leaves the impression he is designing an advertising campaign for Starbucks. Gill proclaims that Starbucks "taught" him the value of teamwork, respect for others, the value of hard labor, and how rewarding the simple life can be. Conveniently, the book is a perfect personal size that will fit cozily in a Starbucks product display.

Having worked at Starbucks for several years, I know that the good things Gill experienced resulted less because of Starbucks and more because of the special people he chanced to work with. When I worked with great people, the experience was good; when my partners were un-great the experience could be awful.
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78 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Suraci on September 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I really liked this book. I found it to be a light, entertaining read. I enjoyed the conversational tone and the glimpse at Starbucks behind the scenes. The more I read, the more I liked the characters and felt drawn into their world. You know a book is good when you're disappointed that it's over. It's a book you will definitely want to share with friends.

I was fortunate to meet the author during his current book tour. Like his writing, he is engaging, candid and fun. His message is refreshing in that he feels happier now with far less.
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72 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Kent Ponder on November 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Though I'm not even a coffee drinker, much less a Starbucks frequenter, I've chosen to review this book for two reasons: (1) my strong sense of kinship with the author (though I've never met or spoken with him); (2) my desire to offset the cynically negative reviews here by reassuring readers of the book's essential genuineness (despite its recurrent sales-pitch-for-Starbucks tone).

As you'll read in more detail in other reviews here, Gill claims to have stepped "down" from his Yale and top-ad-exec background, to don a Starbucks apron, serving coffee and cleaning sinks and toilets. Could this have really happened? Could a sane man really be happy with such a swaperoo of lifestyles? I think so.

With my experience as an academic researcher, I've taken the time to check out Gill's background and general credibility. Why would I do that? Because this book's less-is-more message, and manual-work-is honorable message, are so important for our times. Many of the negative Amazon reviews here are cynical about Gill's alleged motives, snide about his professed new attitude toward African Americans with menial jobs, and dubious about his claimed contentment with manual labor following his ivy-league career.

But my somewhat similar experiences tell me that Gill's claims ring true. I've lived and taught in New York and know the neighborhoods he describes. I've researched his executive background, read Joyce Wadler's NY Times article with photos of the Bronxville mansion, etc. Is his professed happiness with far less money and prestige credible? I think so. First, everything about him consistently checks out. And then there's my own analogous experience. After my Ph.D. done at Stanford, Yale and Georgetown, my teaching at the US Naval Academy, etc.
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