on January 5, 2012
Having lived in the seemingly harnessing shadow of my own father's underachieving anonymity, it was interesting to get a glimpse of an heiresses' vulnerability from her own unique perspective.
What really brought me to this book was I recently read her father's book "why should white guys have all the fun?" which I loved and couldn't put down. This book by his youngest daughter, reminded me of a Malcolm Gladwell type exposé and after reading this book it actually, to me, adds to the allure and mystique of her iconic father. He had a vision rooted with self belief. He was a genius not in scholarly measurement, but in visualizing and following through with unfaltering belief,regardless of the mindset of those around him.
I've also recently read the Steve Jobs biography and there are definitely some parallels in these titans, as I think Reginald Lewis also possessed his own version of the reality distortion field. It is showcased in this book in how he "arranged" the seemingly miraculous way he entered Harvard. I'm not sure if anyone has ever done this before or since? I think there is the potential for a further book on the power of such unwavering belief in self and how it correlates to groundbreaking success. The colorful way the author's Uncle James sums up these unique traits just seems to scratch the surface of the true genius in this type of ability to accomplish what others deem impossible that both Mr. Lewis and Mr. Jobs possessed.
This was an enjoyable read, and I congratulate the author for believing in her own voice.
on January 3, 2012
This is a great combination of memoir and journalism, a deeply personal and fearless return to the place where Reginald Lewis, at one time the "richest black man in America," got his break and left the segregated world he'd grown up in to attend a special summer program for black students at Harvard Law School. The author finds some surprises--her late father's grades, for one--and she unflinchingly explores his legacy, her own self-consciousness about her achievements, and the burden of her father's success story on a child for whom doors historically closed were open. It's rare to find writing this insightful about race and privilege in America, and my only complant is that it isn't longer! I hope the author turns this start into a book.
on January 3, 2012
I was drawn to read it as it described anxiety, self-consciousness and doubt from a self-described billionaire heiress. No way! It was a naive reaction on my part, how can it be when she was raised with all the priveleges that money can buy?
But, like any teenager who loses her father at an early age, even if raised by a nurturing mother, anxieties, self-consciousness and doubt set in.
In this beautiful memoir chapter (it felt so short to read in just an hour), Christina Lewis Halpern had recreated the memorable parts not just of her life, but that of her father, whose sheer will and inner confidence propelled him to the top of a white bread society.
I read the book about her father entitled "Why Should White Guys have all the fun?" and it was the love story between her mom and dad that emboldened me to write to Loida Nicolas Lewis. I sat in my sofa for two nights straight to finish the book, and after reading the book, I cried at not knowing this man whose incredible personality was felt within the book pages. Loida graciously replied. It gave me a different view of "folks at the top".
Christina Lewis Halpern did the same with this clipped book memoir. She is quite a storyteller, almost as big in her skill of writing what is needed to portray the "bigness" of Reginald Lewis' personality, but not quite the depth of civic activism and philanthropy of his wife, Loida Lewis.
Read this, it is honest in revealing how race intersects not just our status in society, but how we are affected in how we view ourselves, irrespective of class or origins.
And even after we can say he succeeded, and imagine it to be as big as Reginald Lewis' personality enabled it, some corners of his universe invariably felt 'less than' to embrace his monstrously huge achievement, inconceivable by smaller imaginations, nurtured by the segregated thinking of that time, and even perhaps still alive in our current race-structured society, that is unable to fully embrace the magnitude of contributions, by our current President Barack Obama.
It demonstrates how race, a social construction that structurally benefits one race over another, that even if institutionally reformed on the outside, will not necessarily fully reflect what was truly achieved from within.
Achievements will still be doubted and the narrative of success will always be redefined to minimize a person of color's huge undertaking, after all, all the odds were stacked against him to climb to the top, how could he have done it?
This book relates the interior story of Reginald Lewis, while Christina did the hard work of retracing his journey, she came into more of her own!
Now I am wondering why there is no movie about Reginald Lewis and his wife, Loida and their two daughters? It would truly be a cultural bridge and a class-intersecting story as well!
Thank you for this beautifully written chapter!
on March 6, 2012
It can't be easy being the child of a very academic, very famous, successful and very wealthy parent especially when the child's own self-confidence lacks, as Christina Lewis Halpern reveals in her Kindle Single, "Lonely at the Top." She felt that she was always in the shadow of her father, Reginald Lewis, who was the first black American to own a billion dollar business. Her father was admitted to Harvard Law School, coming from East Baltimore, and admitted without applying. Years later, his daughter would be accepted to Harvard, but through the proper channels of applying and getting the notice of acceptance in the early morning mail.
This is a wonderful memoir about Christina's own self-doubt and about her place in the world as a black woman, seeking many answers to questions about the days of segregation, statistics on the numbers of blacks admitted to Harvard over the years, and especially questions that she had concerning her father's time at Harvard. Christina was 12 years old when her father died at age 50.
Reginald Lewis always encouraged his children to do their very best and in that way they would succeed at whatever it was they were doing. When the family lived in France, Christina was required to take Japanese in elementary school. Her report card showed an A for effort, but A wasn't her final grade for the subject of Japanese. When her father saw the A for effort, he considered it an A in the course. One's best effort was what counted.
Christina did a fine job with her writing of the story she told in this short memoir. I'd love to read more by her and plan on reading her father's book, too. There is so much to learn through writing at this level, especially when memoirs are full of life lessons and inspiration like this one is, and for all of her self-doubt, Christina Lewis Halpern need not have worried so much, because she had the ability of a fine writer all along.
on January 4, 2012
Christina Lewis Halpern's memoir takes us into a rarefied world. Her father, Reginald Lewis, dragged himself up from his childhood on an unpaved street in East Baltimore to Harvard Law to being owner of a billion-dollar global food conglomerate and one of the world's richest black men. She grew up brilliant, beautiful and privileged in Paris and New York, never quite sure whether her Harvard College admission resulted from her own scholarly achievements (substantial), her race (she's a two-fer, with a Filipina mother to go with the black father), or her dad's ability to donate a building to the law school. Disclosure: I knew Reg Lewis in my role as the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal and, more than a decade after his untimely death (he 50, she 12), encountered daughter Christina as a highly promising young reporter and writer at the paper. This lovely work shows that promise being fulfilled before our eyes. Through interviews of his contemporaries, she learns how he parlayed bluff and pluck, brains and luck to push himself into the vanguard of young black men clambering through a narrow window of opportunity opened by the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It proves easier for her to understand him than to learn just who she is and wants to be. But she makes a good start, and takes us along for the ride, anecdote after anecdote, some playful, some painful. We feel her frustration tinged by guilt when her mom interrupts her graduation good-byes with friends to drag the whole family blocks away for photos in front of dad's building. Earlier, we see her flirt with a couple of strapping law students as she seeks directions near that same building. They start going on about how wonderful Mr. Lewis was and then refuse to accept her assertion that she was his daughter. This is the start of the narrative arc of her 20s, in which she works hard, struggles even, to make her way in journalism, from the Stamford Advocate in Connecticut to the Journal and beyond, but fails to give herself credit, ascribing her success to luck. Then she hits that moment of revelation: "It is now painfully obvious that I will never be confident like my father. But that's ok. I think writers are supposed to be insecure." Writers. Yes. She is a writer indeed, and as this slim work shows, a good one getting better by the day. She will be heard from.
on January 4, 2012
This is a beautifully written, thoughtful, brave, unflinching meditation on matters of race, class, privilege, mourning, confidence, achievement, and the parent-child relationship. If you have any interest in any of those, it's well worth the $1.99.
My only complaint -- if it counts as such -- is that I think this material might be even more extraordinary as a full-length book, expanding on some of the thoughts and ideas more fully. But as it is, it's absolutely wonderful, and a refreshingly honest (and personal) look at issues that Americans tend to be all too squeamish about discussing openly.
on January 12, 2012
I bought this Kindle Single after reading a sample and all of the reviews and I had high hopes for an interesting read. I've read more than 3/4 of the book, and I find myself wishing I had spent my $1.99 on something better. This piece of writing feels to me like a rich, spoiled child complaining about all the good things she has got in life because she can't tell if she got them because she is black, because she is rich, or because she has connections. I couldn't really understand the point of her story. I had to laugh out loud when she complains that she took a month off - a month her facebook friends envied - but she was just worrying that she wouldn't ever be able to find a job. Oh, to be able to just take a month off to decide what you want to do in life. How nice. If I had lots of money and connections, I would use them for something good - not worry about why I was getting what I was getting. Yes, you got to where you got because of your connections. Instead of complaining, just feel fortunate! Anyway, if you feel like listening to someone who is probably much better off and younger than you complain about her life, buy this book (and make the girl a little richer). Otherwise, read the sample for free and buy something better.
on January 4, 2012
Christina, what a wonderful read! Your writing truly shares insight into the inner self. I can see that your research uncovered for you a greater understanding of the challenges your father faced and the path that he took to become the man that he was. And your book demonstrates that a man like him does not have to possess the greatest intellect; however, he does have to work a lot harder to achieve success. Based on this writing - and things I have read from your work as a journalist - you do not ever have to feel insecure about your own accomplishments or feel that "legacy" was somehow the only reason you were able to get into Harvard or secure your jobs. Many people would have been content to coast through life and not create their own story. I do anticipate that over time you will go down as a great writer of your generation, so please keep the prose coming. Great heartfelt story telling!!!
on August 23, 2012
For those not familiar with the author's father, I suggest they look for "Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?" and read that too. Reginald Lewis' story is very inspiring, and reading about his life from his daughter's perspective is a delicious treat, and adds a another dimension to his iconic legacy.
I can relate to the author's respect, nay, love for her father, which was evident throughout this heartwarming memoir. Even though I don't know them personally, I believe her father would be proud of her, because she has chosen to take her inheritance seriously, and I believe she will do great things that would help "Tikkun Olam", in her own way too. I am also grateful she took time to highlight some Filipino traits. That made me laugh out loud. Funny, poignant and realistic -- these words come to mind after having read this single. Reading this was a pleasure, and well worth it.
on January 12, 2012
LONELY AT THE TOP is a wonderful read.
First, Christina Lewis Halpern is a terrific writer. Her intelligence and keen reporter's eye shines through every page. Her prose makes the book a delight to sit down and read-through in one sitting.
Secondly, this is a very honest, extremely personal account, written with both great sensitivity and self-awareness.
There's nothing cloying or self-pitying about the narrative, even though it seems like it might be all too easy to envy or dismiss someone as privileged.
The writer achieves this by offering a very nuanced questioning of the entangled issues involving race and accomplishment, of ambition and meaningful achievement, and skillfully weaving in her own doubts and uncertainties.
At the same time, we never get bogged down in anything that feels dreary or politically heavy-handed. Her personal journey and her exploration of her father's struggles, triumph, and legacy shine through always.
By revealing a real humanity (her own and her father's), Christina Lewis Halpern explores confidence and insecurity, ultimately sharing some wise life lessons about the power of persistence, seizing opportunities, and making our own good fortune.
In the end, this short biographical exploration is thought-provoking, moving, and inspiring.