Customer Review

76 of 84 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars IT'S THE PEOPLE, NOT THE PLACE, October 4, 2007
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This review is from: How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else (Hardcover)
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.

Crystal, Gill's boss, is a black woman who grew from an impoverished and horrible childhood to become an inspired, dedicated, and empathetic boss. Probably, the Starbucks environment facilitated Crystal's development as a manager, but I suspect she would have succeeded in any environment that gave her half a chance. Certainly, without her support and guidance, Starbucks would not have saved Gill's life.

Having said that, Gill's Digest-like writing is crisp, easy to read, and occasionally gripping when you suspend disbelief.
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Comments

Tracked by 5 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 30, 2008 5:25:58 PM PST
G. Steen says:
It's always about the people, don't you know.

Posted on Sep 9, 2009 6:12:02 AM PDT
cstine99 says:
Someone needs a hug...(LOL) This book is not an award-winning bio, but for what it is it's good.
A nice read for folks that need a pick me up that caffeine can't deliver.

Posted on Oct 25, 2009 6:37:56 PM PDT
Phillips says:
I do not think he was divorced twice. From the book I got the impression that the mother of child #5 was simply not into marriage. The way Michael portrayed it, once his 20 year younger psychiatrist-lover found out he was not the wealthy guy he seemed to be, she dropped him. The book left a lot of questions unanswered.

Posted on Jan 12, 2010 10:59:45 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Aug 16, 2010 5:49:45 AM PDT
V. Smith says:
>> "I suspect she would have succeeded in any environment that gave her half a chance. Certainly, without her support and guidance, Starbucks would not have saved Gill's life."

Yes, but that should go without saying.

The Starbucks title is meant to be facetious. It grabs your attention by invoking something as unremarkable as Starbucks and attributing something grand to it.

My impression is that Starbucks is merely the backdrop of his tale, and one example of an accessible job that taught him how to relate to "ordinary" people. I don't think he means to suggest that there's something unique and magical about Starbucks that could not have happened elsewhere. As for cherry-picking the good stuff, the book is clearly meant to be a light, uplifting tale. I would expect him to focus on the silver lining during his fall from grace.

>> "About 20% of the book happens at Starbucks."

Good. I think an entire book dedicated to Starbucks tales would grow tiresome. I think you took the title a little too seriously. These are my impressions after reading the cover, backing, and a few excerpts in between.

EDIT: After having read the book, I think it's by the grace of nepotism that he ever found himself in a corporate environment to begin with. He is not a good writer. I had difficulty relating to his story because his writing plods along the way an Elementary school child's would. I think the best thing about this book was the marketing team behind it; I got suckered into paying for a book that really didn't deserve my money.

Posted on Jan 19, 2010 12:45:48 PM PST
I'm in the midst of listening to the audiobook. I, too, am weary of his name-dropping throughout the story. I feel like saying, "yes, yes, I get it. You've met a lot of famous people. Get over it.". Still, the stories make me miss my job at a coffee shop -- not a Starbucks, but some things are universal. We, however had to *count* our drawers, not weigh them. LOL

Posted on Aug 15, 2010 8:18:13 PM PDT
kitpaw says:
Agree. The name dropping and the overly simplistic writing style (few contractions, poorly chosen adjectives like 'super' 'great') were annoying. The Starbucks plugs seemed over the top. His coworkers were good people and I'm glad he's doing better.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 26, 2010 10:54:10 AM PDT
Te Deum says:
and he writes two books.... "with the help of my friends" aka contacts.
Good thoughts in his books on what is important in life. Nevertheless, the daily grind goes on. The question is how to not lose your soul...

Posted on Sep 23, 2010 1:00:21 AM PDT
Gill has spent the better part of his adult life in "advertisement." It is not surprising that he would know how to place a product into market and subsequently expand this into; "How to Save Your Own Life." I guess the sell was sensational enough to get it into the hands of a producer......now we'll see Tom Hanks and Starbucks on the big screen? So, why am I paying three bucks for a cup of bitter coffee??? Watch for my book; "How I saved $10.99."

Posted on Aug 2, 2012 8:33:54 AM PDT
Susan Goewey says:
"but I suspect she would have succeeded in any environment that gave her half a chance"

not necessarily... it was Starbucks provision of health insurance (and the peace of mind that brings) that made the difference for Crystal, Mike and many others. You can't be independent if you're too sick to work.

Posted on Aug 14, 2013 12:27:53 PM PDT
mimosa says:
Your review could not have been more spot on. Especially the part about how a good work environment is really about the people you work with. I worked a job that during training I thought to myself "wow I am lucky this job is easy" but thing became overwhelmingly difficult do to the people I worked with. Also am I the only one who would have rather read a book about the manager Crystal?
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