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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
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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.
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.
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A great read. Terrific photos.
I came to this book because of an interest in all things Scotland.
A good book...
knighted by Queen Victoria. Americans loved him and knew of him through his product and his many visits to our shores, in a vain attempt to win the America's Cup. His was an unusual, charmed life and worth the read.
The non-business side of the story, such as the sailing and personal life of Lipton, was very enjoyable as well. All in all this was a great book that I found very interesting and well written.