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How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else Paperback – September 2, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 407 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Baker lends his talent to Gill's memoir, the subject of considerable industry buzz and the basis for a 2008 movie starring Tom Hanks. Baker's enunciation and cadence perfectly match the essence of Gill, a well-bred and erudite—yet down-on-his luck—advertising executive who discovers the true meaning of life while working as a Starbucks barista. Baker also delivers especially evocative performances of Gill's hardworking—but fun-loving—young colleagues Kester and Anthony. His portrayal of store manager and mentor Crystal seems slightly underwhelming given her character's pivotal role in the story. All in all, Baker remains true to the spirit of the material, and his rendition of the workplace banter should ring especially true with service industry veterans. Critics quick to dismiss the project for its high-concept elements will probably remain unmoved, but fans of such popular inspirational/motivational memoirs as Tuesdays with Morrie should find the experience good to the last drop.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Avery; Reprint edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592404049
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592404049
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (407 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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