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How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else | [Michael Gates Gill]

How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else

In his 50s, Michael Gates Gill had it all: a big house in the suburbs, a loving family, and a top job at an ad agency with a six-figure salary. By the time he turned 60, he had lost everything except his Ivy League education and his sense of entitlement. First, he was downsized at work. Next, an affair ended his 20-year marriage. Then, he was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor, prognosis undetermined. Around the same time, his girlfriend gave birth to a son.
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Publisher's Summary

In his 50s, Michael Gates Gill had it all: a big house in the suburbs, a loving family, and a top job at an ad agency with a six-figure salary. By the time he turned 60, he had lost everything except his Ivy League education and his sense of entitlement. First, he was downsized at work. Next, an affair ended his 20-year marriage. Then, he was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor, prognosis undetermined. Around the same time, his girlfriend gave birth to a son. Gill had no money, no health insurance, and no prospects.

One day as Gill sat in a Manhattan Starbucks with his last affordable luxury, a latte, brooding about his misfortune and quickly dwindling list of options, a 28-year-old Starbucks manager named Crystal Thompson approached him, half joking, to offer him a job. With nothing to lose, he took it, and went from drinking coffee in a Brooks Brothers suit to serving it in a green uniform.

For the first time in his life, Gill was a minority: the only older white guy working with a team of young African-Americans. He was forced to acknowledge his ingrained prejudices and admit to himself that, far from being beneath him, his new job was hard. And his younger coworkers, despite having half the education and twice the personal difficulties he'd ever faced, were running circles around him.

The backdrop to Gill's story is a nearly universal cultural phenomenon: the Starbucks experience. In How Starbucks Saved My Life, we step behind the counter of one of the world's best-known companies and discover how it all really works, who the baristas are and what they love (and hate) about their jobs. Inside Starbucks, as Crystal and Mike's friendship grows, we see what wonders can happen when we reach out across race, class, and age divisions to help a fellow human being.

©2007 Michael Gates Gill; (P)2007 Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.

What the Critics Say

"A great lesson in finding your highest self in the unlikeliest of places, proof positive that there is no way to happiness: rather, happiness is the way." (Wayne Dyer)
"I like my Starbucks, but I loved this book. It hit me emotionally and intellectually, right in the gut. The message, what the world needs to embrace most, made my cup runneth over!" (Dr. Denis Waitley)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.7 (232 )
5 star
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3.7 (59 )
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Story
3.9 (54 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Alfred R Good 10-03-07 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "What's wrong with the truth"

    I greatly enjoyed listening to this book and would have given it a five star rating except for what I learned from interviews an reviews. A large part of the appeal in this memoir is the very genuine transparency of Mike and the other people in his story. Facts not revealed in the book raise questions about the transparency.

    Crystal, a very prominent character in the story who hires Mike, is actually a composite character. A fact that seems incongrouous with the intimate desriptions of the person and interactions with Mike.

    Michael appears to be brutally honest about the flaws in his charcter and life choices, but revealing as his books is, it may stop short of revealing the true Michael. He left Yale a few credits short of a degree. He squandered a $100,000 inheritance at the age of 21 and had a early failed marriage that is not mentioned in the book. These suggest another dimension to his character flaws.

    Clearly, the book is not a fabrication. Mike does lead a very simple life and still works at Starbuck's. But, Mike has tailored his story to enhance its appeal (marketability). There are plans for a movie made from the book. Michael admits contemplating a book before the end of his first year when reviewing the journal he was keeping.

    After what I have learned I cannot help, but wonder to what degree Micheal changed his life perspective and to what degree he repackaged himself so he could "sleep in the bed he made".

    25 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    karen United States 03-22-08
    karen United States 03-22-08 Member Since 2004
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    "Great book - timely reading"

    The days are long gone when a college grad goes to work for one company and retires 35 years later with a gold watch. Almost all of us have to reinvent ourselves at some point in our lives, move into different professions or adapt to a less-lavish lifestyle. Not all of us fall from the heights Michael Gates Gill did, but still, his story is both fascinating and worthwhile.

    Other reviewers have panned the book as a 'company-line' promo for Starbucks – maybe it was. Maybe it did present Starbucks in the best possible light – so? It was still interesting to learn about a company that's doing it different. I'm not a Starbucks loyalist, having just once in my life paid $3.75 for a small cup of regular black coffee, no milk, no sugar, and decided I didn't need to do that again. But I am interested in how businesses work – and hearing the 'inside' story of the Starbucks operation was fascinating. Like Gill, I too spent years in a profession where we were counseled never to praise our employees, because later they could sue us, and use that as evidence. Where competition and nastiness was the order of the day. So hearing about a very successful company that does the exact opposite of that – encourages praise, affirmation and decency – was great. We should all be learning from companies like that.

    I enjoyed the Starbucks tales just as much as I enjoyed the details of Gill's personal life. Besides that, it's nice to know that if I ever need a bathroom, somewhere, sometime, Starbucks will welcome me.

    The New Yorker magazine trivia was interesting, too, the gossipy asides about Brendan Gill, Truman Capote, Jacqueline Onassis and James Thurber. So Thurber was a mean old guy? I didn't know that!

    I loved this book, and I'm sure I'll listen to it again. Now I wish Don Snyder's "The Cliff Walk" – another guy who was forced to reinvent himself -- would appear as an audiobook.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dennis Denver, CO, USA 10-31-07
    Dennis Denver, CO, USA 10-31-07
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    "Story is not believable"

    First the audio and then the story.

    I too found the narrator's presentation tedious and uncomfortable; I expected him to bust into tears at any moment. The music added at the end of some sections was annoying and often too loud. Apparently they were trying to add dramatic effect to an already sentimental reading.

    The book has two themes: the author’s fall from a privileged past and his many revelations after joining the real world of the average working guy.

    I can take the stories about his past at face value: privileged kid uses connections to get good job at a prestigious advertising agency, which he loses after getting too old. We have all heard that story before.

    But his experience as an old white guy working with mostly young black people is just too stereotypical to be believed. His mind is constantly challenged by the realities of inner city life; their life is indeed so much different then his. Oh really?

    And of course, everything he observes about his African-American co-workers is framed through the typical orthodoxy: if it’s bad it’s a result of White racism and if it’s good it’s a result of pure self-determination. Nope – can’t buy it.

    And maybe the most unbelievable part of this book is how the author gushes over the praise he receives for cleaning up the toilet. Seems no one can scrub down the restroom like he does! You gotta be kidding.

    So this book is just not credible. Turns out the author quickly got a movie deal with Tom Hanks. That is not a surprise to me as this book is just the type of sappy story line Hanks and Oprah love.

    7 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amy ARLINGTON, TX, USA 03-31-08
    Amy ARLINGTON, TX, USA 03-31-08
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    "Compassion"

    As a 40 year old woman it gave me a great insight as to what my mother went through when my father walked out on us in the early 1980's. Being a college educated 55 year old housewife, she was left with no other choices but to work in the restaurant industry (after numerous rejections to rejoin the Airline industry she so proudly worked for before having a family.) I now know the pride my mom felt when she was promoted from dishwasher to kitchen help. And from kitchen help to head cook. It was hard for my WASP mother to understand her much younger Hispanic, Indian and Nigerian co-workers. And embarrassing to come home in a fast food uniform smelling like french fries in front of our upper middle class neighbors. I only wish there would have been a Starbucks for my mom back then, I think it would have really helped with her pride and self esteem.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Catherine 01-09-08
    Catherine 01-09-08
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    "Inspiring Book"

    This book inspired me. It is great to see someone who is older take on a new challenge. No matter how old we are, new jobs are big steps. This also gave me an insight into Starbucks and I am truly impressed they give part time employees health benefits and treat them so well. So all in all, a very interesting read.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    K. Tippit Olive Branch, MS 01-01-08
    K. Tippit Olive Branch, MS 01-01-08 Listener Since 2006

    Forever Learning

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    "NOT ALL ABOUT THE COFFEE"

    This is a very good book, I found it to be very easy to listen to but it also gives you a very good insight into the inner workings of Starbucks. It is definitely a feel-good book that everyone will enjoy.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark houma, LA, USA 03-24-08
    Mark houma, LA, USA 03-24-08
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    "slant"

    This explains the advertising industry. With all condolences to the author for having such a frightening turn of events, I must say that the book was written like most ads. Simplistic and without much depth. It was very Polyannna, just like all ads. Buy this, are in this case-read this, and everything will be OK. I also thought the repetitive celebrity name dropping was a bit much. It would have been more insightful if the author had put more of his life outside of Starbucks into the book. As written I can't help but feel like Starbucks was the publisher, editor, agent and typist for the author. If you're looking for a good mid-life crisis book, keep looking.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Luke Bronx, NY, USA 12-11-07
    Luke Bronx, NY, USA 12-11-07
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    "A good book"

    I used to go that very Starbucks everyday for coffee, and I remember not only Mike but the other people who worked with him. I'd have to say out of every Starbucks I've ever been to, that location had the best employees. Mike stood out for sure, and I remember he greeted me very nicely and I also remember all the other employees there. I'd even scored a few free drinks from some of them I was such a frequent customer. They all knew me as Luke, tall, non fat, caramel machiatto.

    I ran in to Crystal a few weeks ago at my new job, I haven't been up to 93rd st in over a year, and we exchanged greetings.

    I know most of that staff is now gone, they were all great people and I wish them all the best.

    6 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Raghavendra Ramesh 08-11-14 Member Since 2014

    Discovering the Power of Reading by Listening !

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    "Inspiring, humbling"
    Would you try another book from Michael Gates Gill and/or Dylan Baker?

    Sure


    What did you like best about this story?

    The uncertainties of life, the pace with which old age catches up with youth ... the humility to accept life and everything that comes with it.


    What does Dylan Baker bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    He sounded like a man who is old enough as the protagonist himself. That brings a sense of perfect narrative to the character


    What else would you have wanted to know about Michael Gates Gill’s life?

    It would have been great to know how he actually comes to terms after he actually moves into the new store ... the extent to which he actually manages to settle down after all the work on Broadway store could have been the conclusive chapter.


    Any additional comments?

    Good story. I like the simplistic narrative style. Very familiar, yet very engaging.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ian Martin Louisville, CO 12-08-13
    Ian Martin Louisville, CO 12-08-13
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    8
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    "Hallmark Story Time"
    What would have made How Starbucks Saved My Life better?

    The two biggest issues here are lack of originality to the story and the narrators style. The philosophy and breakthroughs he experienced are just so obvious and on-the-nose, along with this weird subtle undercurrent of probably inadvertent racism. "They're successful and they're black! Black people's lives are so hard! What a ass I was for thinking my life was hard!" Man did I start to cringe.

    Couple with that is Dylan' Baker's style of performance which is cheesy and simplistic. It sounds as though he's reading a picture book to a group of third graders. The style emphasizes the sugary prose and makes the whole thing nauseating. In order to make this material work (if it's possible) I think it would have required a grounded realistic reading.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Michael Gates Gill again?

    No.


    Would you be willing to try another one of Dylan Baker’s performances?

    I think his style would be fine given the right material. Perhaps something comedic or more cynical. David Sedaris maybe. Not this dreck.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    No.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Therese
    Co. KildareIreland
    3/29/10
    Overall
    "Really Excellent Book"

    I love starbucks. I'm a coffee fiend....and I also love a great feel good true story. I was dubious about this book but found the title intriguing. How could Starbucks save someone's life? Well I found out. This book is well written. The narrator does a great job of making you believe that he's really working in the store or at the train station or in a scary meeting. You get a great insight into the workings of behind the scenes at your local coffee shop. What this book showed me was how much of a snob we all are when it comes to working in service industries or when it comes to working for "the man" - giving into commercialism more than by just buying a coffee. The truth is we are all snobs, and most people can't afford to be. The author learns this the hard way but changes his life for the better in the end. I will definitely listen to this again soon!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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