Donald Trump has over the years come to signify all that's wrong and right about the American way of doing business. He's an ornery fellow with a taste for luxurious things, but he's also daring, brave and aggressively entrepreneurial. At least until recently, that pretty much described the American capitalist at the grassroots - vacuous but enterprising. You had to give him credit. Times have changed, of course. The Donald has transformed (perhaps wisely so) into more of a branding machine than a developer.
Many of the buildings that bear his name aren't actually his projects, but those of partners aiming to cash in on the Trump name. He's doing a TV show now where he tells people they're fired, herding them into a ridiculously large and sumptuous office to deliver the bad news, his mop of auburn hair and stern lips trembling vigorously. His casino operation in Atlantic City in New Jersey was recently forced to declare bankruptcy for a third time, though Trump avoided embarrassment by resigning from the company's board before things went south.
In The Art of the Deal, Trump's first book, we see the man back in his late-1980s go-go years, when he had amassed a broad portfolio of buildings in New York City and had recently expanded into Atlantic City casinos. While Trump is about as unreliable as narrators come, the book provides valuable insight into the deal maker's shrewd strategies, revealing him as a hard and ambitious bargainer who thinks big and places bets carefully - only when he can get a good price.
It remains to be seen whether the big-deal, big-leverage version of capitalism that Trump came to embody will be swallowed up by the waves of the financial crisis, but there remains a lot to like - and a lot to learn - in the Donald's early escapades. In this risk-averse age, it's refreshing to be reminded how real money is made (or at least was made): by taking calculated risks, torpedoes be damned.
Publisher: Ballantine Books, 1987