Trump: The Art of the Deal
Merger Mania: Arbitrage, Wall Street’s Best Kept Money-Making Secret
Behind the Scenes: In Which the Author Talks About Ronald and Nancy Reagan and Himself
Books, all will agree, are written for a variety of reasons—as literary or artistic expression, to instruct, persuade, or rebuke the reader, or to make money. The last, no doubt, is the most important reason, but there is yet another. There are books by people who, having made a great deal of money, believe that through a book they can enhance or perhaps redeem their public reputation. From the public applause or approval also will come enhanced self-esteem. The money is irrelevant; a book gives something or is thought to give something that money cannot buy.
All the volumes here under consideration are by men who have made some or a great deal of money and for whom, with one very likely exception, the royalties are irrelevant. Mr. Donald Trump has even said with something close to contempt that he is assigning all of his book earnings to charity. The exception with respect to royalties is Mr. Michael K. Deaver, who, having made money, as he says, far beyond any possible personal expectation, if still a small amount by the measure of Trump, Pickens, or Boesky, has seen all of it disappear in one single devastating outrush. In the absence of a successful appeal or a presidential pardon, Mr. Deaver himself will be living at public expense for the immediately foreseeable future. But to his wife, who will still be in the private sector, any book revenues will surely be welcome. Nonetheless, it was his public reputation that Mr. Deaver also had in mind in writing or, as one should possibly say, commissioning this book.
Since all these books were written to improve or retrieve the public view of the person in question, it is by such standard, in fairness, that they should be judged. Still, it is appropriate to comment on the literary and reportorial skill and the grammatical competence of the specialist or specialists hired to write them. That, after all, tells something, perhaps much, of the entrepreneurial skills of the individual in question, which these volumes are meant to display. Nothing in business is more important or more admired than the ability to get the right man for the right job, and writing someone else’s history in a publicly captivating way makes a demanding claim on judgment. But these books should be measured more directly by their success or probable success in putting the person in question in a good, or anyhow an improved, light.
At first glance, the greatest achievement is that of Donald J. Trump. As this is written, his case for public approval and applause has been at or near the top of the best-seller columns for some weeks. This compares, for example, with Mr. Boesky’s book, which, as I will later note, his publisher has sought diligently not to have sold at all. And I certainly would not deny this measure of success to Mr. Trump or to Mr. Tony Schwartz, whom his book was written “with.” A Wall Street Journal writer has pointed out that Mr. Trump also hired his own publicity agent to promote the book, who, in an interview, said that “nothing about this book has been an accident.” Nonetheless it has sold. There are writers who scorn those who make it to, let alone to the top of, the best-seller lists; this view, it is widely supposed, changes when the person is there himself or herself.
Yet there are flaws in the Trump achievement that contribute adversely, one judges, to his public image. For one thing, Mr. Schwartz’s grammar on behalf of Mr. Trump is recurrently defective; I allow an infrequent split infinitive, but his on occasion come two to a sentence. He has also allowed Mr. Trump to intrude recurrent and distracting observations on his personal thought patterns and behavior. “I am given to outbursts of anger but always keep myself under full control.” Or, anyhow, something along that line.
More troublesome are the omissions. New York or Atlantic City architecture is not one of my strong points. Until recently, I confess, I had supposed that the name Trump Tower came from a game, as in “he held all the trumps,” and I haven’t been in Atlantic City since the nomination of Lyndon Johnson in 1964. However, I did expect, when I read this book, to learn how Mr. Trump chose his architects and settled on the particular design for each building. This, more than anything else, is what gives hard reality to the builder’s public image. It involves also an awesome and maybe even unreasonable exercise of personal power. With what Mr. Trump decides millions of New Yorkers must live. Of this far from minor matter there is very little here. The art is not in the buildings or larger developments but in the deals, including the deals that depend on winning the acquiescence of New York City or New Jersey authorities—righteous, well-intentioned, or mostly, it here seems, otherwise.
As the buildings are largely incidental, so also are the construction companies, to which, one judges, Mr. Trump is greatly indebted for bringing his projects into being on time and under budget, as repeatedly he affirms they do. There is a rather breathless account here of the rehabilitation of the Wollman skating rink in Central Park. I would have thought some considerable credit belonged to the construction company. Mr. Trump takes nearly all of it for himself.
Mr. Schwartz, guided here with some care one judges by Mr. Trump, has also a way of dressing up failures, misjudgments, and disasters in a more than slightly improbable way so that the reader, instead of ignoring them or accepting them as part of the game, has a mean pleasure in removing the disguise. So it is with Mr. Trump’s disastrous venture into professional football—the now defunct United States Football League and his equally defunct New Jersey Generals. Mr. Trump speaks in glowing terms of the entire venture, but then the reader discovers it all ends in no team, no league, one can only suppose a considerable personal cost, and a successful antitrust suit against the NFL that at the time the book was being written had yielded only one dollar. Mr. Trump, nonetheless, applauds volubly, almost exuberantly, his role in the enterprise
Mr. Trump and Mr. Schwartz bring their art similarly to bear on 100 Central Park South. This apartment house was purchased some years ago by Mr. Trump in order to join it up with the Barbizon Plaza Hotel next door. It was occupied by tenants enjoying rent-stabilized or rent-controlled quarters, who, not surprisingly, did not wish to move out. Mr. Trump’s idea was to bring the services and amenities down to the level of the rent—lights dimmed, doormen’s uniforms discarded, the windows of empty apartments “tinned up.” In a particularly compassionate gesture, he proposed making the house a refuge for the homeless as a strategy to force the tenants out.
None of this was very nice, but it is here made to appear an exercise of great entrepreneurial skill and acceptable public behavior. A special difficulty with this presentation, as it perhaps may be called, is that back in 1985 in New York magazine Mr. Tony Schwartz and no other had told the same story in rather less varnished terms. It was entitled “A Different Kind of Donald Trump Story.” A certain flexibility of view must no doubt be allowed a craftsman who is engaged primarily in improving the public image of his employer. But it should not be so evident.
Fortune reviewed Mr. Trump’s book and, after noting that he is not really one of the largest players on the real estate scene and that his performance has been otherwise mixed, asserted in an unkindly way that he is “the finest example we have of materialism, ambition, and self-love among the baby-boomers” and “the leading egomaniac in American business.” This sort of comment, encouraged as it is by a book, is not fully for the benefit of one’s public reputation, and The New Republic, nominally at the other end of the political spectrum, was equally severe. In a piece called “The Triumph of Trumpery” Louis Menand commented on Trump’s rather spacious personal preferences as he states them in the book. “While I can’t honestly say I need an 80-foot-long living room [in Trump Tower] I do get a kick out of having one.” However, Mr. Trump, it must be said, is not wholly without reticence. What is apparently a very adequate spread in the northern suburbs goes unmentioned, as does a fairly ample yacht of Arab descent. Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic of The New York Times, was also markedly adverse, writing that the book is an unduly extravagant exercise in self-promotion and Trump himself “a symbol of a gaudy time.”
Mr. Trump did not take any of this criticism lightly. In a letter to Fortune he came close to suggesting that the staff member who was the author of the offending review, a public relations operative, be sacked for incompetence and said he thought Forbes was a better magazine. And without actually seeking the discharge of Mr. Goldberger, he did protest his selection as a reviewer since he, Trump, had made some unkind references to Mr. Goldberger in the book. Evidently you should never be allowed to comment on anyone who has said anything adverse about “you.” A severe restraint.
One wonders whether Mr. Trump fully appreciates the effect of an angry response to an unfavorable review. It advertises a certain personal and professional vulnerability, and without much doubt it gets a lot more attention for the things criticized. It is my own belief that when someone has exposed a plausible shortcoming or error in something I have written, extreme silence is by all odds the best strategy.
Returning to the purpose of this book—to have it do for a public reputation what money does not do—I’m inclined to doubt its success. It shows Mr. Trump, now the owner also of the Plaza Hotel, to be a remarkably ambitious and energetic man. That doubtless is good. But too much that is bad for him (and for the public, needless to say) will be remembered. Too much that is merely banal will be forgotten. On balance, Mr. Trump’s position would be better, I’m persuaded, if he (or rather Mr. Schwartz) had not written the book.
Mr. T. Boone Pickens, Jr., of Mesa Petroleum Company and Amarillo, Texas, has done better than Mr. Trump for his public reputation. More exactly, in hiring Jim Conaway, as he says, “to collaborate with me on writing and structuring [sic] the book,” he has shown himself a considerably better judge of the requisite talent. It is sad but in a way encouraging that a Texan should be so much more advanced in literary judgment than someone from New York.