World & Nation

From the Archives: Book Review: Wheeling With a Big Dealer

Donald Trump, in 1985, shortly before publication of his best-selling memoir “The Art of the Deal.”
Donald Trump, in 1985, shortly before publication of his best-selling memoir “The Art of the Deal.”
(Bernie Boston/Los Angeles Times)

To mind comes Ayn Rand’s unforgettable John Galt in “Atlas Shrugged": a man of boundless inner strength and sharply focused talent--iconoclastic in ethics, hard-working, impatient with trivia, loving excellence for its own sake, hating controls on ambition and drive, having megadreams of what mind and money can buy.

Donald Trump, as engagingly portrayed in this book, has spent the first two decades of his adult life to show what can be done by building an empire of wealth of such a magnitude it must impress the most successful money makers in the world.

At the ripe age of 40 and full of a ferocious energy, he now has everything in spades — and what he doesn’t have, he has announced he will acquire shortly--hotel chains, casinos, the most expensive, fastest-selling condominiums, the most luxurious airplane, the finest undeveloped piece of land for Television City, the largest living room, the most exclusive friends. He says he will build the tallest building in the world, and few who read this book will doubt him.

His book is a straightforward account of what Trump has done by shrewd application of his enormous stamina and by wrestling control and power from impressive foes and bureaucratic mire.


“One of the keys to thinking big,” he says, “is total focus. I think of it almost as a controlled neurosis, which is a quality I’ve noticed in many highly successful entrepreneurs. They’re obsessive; they’re driven; they’re single-minded, and sometimes they are almost maniacal, but it’s all channeled into their work. Where other people are paralyzed by neurosis, the people I am talking about are actually helped by it.

“I don’t say that this trait leads to a happier life, or a better life, but it’s great when it comes to getting what you want.”

It is an interesting and competently written story that must command a good measure of respect. It has a few structural and thematic weaknesses that readers might object to--too much boasting, perhaps, too much impatience with others’ petty sensibilities. It starts and ends with an enumeration of “big deals"--the meat is in the middle.

As Muhammed Ali did a quarter century ago when he was young and unknown, Trump keeps repeating his theme in much the same manner and spirit: “I am the greatest. I am the best. I dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee. ...” Let us remember, though, what Ali subsequently did with his career. The punch was in his fist; not in his words alone. It was not empty bragging. There isn’t empty bragging in this book.


Trump has the name to go with his might and the money to command most anyone’s ear. He comes across as combative and fearless and utterly contemptuous of sluggish minds and bureaucratic sloth and sanctimonious do-gooders. This autobiography is commercially well-packaged, impressively endorsed and eminently readable. It is a book noteworthy of attention not so much for what it says — essentially anecdotes of staggeringly successful financial transactions — but for what it does not say.

It does not say who Trump is without his glittering pet projects — gargantuan though they may be. He comes across as impenetrable granite in personality in much the way he builds his atriums — sleek and exquisite and hard and aloof. We do not get to know the man as judged by his political philosophy or by his grasp of world events or through the eyes of friends or as a family man. The reader aches for a glimpse of his essence. Who is this man, and where is he going? Just who is Trump with his defenses down?

The question comes to mind: Why was this book even written? It is impossible to think of Trump as craving authorship per se. In format, it is somewhat of an "... as told to” book — and, therefore, passable but not impressive literary fare. He does not need the money — in fact, he’s giving it away.

The reader aches for a glimpse of his essence. Who is this man, and where is he going? Just who is Trump with his defenses down?

The strongest clue, perhaps, is in his parting paragraphs, subtitled “What’s Next” and cited here for the thoughtful reader to ponder:

“I’ve spent the first 20 years of my working life building, accumulating, and accomplishing things that many said could not be done. The biggest challenge I see over the next 20 years is to figure out some creative ways to give back some of what I’ve gotten.

“I don’t just mean money, although that’s part of it. It’s easy to be generous when you’ve got a lot, and anyone who does, should be. But what I admire most are people who put themselves directly on the line. I’ve never been terribly interested in why people give, because their motivation is rarely what it seems to be, and it’s almost never pure altruism. To me, what matters is the doing, and giving time is far more valuable than just giving money.


“In my life, there are two things I’ve found I’m very good at: overcoming obstacles and motivating good people to do their best work. One of the challenges is how to use those skills as successfully in the service of others, as I’ve done, up to now, on my own behalf.

“Don’t get me wrong. I also plan to keep making deals, big deals, and right around the clock.”

Trump, tycoon par excellence as portrayed in this book, is a rocket looking for a target.

“TRUMP: The Art of the Deal,” by Donald J. Trump with Tony Schwartz. (Random House: $19.95; 243 pp.) 

Rimland is an award-winning novelist and columnist for Career World. 



This review was originally published Jan. 24, 1988.




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