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Book Review: TRUMP The Art Of The Deal

July 4, 2017

This is not a political post. I don’t care if your politics are left/right/center/up or down. However, I also understand that it’s impossible to review a book by the man who is now president of the United States without it being perceived as political. Oh well, it’s America’s Independance day. I’m not going to be able to please everyone.

TRUMP The Art of The Deal, like many books written by people who are famous for something other than writing, wasn’t written by the guy whose name appears first. The book was written by Tony Schwartz. And it’s a credit to the publication that Schwartz gets to see his name on the cover. Too often ghost writers go unacknowledged. The stories and the lessons are, of course, from Donald Trump. And while Schwartz does a great job of telling the stories, I want to focus more on the stories themselves rather than the manner in which they were told.

I didn’t have high expectations when I picked up Art of The Deal. I knew it was a former #1 national bestseller, but I’ve read too many national bestsellers to put stock in that accolade. However, I found that I really enjoyed the book. Generally I read a book from front to back. Okay, that sounds sort of obvious, but in this case, I randomly opened to a page toward the back. I read the story of the Wollman Ice Rink in New York City. No matter how you read it, Trump comes out looking particularly good in this story. Even accounting for a favorable telling, the story is pretty amazing.

The Wollman Ice Rink in Central Park was first opened in 1949. It was a feature of Central Park for decades, hosting ice skating in the winter and concerts and other activities in the summer. It closed in 1980 for renovations. The work was scheduled to take two years and cost $9.1 million dollars. Six years and many millions of dollars later, the rink was still closed. Donald Trump eventually convinced Mayor Ed Koch to let him complete the project. Trump proposed a 6 month schedule and a $3,000,000 budget. The work was instead completed in 4 months at a cost of about $2.25 million. Donald Trump did the work for cost. He didn’t turn a profit. The rink is still operating today.

The story of how Trump approached the project is a fascinating study in project management and especially the balance between budget, schedule and features. While not calling out the tradeoffs in the triangle directly, Trump never the less, utilizes the project management tools necessary to bring in a project on time and under budget. Even without reading the chapter, most project managers can tell you that he had to cut features. It’s part of how project management works.


Pick any two

However, like a good project manager, Trump realized which features were key. He added anything extra that he could manage in the time and budget, but realized the basics had to come first.

Reading through the other case studies, it’s less obvious how Trump used the project manager skills. Much of what he accomplished was due to negotiating skills. He got lucky on the timing of certain purchases. Andrew Carnegie built his railroad and steel industry because in the crash of 1890, Carnegie was buying while everyone else was selling. You get good deals that way. Trump did similar deals throughout his career.

It was impossible to read the book without the backdrop of what’s happened since it’s publication and the campaign over the past two years, plus the election. Trump, for example, raved about the casinos he opened in Atlantic City. After the book was published, several of those casinos declared bankruptcy.

Trump’s personality which wins him both fans and critics is on full display in the book. He certainly does not lack for an ego. At the same time, he accomplished some pretty amazing things in business. I’m not sure he would have if he hadn’t had the ego to just assume that he was going to win.

Overall, The Art of The Deal, while not a blueprint for how to be a project manager, is still an entertaining read.

What I Liked

The style of the writing was wonderful. I give Tony Schwartz full credit for this. The second half of the book is divided into self contained chapters that describe each project separate from any other parts of the book. That’s why I was able to jump straight to the Wollman Rink story without feeling lost. If you already know project management, you will see many of the lessons brought out in the stories. Plus, it was enjoyable to fill in some of the backstory of how the man now sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue arrived at this point in his life.

What I Didn’t

It was obvious from the beginning of the book that this is a vanity project for Mr. Trump. You don’t have to think he’s wonderful, smart, and good looking, he’ll tell you that. And he’ll tell you over and over again. It was almost as if he was afraid if he didn’t point out how brilliant a particular deal was, we might fail to recognize it. Also, because the book was aimed at a mass audience, it’s long on narrative and often short on particulars. Even in describing his failures, Trump makes them sound like successes. And as I mentioned about the casinos later failing, we know much of the after story and to the extent it doesn’t match the hype, it’s hard to take the contents of the book at face value.

What It Means To You

If you are a Trump fan, you are going to like this book. In fact, you’ll love it. He comes out looking really good in it. If you can’t stand Trump, you’ll hate this book. You will find yourself screaming at each page, “THAT’S NOT TRUE!! THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS!” Save yourself the trouble. Don’t read it. For the rest of you, if you are interested in how the 45th president of the United States thinks he made his fortune, it’s an easy to read story told from a Donald-centric point of view.

My Rating

Two out of four stars

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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