Book bits

Review of "Got What It Takes?," three books about the wealthy, recommendations from readers.

Got what it takes? By Bill Boggs

So how do you get to the top of your field? In Got What it Takes?, the überfamous share what they've learned.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump says he's come to expect problems "as part of the deal" and doesn't fight them. New York Yankees manager Joe Torre offers advice on handling tough bosses. Entrepreneur of the Virgin brand Sir Richard Branson explains how crucial it is to hire the right people.

In all, 44 leaders in fields from business to media to medicine to academia spill their secrets to award-winning talk show host Bill Boggs.

Boggs isn't an academic, career coach, or a motivational speaker. Instead, he's an interviewer who uses his finely honed skills to extract pearls of wisdom and little-known anecdotes from these go-getters.

Matt Lauer, coanchor of NBC's Today Show, recounts for Boggs how dejected he was after four of his shows were canceled in the early days of his broadcasting career. In financial trouble, he moved to a tiny cabin in upstate New York and applied for a job as a tree trimmer. Then came a call from a general manager of a New York TV station offering Lauer an interview. And he aced it, he says.

For Maria Bartiromo, a financial journalist for CNBC, it has been all about a rigorous work ethic instilled in her youth when she worked as the coat-check girl on weekends at her family's Italian restaurant in Brooklyn.

In between such stories, Boggs doles out advice he's received along the way, including his father's admonition that: "You're only going to get out of something what you put into it."

Most of these 44 dynamos weren't handed everything in life. Actress Renée Zellweger, whose parents were immigrants from Switzerland, went out on her own when she was 18. Music industry giant Clive Davis grew up poor and had to maintain an almost perfect average to keep his college scholarship.

And how grounded some have remained. When Craig Newmark, founder of, is asked, "Where do you place yourself in the pantheon of tech pioneers?" he replies, "I don't." Anna Quindlen, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and novelist, says she was in her 40s when she figured out "that not only was I not a fraud, but there were an awful lot of people in positions of power and influence who were."

Wherever you are careerwise – anywhere from your first day of work to your last – this easy read of a pep talk speaks volumes.

– Ari Pinkus

Three books about the wealthy

Recent news reports about Brooke Astor and the battle over her guardianship may be nasty, but for a broader look at the life of one of New York's best known philanthropists, The Last Mrs. Astor by former New Yorker editor Frances Kiernan makes quite interesting reading. Kiernan paints a portrait of a charming, intelligent woman who made a success out of marriage to a famously ill-tempered millionaire and then used his money to good effect.

Although she was a great beauty raised in a castle and heiress to a fabled steamship fortune, Nancy Cunard's life was anything but a fairy tale. Nancy Cunard: Heiress, Muse, Political Activist by Lois Gordon tells the fascinating story of Cunard's event-packed life, including the literary lovers to whom she was muse (T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound), her own literary aspirations, her crusades against racism and fascism, as well as her dark days of insecurity and alcoholism.

Like mother, like daughter. In Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart tells how Alva married into the Vanderbilt fortune and later urged daughter Consuelo to marry for a title. Both women, however, moved on to happy second marriages and philanthropic works.

– Marjorie Kehe

So you wanna be president?

Under the heading of "Books for Future Presidents," the University of California, Berkeley, recommends that its incoming freshman read:

The World Is Flat, by Thomas L. Friedman

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

Rose, by Li-Young Lee

A Moral Sense, by James Q. Wilson

A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson

Manufacturing Consent, by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

Antigone, by Sophocles

Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff

The Coming Plague, by Laurie Garrett

Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer

American Slavery, American Freedom, by Edmund Sears Morgan

Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands, by Terri Morrison, Wayne A. Conaway, and George A. Borden

Readers' picks

Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America by J. Anthony Lukas is a fascinating piece of Amercana by an exceptional author. Joshua Lomask, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Stephen Levine's A Year To Live tells of his experience of living for a year as if it was his last. He shares practical ideas, meditations, etc., in compassionate and forgiving ways. Louise Cox, Windsor Locks, Conn.

Lee Iacocca's new book Where Have All The Leaders Gone? should be required reading for every presidential candidate and everyone who votes. Martha Doss, Lexington, Va.

I just finished Helen Barolini's A Circular Journey, essays which take the reader from her home in Syracuse (on a street named after Henry James's grandfather) through her marriage with the Italian poet Antonio Barolini and their lives in Italy and the United States, and on into her career as a novelist, poet, and essayist. Fred Misurella, Stroudsburg, PA

For a great "at the site of action" war story, choose any of David Robbins' s books. I just finished Last Citadel, which deals with German Tiger tanks and the Cossack war front in World War II. Robbins has a great command of description, and he truly researches his history. Marilyn Kortum, Arlington Tex.

The Why Café by John Sterlecky asks the following three questions: Why are you here? Do you fear death? Are you fulfilled? The main character in the story is lost when he happens upon The Why Café, where he explores the value of his daily life and how he might change his perspective to make each day a fulfilling experience. Susan Cross, Oviedo, Fla.

What are you reading? Write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.

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