How Starbucks Saved My Life

  • by Michael Gates Gill
  • Narrated by Dylan Baker
  • 7 hrs and 39 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In his 50s, Michael Gates Gill had it all: a big house in the suburbs, a loving family, and a top job at an ad agency with a six-figure salary. By the time he turned 60, he had lost everything except his Ivy League education and his sense of entitlement. First, he was downsized at work. Next, an affair ended his 20-year marriage. Then, he was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor, prognosis undetermined. Around the same time, his girlfriend gave birth to a son. Gill had no money, no health insurance, and no prospects. One day as Gill sat in a Manhattan Starbucks with his last affordable luxury, a latte, brooding about his misfortune and quickly dwindling list of options, a 28-year-old Starbucks manager named Crystal Thompson approached him, half joking, to offer him a job. With nothing to lose, he took it, and went from drinking coffee in a Brooks Brothers suit to serving it in a green uniform. For the first time in his life, Gill was a minority: the only older white guy working with a team of young African-Americans. He was forced to acknowledge his ingrained prejudices and admit to himself that, far from being beneath him, his new job was hard. And his younger coworkers, despite having half the education and twice the personal difficulties he'd ever faced, were running circles around him. The backdrop to Gill's story is a nearly universal cultural phenomenon: the Starbucks experience. In How Starbucks Saved My Life, we step behind the counter of one of the world's best-known companies and discover how it all really works, who the baristas are and what they love (and hate) about their jobs. Inside Starbucks, as Crystal and Mike's friendship grows, we see what wonders can happen when we reach out across race, class, and age divisions to help a fellow human being.

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What the Critics Say

"A great lesson in finding your highest self in the unlikeliest of places, proof positive that there is no way to happiness: rather, happiness is the way." (Wayne Dyer)
"I like my Starbucks, but I loved this book. It hit me emotionally and intellectually, right in the gut. The message, what the world needs to embrace most, made my cup runneth over!" (Dr. Denis Waitley)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

What's wrong with the truth

I greatly enjoyed listening to this book and would have given it a five star rating except for what I learned from interviews an reviews. A large part of the appeal in this memoir is the very genuine transparency of Mike and the other people in his story. Facts not revealed in the book raise questions about the transparency.

Crystal, a very prominent character in the story who hires Mike, is actually a composite character. A fact that seems incongrouous with the intimate desriptions of the person and interactions with Mike.

Michael appears to be brutally honest about the flaws in his charcter and life choices, but revealing as his books is, it may stop short of revealing the true Michael. He left Yale a few credits short of a degree. He squandered a $100,000 inheritance at the age of 21 and had a early failed marriage that is not mentioned in the book. These suggest another dimension to his character flaws.

Clearly, the book is not a fabrication. Mike does lead a very simple life and still works at Starbuck's. But, Mike has tailored his story to enhance its appeal (marketability). There are plans for a movie made from the book. Michael admits contemplating a book before the end of his first year when reviewing the journal he was keeping.

After what I have learned I cannot help, but wonder to what degree Micheal changed his life perspective and to what degree he repackaged himself so he could "sleep in the bed he made".
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- Alfred R Good

Great book - timely reading

The days are long gone when a college grad goes to work for one company and retires 35 years later with a gold watch. Almost all of us have to reinvent ourselves at some point in our lives, move into different professions or adapt to a less-lavish lifestyle. Not all of us fall from the heights Michael Gates Gill did, but still, his story is both fascinating and worthwhile.

Other reviewers have panned the book as a 'company-line' promo for Starbucks – maybe it was. Maybe it did present Starbucks in the best possible light – so? It was still interesting to learn about a company that's doing it different. I'm not a Starbucks loyalist, having just once in my life paid $3.75 for a small cup of regular black coffee, no milk, no sugar, and decided I didn't need to do that again. But I am interested in how businesses work – and hearing the 'inside' story of the Starbucks operation was fascinating. Like Gill, I too spent years in a profession where we were counseled never to praise our employees, because later they could sue us, and use that as evidence. Where competition and nastiness was the order of the day. So hearing about a very successful company that does the exact opposite of that – encourages praise, affirmation and decency – was great. We should all be learning from companies like that.

I enjoyed the Starbucks tales just as much as I enjoyed the details of Gill's personal life. Besides that, it's nice to know that if I ever need a bathroom, somewhere, sometime, Starbucks will welcome me.

The New Yorker magazine trivia was interesting, too, the gossipy asides about Brendan Gill, Truman Capote, Jacqueline Onassis and James Thurber. So Thurber was a mean old guy? I didn't know that!

I loved this book, and I'm sure I'll listen to it again. Now I wish Don Snyder's "The Cliff Walk" – another guy who was forced to reinvent himself -- would appear as an audiobook.
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- karen

Book Details

  • Release Date: 08-20-2007
  • Publisher: Penguin Audio