With all the downbeat news about America these days, it's refreshing to read a book that is full of reminders of the upward mobility that has made this country known throughout the world as the land of opportunity.
The new book by CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo (with Catherine Whitney), The 10 Laws of Enduring Success, is a treasury of such stories, drawn largely from the world of corporate CEOs and top government officials Ms. Bartiromo has met and interviewed in her work.
She writes that, "Oprah Winfrey started out as a local radio reporter in Tennessee. Steven Spielberg began his career as an unpaid intern at Universal Studios. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina worked for years as a secretary at financial firms. Warren Buffett was an investment salesman in Omaha. Ron Meyer, now the head of Universal, started out as his boss's driver."
Ms. Bartiromo herself, as a teenager, worked weekends as a "coat-check girl" at her father's restaurant and catering hall, the Rex Manor, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The restaurant was named after the ship on which her grandfather arrived in America from Italy.
Even some of the stories in the book that involve other countries are reminders of the growth that capitalism makes possible. She mentions Martin Sorrell, who started WPP, an advertising agency, "with two other people in a one-room office." Now the world's largest ad agency, WPP has grown to 133,000 people with $7 billion in market value and operations in 106 countries.
The book is sprinkled with these entrepreneurial anecdotes. Federal Express was founded by Fred Smith, a student at Yale who also worked as a charter pilot at New Haven airport. His Yale paper on an idea for a new transportation company got "a mediocre grade," but it turned out to be a good concept that he was able to make happen.
Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, who built AIG into a global insurance powerhouse, used to "get up at four in the morning to milk the cows" before going to school, and also worked a trap line "matching wits with fur-bearing animals." When he got out of the army, he lived in a $5 a week walk-up apartment.
The chairman of the online brokerage TD Ameritrade, Joe Moglia, was part of a family of seven that shared a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Manhattan's Washington Heights. One of his best friends died of a drug overdose, and another was killed by police while robbing a liquor store. Mr. Moglia worked as a cab driver and in his father's grocery store.
I thought the rags to riches success stories were the best part of the book, and a useful corrective to the negative narratives about capitalism that are being peddled nowadays in a lot of the rest of the press and by some politicians and regulators.
If the book has a weakness, it is the tendency to sometimes lapse into clichés of the self-help/advice genre. "Dare to be different," is a section heading in the book, making a reader wish that Ms. Bartiromo had taken her own advice on that point.
Ms. Bartiromo also applies a less skeptical view to Warren Buffett than this site usually does. "With Warren, what you see is what you get," she writes.
Finally, it is worth mentioning the section of the book in which Ms. Bartiromo quotes Deepak Chopra about how supposedly happy the people of Cuba are. "I asked my government host, 'How come people are so happy here?'" The answer: "Since we don't have any money to buy anything, we focus on relationships. We are a relationship society, not a consumer society."
Ms. Bartiromo doesn't get into why so many of these supposedly euphoric Cubans are willing to risk their lives on rickety boats to make their way to a consumer society such as America, where they can have the political and economic freedom that Ms. Bartiromo's own grandfather and so many other immigrants have sought. The opportunities for upward mobility detailed in Ms. Bartiromo's book are part of the reason immigrants want to come here rather than Cuba.
Disclosures: This book was sent to me by a PR firm. If you purchase it or any other book via an Amazon.com link from this site, this site gets some of the money.