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Pleasant and heart warming, but the quality of the writing lets it down
on 24 March 2008
"How Starbucks Saved My Life" is based on the appealing premise that taking a less prestigious, blue collar job can restore your self-esteem and allow you to regain a sense of what really matters in life. Michael Gates Gill joins Starbucks at the age of 64, having lost his job at J Walter Thompson and been essentially unemployed since. At Starbucks, he regains a sense of purpose and a connection with others.
This heart-warming little book would be the perfect read if condensed into a Readers Digest magazine. At its full length (which is still comparatively short), it becomes tiresome. There is far too much information about how great Starbucks is: we are told numerous times about the employee medical benefits, how Starbucks will put you through college, how Starbucks cares about its partners (employees) and so forth. We get a very comprehensive description of how Starbucks toilets should be cleaned and how to balance a Starbucks till. The book is also padded with frequent flashbacks and stories from Gill's previous life - unfortunately, very few of these are interesting and inevitably they interrupt the story just when something was about to happen.
But the biggest flaw for me was the writing, which felt like a sample from a grade school creative writing class. Here's just one example: "I liked their laughter. I remembered that Crystal had told me that the original vision of Starbucks had been based on an Italian Cafe. I imagined there would be a lot of laughter in that kind of place."
While it is apparent that Gill's life changed dramatically over the year, that he grew in confidence and as a person, we never really get a concrete sense of how that happened. In the same way that we are told (frequently) how funny everyone thinks he is, without ever getting a sample of that humour, we are left to extrapolate the personal growth that he has gone through. There is far too much here about what Starbucks is like as a place to work, and not nearly enough about the transformation that it led to. A book that covers similar territory but is much better overall is Cliff Walk: a Job Lost and a Life.