4 out of 4 stars
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At the tender age of seven, Jorge Newbery became an entrepreneur, delivering newspapers on his bike in Los Angeles. A few years and jobs later, he is renting out stages for punk music concerts. Too busy for that pesky little thing called school, he drops out of high school and focuses on his businesses. A solid work ethic, ambition, and self-motivation define his character, and he quickly begins to earn money. He begins bicycle racing competitively, and the same drive that helped him succeed at his jobs helps him rise to the top of the cycling world. Eventually, he begins a career in real estate, championing for the underprivileged in urban neighborhoods. At certain points in his life, he enters “burn zones.” These zones are the times that require diligent concentration and inner strength. The drive and work ethic that he learned as a child come center stage as he is faced with financial ruin, the oppressive grip of powerful government bureaucracies, and attacks on his character.
Burn Zones: Playing Life’s Bad Hands is the life story of Jorge Newbery, told in his own words. As his life unfolds, Newbery invites readers into his world through introspect and interactions with others. He is firm in his beliefs and eloquently voices them with passion and fervency. I noticed right away the power of this man’s thoughts and that his beliefs are steadfast and filled with emotion. Even if a reader did not share the author’s opinion on the topics discussed in the book, Newberry makes compelling arguments, backed with factual citations that would make even the most skeptical reader reconsider. In my experience, this is difficult to do. Secondary characters are also fully developed, each one with a unique role in the plot.
What I liked most about the book is the introspect the author uses. This is seen during encounters with the police, in grueling bicycle races in Mexico, and in dealing with the housing authorities. The author took careful notes when learning from older, more experienced mentors, and in these words, he found solace and motivation in his burn zones. I also think the author did a nice job of foreshadowing. The entire first half of the book describes Newbery’s successes. Throughout these chapters, there were hints that the lessons he had learned would somehow play a role in his ability to endure the hardships we knew were coming. My favorite part of the book is towards the end, when words come full circle as he stands in his childhood house, feet away from where he sat tying the string around his newspapers for his first job.
The only negative thing I can say about this book has to do with the grammar and editing. While I appreciated the intriguing analogies, I found that some sentences were very long, which may be confusing to some readers. Otherwise, this writing appears professionally edited, and I only noticed a few minor errors in grammar.
I give this book a 4 out of 4 stars for the craftsmanship described above, and the implications this book may have on a wide range of people. This book made me consider the question that puzzles many people. Nature or nurture? What is it that makes some people so resilient, yet others so fragile? The author does a brilliant job of proposing certain attitudes and ideas that have helped him. I would recommend this book for everyone, except for young readers under 14. There are some complex social themes at play here they may not fully understand. For those who feel that successful people are lucky, or are out of reach, the introspects this author contributes may provide inspiration, as we all have our own burn zones. Readers will leave this story with, at the very least, admiration for this man’s experiences and a respect for his beliefs.
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