4 out of 4 stars
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Burn Zones: Playing Life’s Bad Hands by Jorge P. Newbery is an autobiographical book detailing Newbery’s meteoric rise from newspaper delivery boy to real estate mogul, followed by a spectacular crash and even more spectacular recovery. However, it isn’t the standard “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps” story I was expecting. Newbery is not your average businessman. He was involved in both the punk scene and competitive bike racing, during which time he learned valuable lessons that would follow him through the rest of his career. He also never, no matter how dire things were, valued making a profit over helping people.
Despite his wild successes and incredible journey, Newbery remains humble. He writes about the importance of having a good attitude and work ethic, but there isn’t an underlying implication that he’s somehow superhuman. I liked that he acknowledged the ways in which he has been privileged—supportive parents, good mentors, even being white-passing. None of that takes away from the things he has accomplished, and it shows a refreshing understanding of the factors that influence success in the United States. I also like that Newbery incorporated stories about his family into the book. It was humanizing and gave the story more of a structure than the rise and fall of his bank account balance would otherwise have provided.
There is very little I didn’t like about this book. I wasn’t familiar with a lot of the bike racing terminology, but Newbery defines most of it and the remaining words I didn’t know weren’t enough to detract from my understanding or enjoyment. Overall, it was very well done.
I was initially drawn to Burn Zones after reading Newbery’s author bio in which it’s mentioned that he took a creditor to the Missouri Court of Appeals and had a debt of $5.8 million waived because of problems with the legal work on the case. I thought about my student loan debt and decided I had to know more. Newbery doesn’t address how he dealt with debt in this book, but I would still recommend it to anyone looking for an uplifting read. A caveat: he does directly confront racism and police brutality in this book. I liked it and thought the manner in which he did so was both respectful and well-informed, but a socially conservative audience may not appreciate his point of view.
Burn Zones seems to have been professionally edited. I didn’t notice any errors or typos and found it to be a smooth, engaging read. I actually sat down and read it all in one morning over a cup of tea. That wasn't my intention, but I found it too good to put down. Therefore, I give Burn Zones 4 out of 4 stars. It’s a brief read and I enjoyed every moment of it.
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