4 out of 4 stars
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Burn Zones is a memoir by Jorge P. Newbery, who is a cyclist, investor, entrepreneur, and punk enthusiast. The book describes the main burn zones that the author traversed throughout his life, from riding his bike up excruciatingly long climbs, to facing criminal charges and $26 million in debt. The author defines burn zones as periods of hardship that require immense efforts to be overcome.
The author displayed a natural inclination to entrepreneurship from an early age. Jorgie, as his father endearingly called him, started working when he was 7 years old as a newspaper delivery boy. His first burn zones were rainy days, when he would come home sopping wet and immediately jump into a hot bath that his mother had prepared for him. At age 11, he made his first business acquisition: an old, rusty ice cream trike that he rode around his neighborhood. In 1979, a copy of the Clash’s “London Calling” introduced him to the world of punk. This inspired him to quit school and start his own record company. A few years later, Jorge took a job as a loan originator: this was Jorge’s launchpad into real estate. The author gained extensive experience in acquiring neglected properties and turning them into profitable assets. However, the purchase of Woodland Meadows, a low-income apartment complex plagued by criminality and poverty, threw Jorge into millions of dollars of debt. Woodland Meadows was far more than an investment to the author: it was a chance to demonstrate that low-income housing projects could become a space of community, safety and wealth for its dwellers. The failure of this project, more than the loss of his own financial wealth, caused the author a heartache that he never fully recovered from.
A few elements made the book particularly pleasant to read. Firstly, I appreciated the fact that the author decided to include pictures in his memoir: we get to see Jorge as a young boy, his epic ice cream trike, and the first issue of his music zine. Secondly, the book is exquisitely written and exceptionally edited, as I did not come across any errors or inconsistencies. Although the book deals with heavyhearted topics, such as debt and crime, Jorge Newbery’s writing style makes the book very easy to read.
What I liked the most about this memoir is that it offers a plethora of tips that are useful to anyone who is going through a burn zone of their own. I particularly found helpful how, when the author was training to be a loan officer, he summarized everything his supervisor taught him into a few keywords. The author repeated these keywords to himself as he handled his first appointments, and they later became his business principles. I think this method can be applied to many situations in life when one is confronted with doing something they have never done before.
There is one final thing that I commend the author for: he is extremely aware of the privileges he has been raised with, and is very adamant about showing how these helped him through his endeavors. Firstly, Jorge P. Newbery did not fail to acknowledge the privilege of having supportive parents who enabled him to chase his dreams. Secondly, he actively engaged with the topic of race, by acknowledging white privilege and police brutality. In several instances, the author pointed out that his whiteness saved him from being arrested or harassed. He took advantage of these episodes to commemorate innocent victims of police brutality, such as John Macias and Michael Brown.
There was nothing I disliked about the book. The only aspect I did not particularly appreciate was the wealth of legal and financial information that the author included in the second half of the book. However, that did not affect my enjoyment of the book. Hence, I rate Burn Zones by Jorge P. Newbery 4 out of 4 stars. While I discourage readers who are into fast-paced narratives from reading this book, I wholeheartedly recommend it to people who find themselves in a burn zone of their own.
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