4 out of 4 stars
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Burn Zones: Playing Life's Bad Hands by Jorge Newbery is an autobiography of an American athlete and entrepreneur. His first stories are about his childhood jobs, as a paperboy, as a busboy, and as a producer for punk rock bands. As an adult, after a few years as competitive cyclist, Newbery eventually became a real estate investor, who purchased distressed properties, renovated them, and re-sold them at a profit. Part of the upgraded quality of the neighborhoods came as a result of the renovation, but a lot of the credit went to Jorge Newbery's hard, focused work with the tenants.
His initial successes were the result of a sound work ethic, which he embraced in childhood and kept as an adult. However, the hard work and sincerity were not enough to protect him from corrupt officials and contractors. Apparently, some people were determined to be rid of his apartment complex, Woodland Meadows. The concept of an idealistic real estate investor may be hard to believe, but it applies here. Newbery really wanted to "do well by doing good." It is apparent throughout the novel that Newbery was unprepared for the layers of scheming corruption he encountered among contractors and city and federal officials. He paid a high price for his naiveté.
I liked the part of the book dealing with his ultimate failure at Woodland Meadows. It was remarkably hard to read that chapter, because, even though Newbery writes of those months factually and dispassionately, his pain is evident. I think most of us, who live long enough, go through a situation where we just cannot win. For most, it leaves us very angry for years afterward. I was impressed at how Jorge Newbery maintains absolute control over all personal emotion within his writing. His self-control makes this chapter more powerful. He relays only the facts, which speak for themselves.
I disliked the last part of the chapter dealing with his first childhood ventures. Specifically, I was shocked when his parents approved of his desire to quit school at 16, to manage punk rock bands. To his credit, Newbery also mentions the untimely deaths of many of the musicians he worked with. Also, some aspects of the real estate market, which were detailed in subsequent chapters, were an unpleasant shock to me. For example, I never realized that property owners can go to jail for code violations in some cities. Even when the owner is in the process of addressing the violations, if a building is not 100% up-to-code by a given deadline, the owner can go to jail.
I give the book 4 out of 4 stars, because it is an engrossing story about how one developer learned not to fight city hall. There is rare profanity, and there are some adult situations. There are no typographical errors, so the book was probably professionally edited. This story of a real estate entrepreneur, who manages to re-start his career after financial ruin, is a winner.
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