TRUMP: Surviving at the Top By Donald Trump and Charles Leerhsen Random House. 229 pages. $21.95. Reviewed by Bill Morris
Before you plunk down $21.95 (plus tax) for Trump: Surviving at the Top, the slim new addition to the story of Donald Trump's life in the no-longer-quite-so-fast lane, you deserve to know what your money is buying.
So here's a simple multiple-choice quiz that will give you a feel for how Trump and his ghostwriter, Charles Leerhsen of Newsweek, go about putting sentences together. Simply choose the ending you believe Trump and Leerhsen actually used in their collaboration, which today hits the top of the New York Times best-seller list:``So I look for more deals to do. On a day in which I've got several good ones in the works and the phones calls and faxes are going back and forth and the tension is palpable - well, at those times I feel the way other people do when they're...'
a.) making love.
b.) doing drugs.
c.) on vacation.
``If you have a striving personality, the challenge matters most, not the reward. The truth is, almost nothing in life is what it's cracked up to be - except perhaps...'
a.) making love.
b.) doing drugs.
c.) the battle to get where you want to go.
``Mike (Tyson) would never do anything - especially give up his championship belt - solely for the money involved. At 23 he had already learned the important truth that money in itself is...'
b.) the only thing.
c.) not a very interesting commodity.
``Anyone who makes it to the top of his profession will tell you, if he's honest, that his worst potential enemy is...'
a.) the I.R.S.
b.) an angry wife when there's no pre-nuptial agreement.
``No other woman was responsible for the breakup (of my marriage). Marla Maples, the beautiful young actress who bore the brunt of the hysterical publicity, is a...'
b.) rocket scientist.
c.) terrific person.
``For all the trouble we had, though, and for all the opportunities that seemed to await me, moving out of the home I shared with Ivana and our three children in Trump Tower was the hardest personal decision I ever made. I wrestled with the idea for...'
a.) an entire afternoon.
b.) the third week of August, 1989.
c.) a long time.
The correct answer to all six questions is, of course: (c). If nothing else, this should illustrate just how bland, self-serving and finally pointless much of this book is.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Trump refuses to air his dirty laundry in these pages. After all, he was un-derstandably aghast at how his business woes and the collapse of his marriage became the grist for some of the grisliest tabloid sensationalism in memory.
But it is surprising how very little substance there is about business matters here. Only when discussing the maneuvers that led to his purchase of the Plaza Hotel and the Eastern Shuttle does Trump even give us a glimpse of the workings of his shrewd, sometimes brilliant business mind.
Elsewhere, for the most part, we learn how to maximize the efficiency of phone calls, how important a good secretary is, how vital the right connections can be.
There aren't many gray areas - or gray people - in the world according to Trump. On the credit side, Barbara Bush is ``a classy lady,' Gen. Douglas MacArthur was ``a brilliant man,' Peter Ueberroth is a ``wonderful and talented guy,' Trump's kids are ``the greatest,' and so on, ad nauseam.
On the debit side, most newspaper stories are nothing but ``personal vendettas,' a certain Forbes magazine writer is ``a mediocre reporter,' and Leona Helmsley, in the book's one genuinely juicy passage, is a ``jealous, unhappy woman' and a ``bully.'
Part of the trouble with Donald Trump, I suppose, is that he's a larger-than-life figure. And I don't mean that in the flattering sense. This book is saturated with his obsession with image. Perversely, this very obsession has turned him into an emblem, in many minds, for the excesses of an entire era, the so-called ``go-go '80s,' and that era's inevitable unpretty consequences.
There was infidelity, divorce, scandal in his private life; pruning and retrenchment, a return to the real world in his business life.
The binge of the go-go '80s couldn't last, of course, and somehow Trump seems to typify how we all felt when it ended. He had to borrow money and cut expenses to stay afloat, and we non-billionaires now have to dig deep in our pockets to pay for the federal deficit, the savings & loan collapse and many other outstanding bills. Hangovers are hell all the way around.
And yet the tone of this book would have us believe nothing is really wrong. The title itself strongly suggests this. The wife, the mistress, the spiralling assets, the yacht - they may all be gone or in dry dock. But Donald Trump survives, pretending he's still right up there at the top.
You'll be excused for asking: The top of what? Not the world, certainly. Just the best-seller list.