What do restaurateur David Chang, Yankee Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra, and opera diva Anna Netrebko have in common? They, and 33 others, are the “superahievers” profiled in the Camille Sweeney, Josh Gosfield book The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well. Success comes in different forms. It is achieved in different ways, and certainly one way to find out how it’s done is to talk to the people that have managed to do it. With that as their basic assumption the husband and wife co-authors set about trying to interview a sampling of successful people from a variety of fields, business, the arts, sports, etc. Of course, not all “superachievers” were willing to take part in the venture, but 36 adventurous successful souls were, and each gets his, her or their (a case or two of group success) own individual chapter distilling the wheat from the chaff of their individual interviews.
After an introductory chapter in which the authors isolate and explain what they call the ten “most important strategies” for success they discovered in the course of their interviews, things like dedication, patience and testing, they go on to look at each the interviewees separately. All chapters follow the same format. They begin with an introductory passage introducing the subjects and explaining what they’ve accomplished in case some reader might lack might not know about their super achievements. A pithy kernel of wisdom called “Takeaway” is followed by ten—the authors somehow fond of that number—lengthier, but never long bits of further wisdom. Each of the chapters ends with a list of interesting facts about the interviewee (window display designer and all around “fabulous” personality Simon Doonan married his partner in 2008) and a list of facts about the interviewee’s area of achievement (wealthy Babylonians powdered their hair with gold dust). None of the chapters runs more than seven or eight pages, so this is the kind of book that would sit comfortably in the magazine stand next to your commode.
Lessons from the super successful include actress Laura Linney’s advice that actors should work with directors they find compatible and educator Erin Gruwell’s that teachers build up a network of “emotional support.” Broadway producer Marc Routh advises aspiring producers not to reinvent the wheel. There is a formula for success, follow it. Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics co-author, advises those who want to write a bestselling book that “imitation gets you nothing.” Puzzle master Will Shortz gives advice about how to write New York Times quality crossword puzzles, and ends by telling us to “think outside the box.” High wire artist Philippe Petit talks about the importance of attending to detail while being willing to improvise. At times the advice seems contradictory, at times cliché. Perhaps most interestingly the one bit of advice rarely if ever advocated by any of these successes is reading books on how to be a success.
The Art of Doing is the kind of book best taken in short doses—a chapter here, two chapters there. Too much in one shot tends to get redundant, or perhaps success piled on success gets daunting. On the other hand it is always nice to read about people with big dreams, working to achieve them and succeeding.