What They’re Reading Now

Real estate pros share picks for books on race in America, Cornelius Vanderbilt and FDR’s pivotal year

Sep.September 01, 2016 01:00 PM

book-septemberJohn Banks
President, Real Estate Board of New York

What are you reading right now?

“Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The book is written as a letter from Coates to his son about the realities of encountering and confronting racial injustice as an African American in the United States.

What spurred you to read that book?

It was a gift from a friend.

Has anything you read in it stuck with you?

It is a fascinating story with a powerful perspective on our nation’s history and racial conflict, conveyed through an African American man’s journey from a disillusioned young man into a thoughtful, loving father. As a father of two children myself, I can relate to Coates’ efforts and intention to help his son learn from his personal experiences. In this day and age, the issue of race still vexes all of us in how we should view folks who are different than ourselves. Although much progress has been made in the area of race relations, there is still much to be done.

Joshua Berger
Managing director, Norman Bobrow & Co.

What are you reading right now?

“The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt,” by T.J. Stiles.

What spurred you to read that book?

I used to commute through Grand Central Station every day and was in awe of the building’s size and grandeur. Cornelius Vanderbilt built and owned Grand Central Station (called Grand Central Depot at the time), and it really made we wonder about his origins.

Has anything you read in it stuck with you?

The author of the book starts with Vanderbilt [fighting] for his right to earn money early in his business career, which gave me an instant understanding of how rough it was to make it during the early 1800s. From Vanderbilt’s first job ferrying people across the rivers for minimal pay, the author illustrates numerous times throughout the book how his hard work and unflagging work ethic enabled him to fight each battle with ferocity and create tremendous wealth for himself during that process. Something that really stuck with me is that, with strong desire, drive and hard work, anything is possible in New York City. It’s as true now as it was then. I’d absolutely recommend the book to anyone working in real estate, or in other industries in New York City, who is committed to doing whatever it takes — within legal and ethical parameters — to grow themselves and/or their businesses.

Joe Burden
Founding partner and co-head of litigation, Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman

What are you reading right now?

I am reading “1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History,” by Jay Winik. It is about that year in the context of World War II and the failure to provide a safe haven for the six million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust. It is important to understand the history in light of the migrants who are escaping the turmoil in the Middle East. Clearly, it cannot be compared to the Holocaust, but it is instructional, particularly in light of the presidential election.

What spurred you to read that book?

I read a lot of history. This author had written another book I read called “April 1865: The Month That Saved America,” about the end of the Civil War and the assassination of Lincoln. I liked the style and content, so when his 1944 book came out, I decided to pick it up.

Has anything you read in it stuck with you?

It’s heavy history and can be a difficult read, but I couldn’t put it down. Roosevelt, who was elected president four times, was very ill for many years, which was overlooked by both the electorate and other politicians. Today, such a thing would not be allowed to go undiscussed. And the book is also about the Holocaust and why America didn’t do enough to save those who could have been saved. By 1944, the excuses are not very good. There is a parallel to today: The attitude of America towards refugees hasn’t changed one iota. 

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