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Confidence Man summary

Maggie Haberman

The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America

3.7 (310 ratings)
19 mins

Brief summary

Confidence Man by Maggie Haberman is a compelling biography that explores the life and career of former US President Donald Trump, focusing on his use of language and manipulation to gain power and influence.

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    Confidence Man
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    Early Influences

    In 1980, Donald Trump spoke to a New York Times reporter about one of his most formative experiences. It was November 21, 1964, and an 18-year-old Trump accompanied his father to the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the newly completed Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island. It was a “sad experience” for Trump. It rained all morning as politicians patted each other on the back, and everyone failed to recognize the real man of honor: the 85-year-old Swedish engineer who designed the bridge, Othmar Ammann. His name wasn’t even mentioned. That’s when Trump realized that people will walk all over you if you let them. The way he saw it, they made a fool out of Ammann. And Trump vowed, from that day forward, no one would ever make a fool out of him.

    It’s a pretty strong origin story for a man like Trump. But the weird thing is that his account is full of inaccuracies. The record of the event shows that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day. Also, Ammann was one of the first people to be introduced, receiving a round of applause from the crowd. Plus, Ammann wasn’t Swedish, he was Swiss.

    Ironically enough, in 1986, that story played out in a similar way after Trump was given a contract to renovate the Wollman Rink in New York City’s Central Park. When the job was complete, Trump took the stage and declined to acknowledge the work done by city officials, the contractors, or the construction firm. Trump claimed all the credit. Art Nusbaum, the head of the construction firm that completed the job, noted that Trump isn’t interested in winning gold if it means he has to share the stage with silver and bronze. He wants them all. Citing Trump’s narcissism, Nusbaum’s firm refused to work with him again.

    Over time, Trump not only became the man who wanted all the attention and all the credit, but also the man who refused to leave the stage. The Trump presidency had many unexpected twists and turns, but looking back, it’s impressive just how consistent he’s been over the years. He was someone who was clearly influenced by a select number of people in his life, and he took those lessons and traits to create a personality and force of will that was ceaseless in its pursuit of recognition.

    Naturally, at the top of the list of formidable influences was his father, Fred Trump. Fred’s father was a German immigrant who died in 1918 during a flu pandemic when Fred was just 12 years old. He left behind a small fortune (what would be half a million dollars today), thanks to small businesses he owned and land he’d purchased in Queens. It became the foundation for E. Trump & Son, named after Fred’s mom, Elizabeth. Fred was tasked with expanding the business and he eventually made valuable political connections in New York which helped him buy up land and create a real estate empire in the 1930s.

    By the 1960s, Fred had five kids, two daughters and three boys. What Fred taught all his children was to push through – to keep going no matter what. If their mother was having emergency surgery in the hospital, the kids went to school anyway. The boys especially looked up to their father, and Donald never deviated from his father’s plans. He went to the New York Military Academy, then to Fordham University, and finally to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of business. 

    While Fred’s influence loomed large over his career, Trump soon found another major influence in legendary New York lawyer Roy Cohn. Cohn made a name for himself by being part of the team that helped Senator Joseph McCarthy root out Communists and gay people from positions of power during the 1950s. Cohn became acquainted with Trump in the 1970s when Trump Management, Inc. was accused of discriminatory rental practices by the federal housing authority. To Trump, Cohn’s fight-tooth-and-nail-for-everything approach was everything he wanted to hear.

    Cohn was also a notoriously transactional individual. If you could be of use, he liked you. If he didn’t like you, well then, “he’d sell you down the tubes” is how Trump put it. It was like a Mafia don mentality. It was simple and it made total sense to Trump. As a pair of father figures, Fred laid out a path, while Cohn opened up new avenues of possibility.

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    What is Confidence Man about?

    Confidence Man (2022) is a full account of Trump’s life in the spotlight. It tracks his career from early New York real estate deals to his tumultuous tenure in the White House. It shows how his aggressive personality was molded early on and only intensified as the stage grew bigger.

    Confidence Man Review

    Confidence Man (2022) by Maggie Haberman offers an insightful look into the world of politics and the presidential administration. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Packed with behind-the-scenes stories and insider knowledge, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the White House.
    • Backed by extensive research and interviews with key players, the book offers a nuanced understanding of the political landscape.
    • Through its intriguing anecdotes and compelling storytelling, it keeps readers engaged and highlights the complexity of the political process.

    Who should read Confidence Man?

    • Politics junkies
    • People interested in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol
    • Anyone interested in the unique life of Donald J. Trump

    About the Author

    Maggie Haberman is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who spent years covering the Trump Administration for the New York Times. She’s also worked as a reporter for the New York Post, the New York Daily News, and Politico.

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    Confidence Man FAQs 

    What is the main message of Confidence Man?

    The main message of Confidence Man is to understand the power of confidence in achieving success.

    How long does it take to read Confidence Man?

    The reading time for Confidence Man varies, but the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Confidence Man a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Confidence Man is a worthwhile read, offering insights into the importance of confidence in our lives.

    Who is the author of Confidence Man?

    The author of Confidence Man is Maggie Haberman.

    What to read after Confidence Man?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Confidence Man, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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