The smart of the deal

I’m interested in the technologies, claims and challenges of the smart city: its structures, platforms, processes, security and surveillance systems, involving big data flows and encryption, as well as the city’s opportunists, underworlds, hacks and how cities get interfered with.

While futurists, urbanists, academics and cultural commentators probe the city’s covert and overt sign systems, social disparities, politics and meanings, the real estate developer class gets on with making money.

What better way to get a handle on the developer mindset than to read The Art of the Deal. I’ve now read this book by D.J. Trump and Tony Schwartz published in 1989 — or, at least, I had it read to me as an unabridged audio book in stable and friendly tones by voice actor Kaleo Griffith. It’s the first of ten self-help auto-biographies with Trump as author.

There’s some architecture in this book, or at least architects. 1980’s heroes such as César Pelli, Richard Meier, I.M. Pei and Helmut Jahn are mentioned and evaluated, as is the architect of Trump Tower in New York, Der Scutt.

Real estate and humanity

Though it’s nothing like Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope (2007), there are hints of humanity in the book. Trump considers the deleterious social effects of the government policy of controlling rents on dwellings. He also comes up with proposals for low cost accommodation near Central Park.

“I had more than a dozen vacant apartments at 100 Central Park South. Because I still planned to demolish the building, I had no intention of filling the apartments with permanent tenants. Why not, I thought, offer them to the city for use by the homeless, on a temporary basis? I’m not going to pretend that it bothered me to imagine the very wealthy tenants of 100 Central Park South having to live alongside people less fortunate than themselves for a while. At the same time, I genuinely felt it was a shame not to make use of a few vacant apartments when the streets were filled with homeless people.”

Trump restored the open air ice rink in Central Park apparently out of civic duty, and he recounts how he raised money to spare someone’s farm from unjust foreclosure.

Though it’s all through the lens of money and profits, the image is of someone engaged, aware, enthusiastic, and with a sense of the social importance of what he’s doing.

This was all prior to his forays into reality TV and politics. The reader of today may wonder when Trump turned bad.


Tony Schwartz ghost wrote The Art of the Deal, and has since become an outspoken anti-Trumper, writing articles and appearing as a regular guest on cable tv. Before the impeachment hearings began he tweeted ( this week

“Never forget this Trump advantage: he will lie about anything without guilt, and change his lies countless times if he thinks it will help his cause. It’s not a fair playing field, because 98% of human beings have at least some conscience.”

Help yourself

According to James Poniewozik, author of Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America, Trump was a fan of Norman Vincent Peale, whose books and sermons presented “Christianity as a kind of self-help salesmanship guide.”

Had I tried to read The Art of the Deal twenty-five years ago, I would have put it in the same category as other best sellers that excite readers with dreams of success, like Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking.

Such self-help books deliver rules of a kind, accompanied by stories containing too much detail to remember or be bothered with, but exude an atmosphere of success: autobiographical easy reading, with gossip, challenges overcome, complaint and self-aggrandisement.

The reader expects exaggeration and hyperbole. According to The Art of the Deal,

“I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular” (58).


Going with your “gut” is important in The Art of the Deal. Here’s some advice about getting advice:

“I ask and I ask and I ask, until I begin to get a gut feeling about something. And that’s when I make a decision” (52).

But later on we read: “Don’t act on an impulse — even a charitable one — unless you’ve considered the downside.” Trust your gut, but be careful.

In other words, it’s up to the reader to work out how to act. It’s tempting to conclude that it’s easiest to take risks when underwritten by a family fortune.

In many respects The Art of the Deal is unremarkable, were it not for what became of the person at the centre of it. The book is about selling, but one preoccupation stands out.


To get your way you have to be prepared to contest everything. The book and the man are preoccupied with litigation.

“I’m the first to admit that I am very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win. Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.”

The book, and the life of the man, are full of conflict. The people he encounters in life turn out to be either friends or enemies: “I don’t go out of my way to be cordial to my enemies.”

That’s agon, one of the defining characteristics of both play and the city. For a further account of the city as a site of conflict beyond unbridled self interest and unrelenting insistence see post: Interactive architecture.


  • Obama, Barack. 2007. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. Edinburgh: Canongate Books
  • Peale, Norman Vincent. 1953. The Power of Positive Thinking. Kingswood, Tadworth, Surrey, UK: Cedar
  • Poniewozik, James. 2019. Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America. London: Norton
  • Trump, Donald, and Tony Schwartz. 1989. Trump: The Art of the Deal. London: Penguin
  • Wilson, Rick. 2018. Everything Trump Touches Dies: A Republican Strategist Gets Real About the Worst President Ever. New York, NY: Free Press


  • It’s difficult to give page numbers for audio books. So these are missing from some quotes above.
  • The picture above is New York City in 2006, taken from the Rockefeller Building.

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