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Reader’s Review, May 2015

By John D. Baker

The Negotiator: A Memoir

By George J. Mitchell
416pp. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2015
Hardcover (USA) $28.00

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George Mitchell is an extraordinary individual who rose from poverty to become one of the great figures of the current age. Born to an immigrant mother from Lebanon who with limited education worked in textile mills and a father who worked as a laborer and later as a janitor, Mitchell is the proof of the continuing efficacy and power of the “American Dream.” He is the boy who against great odds, rose to the top in politics, business, international relations and education. Along the way, he also became one of the nation’s great negotiators. This is a book about that experience.

George Mitchell grew-up in Maine in one of those areas called the wrong-side of the tracks in cities across America. Educated in the public schools and bolstered by parents who made every sacrifice possible to ensure the success of their children, Mitchell graduated from Bowdoin College and earned a law degree in night-school from Georgetown University Law Center.

In the years that have followed, George Mitchell became a trial attorney, a county attorney, a U.S. Attorney and a U.S. District Judge. In 1980, Mitchell was appointed to the U.S. Senate and was elected to serve two subsequent terms and selected as Majority Leader of the Senate. Since his retirement from the U.S. Senate, Mitchell has led the Northern Ireland peace process and achieved peace after five years, served two tours as President Obama’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, led an international law firm, chaired the Board of Directors of the Walt Disney Corporation, and on and on. He is an amazing human being.

The Negotiator: A Memoir is Senator Mitchell’s fifth book. Essentially, it is Mitchell’s life story with specific chapters devoted to some of his most significant endeavors and other chapters focused on his findings about negotiation. This review, of course, focuses on Senator Mitchell’s discoveries about negotiation itself.

Central to Mitchell’s whole life is his skill as a negotiator. “I had no formal education in the art of negotiation,” Mitchell tells his reader. His skill is the product of the trial and error honed through a lifetime of positions that demanded the negotiation of thousands of issues.

Mitchell explains that what he learned first and foremost is that no two negotiations are the same. And yet, although the facts of each negotiation make it unique, negotiations ranging from the most complex to the most modest matters achieve resolution through strikingly similar methods.

If this proposition is true, and I am confident that it is, then understanding what makes each unique is central to negotiation success. How does the negotiator do this? Senator Mitchell points the way by identifying and illustrating the role of four qualities he learned over his years in negotiation: learning to listen, developing patience, employing a sense of timing, and a willingness to take risks when appropriate. Readers will find illustrations of each of these qualities throughout this book.

George Mitchell is a good story teller. Anyone who reads this work is certain to enjoy his tales about the arc of his life, the opportunities that his skill in negotiation created and the tales of his accomplishments.


John D. Baker, Ph.D.

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The Negotiator Magazine  May 2015 Copyright © 2015 The Negotiator Magazine