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From my Bookshelf: ‘How Far Do You Want to Go’, by John Catsimatidis (Matt Holt, 2023, 263 pp.)

When I learned that John Catsimatidis had written an autobiography, I was very interested in reading it as soon as possible. I ordered it from Amazon and, knowing it would arrive in a couple of days, made sure to finish quickly the book I was currently reading.

Although John and I both hail from the same tiny Greek island of Nisyros and grew up in Upper Manhattan only a couple of miles from each other and not quite a full generation apart, our lives and circles have overlapped only slightly.

I met and interviewed his son, John Jr., for TNH a few years ago, when he was a senior at NYU and Chairman of the New York College Republicans, and he graciously accepted my request for him to write the foreword to my 2015 book Grumpy Old Party. My uncle and John Sr.’s father were good friends, as were my father and John’s uncle. But he hails from Nisyros’ capital town, Mandraki (there are only four towns on the island), and I from Nikia. So I didn’t really run into him at weddings in Astoria and Long Island while growing up, though in recent years I have run into John on a few occasions. But none of those reasons is why I wanted to read the book.

What has long interested me about John Catsimatidis is not only that he’s a self-made billionaire – as if that isn’t impressive enough – but that he didn’t do it by luck. He didn’t write a hit song that led to a flourishing musical career. He didn’t happen to star on a popular TV series, or invent the Post-it note, or discover a gold mine underneath his backyard. No. John did it step-by-step, piece-by-piece, and across numerous industries, including food, oil and gas, air travel, and media. To be that successful in so many arenas and more doesn’t happen by accident; it takes a special kind of brain to accomplish all of that, and that’s what I wanted to read about.
To reiterate, I don’t know John very well, and so even though he’s Nisyrian, I didn’t know quite how Nisyrian. I was pleasantly surprised to encounter two wonderful photos of Nisyros to begin Chapter 1. John didn’t merely pay lip service to Nisyros; he described the island in great and accurate detail, and recalled his return there years later as a young man (he was only six months old when his family left the island, so obviously he has no memory of that). He is evidently proud from whence he came.

John describes his experiences growing up in New York City very vividly, and they very much mirror my own, and I’m sure those of many TNH readers. And not just the Nisyrian part – how his parents wanted him to marry a Greek; how they were upset when he was accepted to West Point because he’d have to move away; how his mother would cook meals for him that his father would then take to John’s office; the old world custom that until the first-born daughter marries, the other siblings cannot; and many other examples to which multitudes of Greeks and Greek-Americans can relate.

John’s passion for flying not only resonates as genuine, but he describes some scary moments in the air as so harrowing that the reader is gripped: even though John obviously walked away from those situations to write about them, it’s as if they were happening in live time.

As a person who believes that most people are good, which means most Democrats and most Republicans are good, it was easy for me to agree with John’s political evenhandedness: he’s friends with the Bushes and also the Clintons. There are photos and stories of him with Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, and even Fidel Castro.

At a very manageable 263 pages, the book is an easy read and quite a page-turner.

John concludes with 16 pieces of advice, which I won’t divulge here.

How Far Do You Want to Go is an inspirational book not just to Nisyrians, Greeks, or New Yorkers. It is a message about working hard, believing in oneself, and advancing with honesty, integrity, and a commonsense understanding of and respect for one’s customers.




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