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This column was prepared for the September 24, 2003 issue of U.S.

1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Richard K. Rein: On Win Straube

Don’t judge a book by its cover, or by its author. Last

week I discovered that A. Scott Berg, the author of the overnight

biography of Katharine Hepburn, was in fact not the overnight success

I had imagined him to be: Yes, his 1971 Princeton senior thesis was

converted into a bestselling biography of the legendary editor Max

Perkins, but Berg spent seven years after his graduation getting it

finished. And yes, Berg’s biography of Hepburn came out just days

after her death, but that publication date was by prearrangement with

the actress herself, and the book was based on a friendship of nearly

20 years.

So this week I encounter another book that turns out to be something

other than I had imagined. The book: "I don’t know where I am

going but I am Enjoying the Ride." The author: Win Straube, who

has self-published this autobiography and is now self-marketing the

book, as well, in an unorthodox manner that included a paid insert

in last week’s edition of U.S. 1 asking buyers to set their own price,

in the form of a donation to an IRS-approved charitable foundation

committed to creating free and minimal cost distance learning


Self published is the key word here. If you have been on my side of

the publishing business long enough (the side that receives


works from enthusiastic authors hoping for recognition and reviews),

you cringe when one drops down on your desk.

Self published works are generally unrestrained works —


details here, personal credos there, moral lessons here and there.

To read through an entire self published book is roughly the same

as sitting through the neighbor’s 90-minute slide presentation on

the family vacation to Yellowstone Park.

I grew anxious at the first seven words of Straube’s title: "I

don’t know where I am going." When I pick up a book, I hope that

the author knows exactly where he or she is going, and that by the

end of the book the ride the author has taken me on will make sense.

I skipped to the end of Straube’s book and found an appendix: Details

of the American branch of the Straube family, as opposed to the


branch; and the author’s complete dietary record for the month of

August, 2001 — it consumes nearly 15 pages of the book.

I will tell you that on August 1 for breakfast Straube ate poi (liquid

pudding of ground taro root) with flaxseed meal, peach and pineapple,

walnuts, rice milk, and green tea, and that at lunch (always his main

meal) he ate butterfish with rice, Ogo, pickled turnips, bean-broth

soup, and fresh cherries for dessert. After two meals you get the

picture: as Straube pushes the three-quarter century mark this guy

is no junk food eater.

Then I skipped to the beginning of the book. The first 20 pages roam

the fringes of civilization, from astrological signs to the


of lineage based on DNA. I didn’t know where I was going and I wasn’t

sure I was going to enjoy the ride.

But I know enough about Straube to recognize that he is an unusual

businessman. A refugee of post World War II Germany, he prospered

as a businessman in the United States. He ultimately set up a network

of international trade centers in Hawaii, Saipan, and Singapore, with

the headquarters of his operation right here in little old Pennington,

New Jersey, where he converted the abandoned Cointreau liqueur factory

into the high tech office compound now known as the Straube Center.

The story of that center, in fact, is well told in a charming little

70-page volume, "At the Right Place," written by Virginia

Persing and Donna Amick (and self published by Straube).

I also know that one of the best questions a reporter can ever ask

his subject is this: What were the circumstances of your childhood?

So I plunged on with Straube’s book and, sure enough, I was rewarded.

For me Straube’s 430-page book begins on page 22 and ends on page

296. Within those pages is a fascinating tale of a boy growing up

in Nazi Germany, conscripted into the Army as a 15-year-old during

the final days of Nazi rule, and then escaping from the


post-war sector. As a boy Straube could not quite understand how his

father could be a member of he Nazi party even while he seemed to

be opposed to fascism. Much later Straube discovered deep family


that made his father one of the quiet heroes of the book.

When you travel — figuratively, at least — with Straube, you

discover why this man’s list of goals includes the following item:

"Continually work on reducing my needs."

When you have survived for months on end in post-war Germany by your

wits and grit, you may not feel the need to invest in the elaborate

security blankets of modern life. As for the 14-plus pages of poi

diet, one page of his reminiscences from his German youth prepare

us for that.

Straube’s story is there. Now he needs the modern-day Max Perkins

to bring it to a wider audience.

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