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When 18-year-old Stephen A. Schwarzman, the son of a Philadelphia dry-goods store owner, entered Yale in 1965, he took his meals, like all freshmen, in the Commons, a vast, baronial dining hall in a cluster of beaux-arts colossi that the university had constructed for its bicentennial in 1901. The Commons seemed to him like “a train station full of hundreds of people eating,” he recalls in his recently published business memoir, What It Takes. “The loneliness was crushing. Everything and everyone intimidated me.”
Now Schwarzman, the multi-billionaire CEO of the Blackstone...