The Greatest Salesman in the World

“The Greatest Salesman in the World” (TGSitW) is a self-help book whose simple set-up–a fabulously wealthy man, of some unspecified but vaguely distant ethnicity, at some exotic locale, at the center of whose trade empire is a lush palace with ferns, priceless vases, and lush carpets, all of which rich scenery serves to underscore the beguiling promise of the book: master these ten “scrolls” and you too can be fabulously wealthy and so wise and happy you give your money away freely. What a promise!

The book reads like an Aesop’s just-so story telling how an impossibly wealthy sheik came to be that way from humble origins as the lowest of lowly camel herders. It’s very archaic-seeming, with a lot of ‘Henceforth,” and other resolute language, but it’s also extremely easy to read, with very short sentences, and a complete absence of counter-argument or gray area. It also sounds much more like an old-timey preacher’s sermon, with a lot of biblical themes and even quotes (this too shall pass) and a heavy reliance on imagery and metaphor. For all that, it’s strangely readable and even enjoyable.

I found the style seemed familiar, which after finishing I realized may be because Og Mandino also wrote “The Twelfth Angel” which I read a couple decades ago. (Thinking about it now, I suspect The Twelfth Angel was probably pretty influential on my writing style, and was an important source for my young-life toolset for inspiring and motivating myself and others. It probably also allowed me to pass for more biblically literate than I really was.)

Anyway, as I say, it was an enjoyable read.  First TGSitW recognizes and seizes on the way thoughts can be enjoyable, and people who are offered enjoyable trains of thought will often (not everyone, and not all of the time) find it really easy and pleasant to let go of control of their thoughts. That’s why being hypnotized is pleasant–if it weren’t, it wouldn’t work. (And generally once a hypnotist asks a hypnotized person to do something they don’t want to do, they’ll shake off the hypnosis because it won’t be pleasant to imagine themselves doing something they don’t want to do.) This kind of fun is also a big part of the fun of surrendering to the story arc woven by a good novelist. The novelist earns our trust by building good characters and worlds, and we reward the novelist by letting them transport us somewhere interesting. For self-help books, the chief way this works is by instructing readers to contemplate themselves enjoying being successful. It’s nice to imagine getting promotions, being well-liked, buying what one wants, living in luxury, being generous with one’s friends and family, and so on. It’s pleasant, and in moderation, harmless.

The book situates its advice as a set of mantras found on scrolls and used by, who else, the greatest salesman in the world. Consequently we are invited to imagine ourselves and him, situated somewhere far back in time, amid silks in his palace, as we hear the story of how he coached himself to greatness, from the humblest of humble beginnings in some desert marketplace with a few rags. Each “scroll” elaborates on and fleshes out the idea, but these are the ten basic mantras.

  • I will form good habits and become their slave.
  • I will greet this day with love in my heart.
  • I will persist until I succeed.
  • I am nature’s greatest miracle.
  • I will live this day as if it is my last.
  • Today I will be master of my emotions.
  • I will laugh at the world.
  • Today I will multiply my value a hundredfold.
  • I will act now.
  • I will pray for guidance.

It’s a good read. For anyone feeling like they could stand to borrow another person’s mindset for a tough stretch, this might be a decent shot-in-the-arm, if you have a good ability to tolerate preachiness.

Sufficient Distinction

A friend started a game, based on the Arthur C. Clarke line that “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The game was to create a sentence of the same format that feels sufficiently wise/insightful that it “feels like learning” enough to be enjoyable among the sort of nerds who enjoy that kind of thing.

If you play this game for too long, people get lazy and start just saying the “___; ___” instead of the whole sentence. In that format, here are some examples of what people came up with:

  • Technology; magic.
  • Justice; freedom.
  • Hangover; Mondays
  • Lust; loneliness
  • Laziness; nirvana
  • Privilege; chains
  • Not being there at all; Leadership
  • Pattern-matching; prejudice
  • Flavored vegetable protein; flavored animal protein
  • Spam; content
  • Falling; flying
  • Leggings; pants
  • Coping strategy; character
  • vr; r
  • Mediocrity; mediocrity.
  • Heteronormativity; suuuuuuper gay
  • Incompetence; malice
  • Weberian allusion; amazingness.

I spontaneously attempted an entire poem… which I won’t reproduce, because it wasn’t very good. Here are some of the better ones I came up with, or anyway can’t attribute to anyone else. Of course, all of them are like puns–even the good ones are pretty bad.

  • Sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.
  • Sufficiently advanced consent manufacturing is indistinguishable from leadership.
  • Sufficiently advanced Chinese Rooms are indistinguishable from consciousnesses.
  • Sufficiently advanced capitalist societies are indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced noncapitalist ones.
  • Sufficiently advanced legalism is indistinguishable from insufficiently advanced literature.
  • Sufficiently advanced metaethics are indistinguishable from songlines.
  • Sufficiently advanced poetry is indistinguishable from sex.
  • Sufficiently advanced music is indistinguishable from thought control.
  • Sufficiently advanced ubiquity is indistinguishable from nonexistence.


Blogroll Edit: Lingual Abandon

Brief Literary Abandon’s blogroll, like much of this blog, is a work in progress. Today I’m adding a category “self improvement” and a couple of websites:, which isn’t a blog at all, and the, which is the blog of the folks behind the Beeminder accountability tool. If you want to learn a language, check out Duolingo, and if you want to improve yourself, check out Beeminder.

At some point, I plan full reviews of each site, but for now–welcome to the blog roll!

Vectors for Literary Contagion, Vol. I; Now With A Bonus Prediction!

The character of internet traffic can be disheartening, a fact your blogger at BriefLiteraryAbandon learned in college, where the leading source of hits to a progressive student magazine he worked with was from the Google search “safe asphyxiation sex” and the #2 and #3 biggest traffic drivers were likewise hits to the magazine’s relatively short-lived and infrequent sex column. These three specific searches made up >1/2 of the site’s search-driven traffic on most days, despite there being only a few sex columns on the whole site, and hundreds of carefully researched original articles. Disheartening. So what’s a blogger to do, to keep his hopes up, while blogging on an internet of this kind, for an audience or even? Dare he aim so high a community? (Dare, dare)

Perhaps humor is the answer. has a semi-regular feature called “The Road to Popehat” which looks at the search results–especially the entertaining ones–that bring traffic to

Taking that feature as inspiration, here is the first installment of “Vectors of Literary Contagion.” To-date, the overwhelmingly large majority of traffic to BriefLiteraryAbandon is thanks to (and concentrated in the immediate 24 hours after) a Popehat tweet pointing to a post where I borrowed his sock puppets.

However, and the inspiration for this post, as of today, at least one internet searcher has found this blog via a Google search: “name of a parade less than a triumph.” Hail to thee, dear quester for the name of Roman parades not grand enough to count as triumphs. You did not find what you were looking for here; it is not in my review of “The Roman Triumph.” But I hope you liked the post.

I also hope your internet searches continued, and you ran across this line on the wikipedia page for Roman triumphs: A general might be granted a “lesser triumph”, known as an Ovation. Perhaps you thence proceeded to the linked full Wikipedia page on the Roman Ovation… at any rate, here’s to you, as BriefLiteraryAbandon’s first search-induced visitor. May all your searches be fruitful.

Tune in next time for “Vectors of Literary Contagion.”

And, since the title promised a bonus prediction, here are two.

Bonus Predictions:
1. How long will it be until the next installment of Causes of Literary Abandon? I predict there won’t more than five different searches driving traffic to BriefLiteraryAbandon for at least twelve more months. 
2. Having written “safe asphyxiation sex” on this page raises a second question. How long will it be until BriefLiteraryAbandon gets its first visit to this page via asphyxia-related searches, sexual or otherwise? I predict there will be no search-driven traffic related to sex or asphyxiation. The internet, of course, is famously humorless, and will doubtless not try to prove me wrong, or anything like that. 

The Dip, by Seth Godin

“The Dip” by Seth Godin is a good example of how motivational success books work. The Dip offers this list:

Seven reasons you might fail to become the best in the world [at something specific]

1. You run out of time (and quit).
2. You run out of money (and quit).
3. You get scared (and quit).
4. You’re not serious about it (and quit).
5. You lose interest or enthusiasm or settle for being mediocre (and quit).
6. You focus on the short term instead of the long (and quit when the short term gets too hard).
7. You pick the wrong thing at which to be the best in the world (because you don’t have the talent).

The Dip presents this list as part of a crisp package suggesting success (however defined) is guaranteed, if you follow the program.
Guaranteed success!? Sign me up, right?
Here, however, are seven more reasons you might fail to become the best in the world

1. You are paralyzed by analysis (and miss a critical window).
2. You have health problems that interfere.
3. You have great luck in some other category (say, parenting) that is inherently non-“best in the world” but diverts your attention. And you rededicate.
4. You avoid taking the kind of extremely leveraged positions that could result in “best” with the result that you are rewarded, but not extremely. Maybe Seth Godin would define this as being the “best in the world” at satisfying the market demand for an affordable accountant, say, if you do not become the very best accountant, or would define it as becoming the “best in the world” at satisfying market demand for a local accountant in a particular geographic market, but realistically you’re not different than the higher-priced, more highly sought-after accountant in a bigger city. You just made different choices and accepted less risk.
5. You did take a risk, say an 80% chance of becoming the best choice for a candidate for a local office, but the 20% turned out to happen in this universe, and you’re stuck with being an also-ran.
6. You succeed in becoming the best… but not before the world changes and the thing you’re best at isn’t in demand anymore. E.g., somewhere in the world is the best cab driver in the world. But given how soon we are likely to see cab services taken over by automated driving, if you set out now to be the best cab driver in NYC, and give yourself five years of aggressive work to get there… well, you’ll fail, and that’s something you and I know because we know about self-driving cars. But someone in Tegucigalpa who doesn’t know much about the venture finance money pouring in to fund self-driving cars won’t necessarily know what you know, and what I know, and they may set out to become the best cab driver in Tegucigalpa… and a fat lot of good it may do them.
7. You get sucked into a financial trap, taking on way too much student debt, via the promise of “guaranteed success” and spend the rest of your life falling behind as you have more debt to service than other people who, the wonders of education notwithstanding, are still about as smart and hard-working as you.