Book Review: The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz (1959, 1967, 1997)

I know, I know. You’re all saying, “Brian, why are you reading a book that goes in the Self-Help / Psychology / Inspiration section?” Easy question.

Because I am a promiscuous book slut. I’ll read anything with two covers. Sometimes two at once even. Good, bad, beautiful, ugly, I just cannot stop. Also, I thought the title indicated this particular work was a mind-over-matter, Zen or Hindu ascetic equivalent of Gainpro. There, I admitted it.

It’s not. What it is, however, is a dose of practical, populist pragmatism for the masses. Of course, since I spent forty-five thousand dollars and interest on a Philosophy degree, everything relates to Pragmatism, Existentialism, Objectivism, Dialectic Materialism, or Rudimentarialistic Sponteneal Constructionism.

The core message is that you have to believe in yourself and your abilities to make the efforts and to take the chances to succeed. Much like William James’s parable of the mountain trail, or Thoreau (a Transcendentalist, not a Pragmatist, don’t you think I know that?) telling you to aim high, for men can hit what they aim at. Schwartz directs much of his energy and the book at being successful in business, particularly succeeding in a corporate environment or as an entrepreneur. As such, he does intimate that you can get by with just the right attitude without bogging down your pretty little head with technical aptitude. I’ve worked for too many project managers who got an MBA from Schwartz’s academic successors to heed that augury. I forgive him, though.

I forgive him because the style of the book is accessible and easy to read. Easier than Charles Sanders Peirce, anyway. And since it deals with everyday problems and situations, it makes pragmatism relevant to everyone. Undoubtedly, it’s helped the two generations preceding mine, as the book was originally published in 1959 and revised in 1967 before being reissued as a paperback in 1997. So while the concepts are applicable, the book’s quaintly dated whenever he mentions salaries, housing prices, or veterans (from World War II and Korea) taking night classes.

So grab the book if you can find it cheaply. It’s inspired me a bit, and I’ve even put a quote from it on my whiteboard:

Persisting in one way is not a guarantee of victory. But persistence blended with experimentation does guarantee success.

That’s better advice than I’ve ever gotten from an underpants gnome, werd.

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