Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book Review: The Greatest Salesman in the World, Parts I and II

Og Mandino's two slim volumes, The Greatest Salesman in the World and The Greatest Salesman in the World, Part II: The End of the Story, include simple, occasionally profound, pieces of counsel, wrapped up in what was, for me, often off-putting affected rhetoric.

Og has an interesting back story.  First of all, "Og" - which struck me as an odd name - is actually a nickname for "Augustine".  His plans to attend college were dashed when his mother died of a massive heart attack when he was a teenager.  After flying bombers during World War II, he became an insurance salesman, eventually became an alcoholic, lost his job, his wife and child left him.  He hit rock bottom.

Then he discovered self-help books.  He devoured as many as he could find in libraries across the country, applying the principles and turning his life around.  Finally he decided to write his own book on success and motivation.  He became a best-selling author and successful motivational speaker, got remarried, had more children and life was good again.

Ok, there's a little snark there, but the "power of positive thinking" automatically induces just a bit of eye-rolling for me.  I'm happy that Mr. Mandino managed to get his life together and be happy and successful and I'm glad if the wisdom he gained from his experiences, written down and sold to millions across the globe over the past four and a half decades, has helped others.  But the parable-like framing - deliberately done to give the story a biblical or scriptural feel - comes across a bit affected to me.  And I was uncomfortable, but not surprised, when the Christian overtones showed up at the end of the first book.  I dislike the idea of using the Gospel to sell things and I dislike the idea of "selling" the Gospel, which is strongly implied towards the end when he meets with Saul of Tarsus and passes on his wisdom.

But then, in the preface of the second book, Mr. Mandino mentions that the co-founder of Amway International loved The Greatest Salesman in the World, and advised all of his distributors to buy the book and apply its principles, and I almost closed it up right then.  (Just so we're clear, I have a knee-jerk, deep-seated aversion to multi-level marketing firms - MLMs.  If you are part of one and it has been a good experience, bully for you.  But I have seen enough situations that have demonstrated their ability to encourage exploitative, unethical, and dishonest behavior that I steer clear.)

Now I was fairly convinced when I read Daniel Pink's To Sell Is Human (read my review here), that selling is something we all do, not something slimy to shy away from.  But that book included hard science and practical applications, real defined actions, rather than vague platitudes and trite proverbs.

It's not that I disagree with a lot of what Mr. Mandino wrote.  Much of what he says is true and even uplifting:
* "Never feel shame for trying and failing."
* "Obstacles are necessary for success."
* "I am a unique creature...I will capitalize on this difference for it is an asset to be promoted to the fullest."
* "To surpass the deeds of others is unimportant; to surpass my own deeds is all."
* "Love is my weapon to open the hearts of men, love is also my shield to repulse the arrows of hate and the spears of anger."

Even the stuff I agree with I have a hard time typing because of the pretentious tone.  Tell me that last one didn't make you throw up in your mouth a teensy bit.  But the same or a similar message comes from Glennon and I eat it up.  I'm having a hard time pinning down why, but I think the delivery has a lot to do with it.  Glennon comes across as honest and open.  These books, especially the first, come across as affected and contrived.

I will say that I liked the story of The Greatest Salesman in the World, Part II: The End of the Story better.  It was written twenty years after the first, and I think Mr. Mandino had changed a bit in the intervening years, perhaps recognizing some of the weaknesses of the first book and addressing them in the second.  For one thing, the protagonist actually does something, and it's something challenging at which he is not successful at first, so he has to learn and grow and apply new lessons to his actions.  Again, good, true, simple lessons, but they come across as less pretentious and more real this time:
* "I know how much you want to change the world for the better, my friend, but...what you wish can only be accomplished by changing one person at a time."
* "A smile remains the most inexpensive gift I can bestow on anyone."
* "Nothing is easier than faultfinding. No talent, no self-denial, no brains, no character are required to set up in the business of grumbling.  I no longer have time for that sorry pursuit."
* "There are two kinds of discontented in this world, the discontented that works and the discontented that wrings its hands.  the first gets what it wants and the second loses what it has."

The books are both short, you wouldn't be out more than a couple hours of your life if you read them straight through, so go ahead and glean what pearls of wisdom from them you can.  If they motivate you to step up and change your life, great.  If not, I'm sure there's another of the plethora of self-help books out there that will.


The Greatest Salesman in the World
by Og Mandino
ISBN: 9780553277579
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

The Greatest Salesman in the World, Part II: The End of the Story
by Og Mandino
ISBN: 9780553276992
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperbackhardcover)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

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