Monday, October 15, 2007 10/15/07-Dale Carnegie

In today's excerpt--Dale Carnegie, using Abraham Lincoln as his inspiration, writes the 1936 best-seller How to Win Friends and Influence People:

"As a boy, Carnegie chafed at the dull rural life to which, he feared, his oafish, ill-educated father had doomed him. He struck off on his own as early as he could--first as a salesman in the Midwest, then as an actor in New York, then as a salesman again, all over the place. He sold Armour bacon, animal feed, shoes, tins of lard. As his own biographer later told the story, the innocent Dale fell into the clutches of a wellborn, cosmopolitan femme fatale--a European countess, no less--who wiled him into marriage and, before too long, revealed herself as a howling shrew. She might have ruined his life. Instead, he managed a divorce and escaped to London, where he made a living as a public speaker, giving lectures on 'public speaking.'

"One morning over breakfast, Carnegie came across a newspaper article on Lincoln's life. He was stunned. Lincoln's story, he discovered to his astonishment, was that of a talented, ambitious young lad from the Midwest, stultified by an oafish, ill-educated father, who chafed under the idiocy of rural life and broke free at last, only to be tricked into marriage by a cosmopolitan femme fatale who soon enough revealed herself as a howling shrew. She might have ruined his life. Fortunately, Lincoln transformed the torment she inflicted into the fuel of his own advancement and eventual greatness. This, Carnegie realized at once, was 'one of the most fascinating tales in all the annals of mankind.'

"For Carnegie, Lincoln was not only an inspiration but also a teaching aid, an illustration of how a self-made man gets made. His biography, Lincoln the Unknown, was Carnegie's first commercially produced book. It was hugely successful and became the best-selling biography of his generation. As a work of history it is almost useless. Aside from its denigration of Tom Lincoln and its exaggeration of Mary Lincoln's howling shrewishness, the book is littered with errors of fact. But there was a method to Carnegie's exaggerations and inaccuracies. Carnegie intensified Lincoln's hardships-instigated by Tom and Mary, mostly-to make the final triumph all the more inspiring. ...

"The great success of Lincoln the Unknown inspired Carnegie's next book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Published in 1936, it has sold more than 15 million copies, making it the biggest-selling book in history that doesn't have God as a main character. It sealed Carnegie's international fame and made his name a byword. In How to Win Friends you find the wellspring of two great streams of American popular culture: the self-help movement and the business book. Protestant America had always taken it as axiomatic that good character would be rewarded with worldly success and, on the flipside, that worldly success was reliable evidence of good character. In How to Win Friends Carnegie used Lincoln to show how one led to the other. Though never wildly rich himself, Lincoln was 'the most perfect ruler of men the world has ever seen.' As president, of course, he didn't have the chance to exploit his talent commercially, being preoccupied with Union-saving and slave-freeing. But you, too, Carnegie promised the reader, can be a ruler of men. You, too, can be like Abe--minus the war and the wife."

Andrew Ferguson, Land of Lincoln, Atlantic Monthly Press, Copyright 2007 by Andrew Ferguson, pp. 175-178.


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