Morris: Of all the non-religious works that were composed before (let’s say) the 20th century, which one of them were you most surprised to find is relevant today?
Butler-Bowdon: My personal favourite of the 19th century is Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help, published on the same day as Darwin’s The Origin of the Species in 1859. Smiles was a Scottish doctor cum journalist who had begun giving inspiring talks to working men in the north of England, drawing on many of the Victorian success stories of his time. The book is a wealth of examples of people who beat the odds and did something great with their lives, and although it is dated to the extent that he included almost no women, it is still a brilliant motivational work that deserves a bigger readership today. During his lifetime Smiles was quite famous, and it was said that many homes only had two books: the Bible and Self-Help. It was also the inspiration for Orison Swett Marden, the founder of Success magazine in the US and the author of books like Pushing to The Front.
Morris: To me, “spiritual” has always been an elusive term to define. What did you decide when selecting and then discussing the works in the 50 Spiritual Classics volume?
Butler-Bowdon: First, it was never going to be 50 Religious Classics. I was less interested in famous theologians or works of orthodoxy than whether a book had deeply moved or inspired people, whether it was written five or five hundred years ago. And I wasn’t bothered if some writings would be seen by others as sacrilegious (I wrote about a book on Wicca, for instance) or even a bit ‘trashy’. I was very keen to highlight that this has been a golden era in terms of modern spiritual writing, with books like The Celestine Prophecy, The Power of Now, Conversations With God and The Way of the Peaceful Warrior representing a new canon that lay totally outside established religion. Again, as with the previous 50 Classics books, I wanted to show that, even though many of them had been huge bestsellers, and people’s lives were being changed by these writings, they had not been given due critical recognition.
Having said this, I was also keen to cover many of the famous spiritual writings by authors such as Augustine, Teresa of Avila and Al Ghazzali. I wanted 50 Spiritual to be a treasury of inspiration covering many centuries.
Finally, my aim was to make this a spiritual book for people who don’t necessarily believe in God. The point I make is that, whether or not you believe in a divine entity, there is an unseen order that moves the universe, and that getting in tune with it provides for a magical, purposeful life. You become a vehicle for this force, helping to advance the universe in a positive way.
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When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
(Paul to Timothy, 2 Timothy 4:13)
Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library.
To a historian libraries are food, shelter, and even muse.
Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.
Every now and then, I think it is good to remind our readers what this blog is.
This is a blog by and for book readers and book lovers. And I admit that I am one of those book readers/lovers.
We occasionally just reflect on the developments of the day, or offer an opinion or two about different business issus. And we might occasionally refer to a non-business book or two. But primarily, this is a blog about business books.
Our blogging team is immersed in business books.
Karl Krayer and I (Randy Mayeux) have presented a minimum of two synopses of business books, each month, for over 11 years. You name the best seller, and we have probably read it and presented a synopsis of it. The Tipping Point; Good to Great; The Art of Innovation; Blink; Outliers; The World is Flat; Hot, Flat, and Crowded; Womenomics… – the list is long, and always growing.
Bob Morris is a frequent, frequent reviewer of business books (and a few other books) for Amazon.com, other sites, and for this blog.
And Cheryl Jensen and Sara Smith, after a significant career in the corporate world, now consult with companies, and for this blog they primarily share their insights from books related to women in business issues.
(click on the “meet our blogging team” tab at the top of this page to learn more about each member of our blogging team).
So this blog is a blog where you get the reflections of a pretty good group of book readers and book lovers. In addition, you can find many of the synopses of business books that Karl and I have presented over the years at our companion web site, with audio + handout, at 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
But primarily, this is a simple little blog. We talk about ideas – ideas that capture our imagination and make us think — from the best business books we can find. I hope you find it useful.
If you live in or near Dallas, check out our monthly gathering the First Friday Book Synopsis, always on the first Friday of the month (except for those rare holiday conflicts, when it moves to the second Friday of the month). Just click on the home page of this site, and follow the prompts to register.
I present a minimum of two new synopses each month. One, of course, is a business book for the First Friday Book Synopsis. The other is a book related to the nonprofit/poverty/social justice arena for the Urban Engagement Book Club sponsored by Central Dallas Ministries. (Companies and other groups then bring us in for longer versions of these synopses for their groups).
These two worlds occasionally overlap, and I suspect will do so more frequently as more and more people seem to be seeking deeper meaning in their work life, and thus opt for nonprofit careers.
Recently, I was asked to prepare a synopsis of the book Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine their Potential by Dan Pallotta. I presented this at the annual gathering for the Conference of Southwest Foundations. This group consists primarily of people who work for foundations, and the people/family members who set up the foundations themselves. It is a wonderful group!
Uncharitable is quite a provocative book. The author is arguing for a whole new way to approach the nonprofit questions. I mean, a really whole new way. He writes:
We give money to charity because we do want progress… Why do things seem to stay pretty much the same? Why have our cancer charities not found a cure for cancer? Why have our homeless shelters not solved the problem of homelessness? Why do children still go hungry on the streets of America? Why have the pictures of the starving children in Africa not changed in five decades?
Our system of charity doesn’t produce the results we are after because there is a flawed ideology at work.
He states that what we are now doing is simply not reaching the ultimate goal: actually eliminating problems.
There are some great success stories out there. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, is credited with saving the lives of 1 billion people with his great discoveries/innovations in crop yields, significantly funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. And vaccines developed by Jonas Salk in 1952 and Albert Sabin in 1962 led to the virtual elimination of polio, a truly crippling disease.
So – success has been achieved in some major areas, and there is much to celebrate. But there is much more to accomplish.
Dan Pallotta believes that we can do better, and his innovative approach, in his view, would lead to far more actual victories in the battles for better lives for people all across the globe. Here is his summary of his view in table form (taken directly from his book):
For-Profit Rule Book
Nonprofit Rule Book
|Compensate according to value.
No limits on financial incentive.
Effect: attracts top talent for life
|Don’t compensate according to value
Strictly limit the use of financial incentives.
Effect: discourages top talent.
|Buy advertising until the incremental effect is zero.
Effect: Saturate the market with your offer,
build maximum demand.
|Don’t advertise unless the advertising is donated.
Dollars spent on advertising could have gone to the needy.
Effect: Minimal ability to build demand.
|Manage and reward risk.
Effect: Discover new opportunities for growth.
|Don’t take risks. Donated dollars are earmarked for programs.
Effect: Discover few opportunities for growth.
|Invest in the long-term.
Effect: Builds long-term value.
|Don’t invest in the long-term – must meet short-term “efficiency “ standards.
Effect: Institutionalizes problems.
|Unlimited permission to pay return on investment to attract capital.
Effect: Trillions of dollars of capital.
|No permission to pay return on investment to attract capital.
Effect: no surplus capital.
(table from page 42)
If you work for a nonprofit, if you contribute to nonprofits, if you follow philanthropy, this book might be one to put on your reading list. It is not without controversy, but it certainly does stretch the envelope for the way to approach some of the biggest problems facing us.