This April, Dodd, Mead will publish Denis...

This April, Dodd, Mead will publish Denis Waitley and Reni L. Witt's "The Joy of Working: The 30 Day System to Success, Wealth, & Happiness on the Job" ($15.95; 272 pp.). The book arrives with a plug from Kenneth Blanchard, co-author of "The One Minute Manager," who writes touchingly: "Waitley cares about you and wants you to win at life."

I am grateful for Waitley's solicitude, but I note that some of his competitors promise me the same victory for much less than 30 days' investment of time. The first competitor is Blanchard himself, who in his latest one-minute book, "Leadership and the One Minute Manager" (Morrow: $15; 111 pp.), asks only his usual 60 seconds. And yet Blanchard may already be passe. The economy is booming. If I am to boom along with it, can I spare him the full 60 seconds he requires?

The book I need may rather be "Now Is Your Time to Win: You Can Bounce Back From Failure to Success in 30 Seconds!" by Dave Dean (Tyndale House: $7.95, hardcover; $2.50, paperback; 129 pp.). This book bears endorsements by W. Clement Stone, originator of "Positive Mental Attitude"; Zig Ziglar, president of Zig Ziglar, Incorp., who writes, "Buy these concepts--use them daily--and I'll see you at the top!"; and Og Mandino, author of "The Greatest Salesman in the World," who exults: "Dave Dean is a brilliant author!"

The prospect of meeting Zig Ziglar at the top is enticing; but in the roaring '80s, should I fritter away a full 30 seconds on sterile instruction? The point is not to read about making money, right? The point is to make money. And for that, am I not better advised to cut Dean's 30 seconds down to one with "Crash Course: The Instant M.B.A." (Putnam's: $16.95; 192 pp.), due out next month, or, just published, "The Instant Economist" (Addison-Wesley: $12.95; 128 pp.)?

I am enough of a Yankee to be an easy mark for any book that begins "You Can. . .," particularly when the payoff comes in legal tender. Like a teen-ager who claims to find pornography merely funny but views it eagerly for another reason, I mock in public but in private find myself racing through pages of exclamation points, italics, capitalizations and other forms of typographic and stylistic exhibitionism in search of the fact that a man of moderate cupidity may turn to his moderate use.

Do I find it? Almost never. My prurient curiosity receives no real satisfaction; instead, I am made uncomfortably aware of the sorry company I have been keeping. Money books like the ones just listed are perhaps the dominant genre of the mid-1980s. They may make their authors, and even some of their readers, rich, but they bespeak a depressingly narrow set of desires and a frantic anxiety that time may be running out.

As long ago as 1837, Alexis de Tocqueville made the following prescient comment about Americans and their money: "When the prestige attached to what is old has vanished, men are no longer distinguished, or hardly distinguished, by birth, standing or profession; there is thus hardly anything left but money which makes very clear distinctions between men or can raise some of them above the common level. Distinction based on wealth is increased by the disappearance or diminution of all other distinctions.

"In aristocratic nations money is the key to the satisfaction of but a few of the vast array of possible desires; in democracies it is the key to them all.

"So one usually finds that love of money is either the chief or a secondary motive at the bottom of everything the Americans do. This gives a family likeness to all their passions and soon makes them wearisome to contemplate."

One need have no Tocquevillean nostalgia for the humbug of hereditary aristocracy to believe that even in a pay-as-you-go democracy, the array of possible desires is a bit vaster than the money books of the 1980s would suggest. And as for the time to pursue those desires, well, time does not relate to all loves the way it does to the love of money. What minutes and dollars have crucially in common is that both can be counted. But other goods cannot be measured this way; and for them we may have, literally, more time than we know what to do with.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World