Loading…
0:00
7:55

You may have noticed a lot of books on attaining power making the rounds. Most are inspired by or are knockoffs of The 48 Laws of Power, the hugely popular book that marks its 20th anniversary this year.

For all its reach, The 48 Laws of Power is, in my view, one of the most debauched and distasteful books on its subject. At its nadir, The 48 Laws makes The Art of the Deal sound like Marcus Aurelius. In sum, the book encourages pursuit of success without nobility. I don’t believe in taking credit for other people’s efforts or ideas, intimidating acquaintances, withholding information, or being a general sneak. (That this judgment comes from someone who has written sympathetically of LeVayan Satanism ought to give pause to even the book’s staunchest fans.)

Publicity shot of Norvell, circa 1950s.

Mine is the minority opinion. The 48 Laws has scored millions of readers worldwide. If you want to succeed at whatever cost to your personal honor, that’s the book for you. But there is a better way, and it sits in history’s forgotten book bin. I am referring to an overlooked and easily underestimated work originally published in 1963: The Million Dollar Secret Hidden in Your Mind. Its author was a jack-of-all-trades success guru, pitchman, and pop-occultist named Anthony Norvell (1908–1990). The bicoastal writer and speaker was briefly known in the late 1940s and ’50s for renting out Carnegie Hall on Sundays, where he addressed audiences as “The Twentieth-Century Philosopher.” (Wittgenstein, move over.)

For all his embarrassing overkill, bouts of hucksterism, and sometimes ridiculously titled self-help potboilers like Psychic Dreamology and the Mystical Power of Pyramid Astrology, Norvell did make some sound points about the nonexploitative pursuit of personal success. This may reveal as much about him as a slightly dodgy character with a good heart as it does about the below-the-belt standards of our own era.

A generation before The 48 Laws of Power, this Hollywood–New York “philosopher” attempted to popularize many of the same general principles, but without plate-licking, cut-you-off-in-traffic trickiness — and with an emphasis on legitimate personal growth.

Not William James. But surprisingly deep.

In particular, I recommend chapter 17, “How to Seek and Win the Aid of Important People.” Writing with more edge and bluntness than Dale Carnegie, Norvell pushes you to cultivate influential allies while still demonstrating greater beneficence than Machiavelli (who actually had some very interesting things to say about human worth and intellect — that’s for another day). To gain a rung up in the world, Norvell advocated using the “law of proximity,” which means seeking the company of people who encourage your finest traits, provide good examples to emulate or imitate, do not indulge your lowest habits, and challenge you to match them in mental acumen, not in money.

In his chapter “Awaken the Mental Giant Slumbering Within” (sound familiar, Tony Robbins fans?), Norvell observed how the most retrograde influences in your life are likely to come from “old neighborhood” friends and acquaintances:

They have lived with you for many years and they have been used to the shrinking violet you may have become under the regime of weak, negative thinking of the past. These friends and relatives feel comfortable in the presence of the small ego that fits their concept of your totality of power. When the slumbering mental giant that is within your mind begins to stir restlessly and tries to shake off the chains that bind it to mediocrity, failure, poverty, and ignorance, these people are apt to set up a clamor that will shock the giant back into his somnolent state of immobility and inertia.

I think Norvell must have listened in on my boyhood Thanksgiving dinners back in Queens.

Below are some of my favorite Norvellisms. They may seem obvious, but their depth appears through application.

  • “Most people have a tendency to minimize themselves and their abilities.”
  • “To be great, you must dwell in the company of great thoughts and high ideals.”
  • “Do not be afraid to ask important people to help you.”
  • “Your subconscious mind will give you valuable ideas, but if you do not write them down, they leave suddenly, and it is difficult to recall them again.”
  • “Your mind likes definiteness. Give yourself a five-year plan for study, growth, and evolvement.”
  • “You must create a need in your life for the things you want.”
  • “Determine that you will never use your money for any destructive or degrading act.”
  • Know what you want of life.”
  • “You build your sense of self-importance by studying constantly.”
  • “No person has ever achieved great heights who was not first inspired by noble emotions and high ideals.” (And if you think that Trump poses an exception, note that the final chapter is not yet written.)

Yes, there are more sophisticated works of mental therapeutics than Anthony Norvell’s. You can read the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James (and you should); you can approach the complex metaphysics of Mary Baker Eddy and Thomas Troward; or you can immerse yourself in the luminous spiritual visions of Neville Goddard and Ernest Holmes. But there exists in Norvell’s work a sapling of all those figures. What’s more, Norvell writes with a delightful, infectious simplicity while conveying the basic steps of experimenting with the self-developing agencies of your mind.

I often think of how to reply when asked to recommend a single book on mind power. This could be such a book—it’s easily digestible and surprisingly broad in breadth. Norvell’s writing is practicality itself.

At times during his long and not always notable career, Norvell was so prolific — and perhaps desperate for the income that came from producing a steady, trendy list of mystical and self-help books — that he stretched his abilities thin. But in The Million Dollar Secret Hidden in Your Mind, the motivational pioneer is exactly in his element. This book is better than who we are today.