as-a-man-thinketh The granddaddy of "goals" books, As A Man Thinketh is considered by many the flagship in the entire fleet of success literature. Written around the turn of the century (not this one, the last one), James Allen's poetically succinct treatise proposes on its first page that "mind is the master weaver, both of the inner garment of character and the outer garment of circumstance."

Read as an armchair self-help book or sourcebook for platitudes, Allen's hundred-year-old prose is distant enough in time and culture to allow for a comfortable holding at arm's length. Taken to heart, its words become an imposing and stern taskmaster. The following, for example:

"The circumstances which a man encounters with suffering are the result of his own inharmony[sic]...Suffering is always the result of wrong thought in some direction."

Or, "Disease and health, like circumstances, are rooted in thought...The people who live in fear of disease are people who get it. Anxiety quickly demoralizes the whole body and lays it open to the entrance of disease; while impure thoughts, even if not physically indulged, will soon shatter the nervous system... Change of diet will not help a man who will not change his thoughts."

Ouch! Allen takes Epictetus' famous dictum, "If a man is not happy, it is his own fault," and wields it like a broadsword. Facing Allen's thesis head-on in all its implications is, however, a double-edged proposition.

On the one hand, it is a highly sobering read: a serious once-through of its 68 little pages will effectively strip away any and all accumulations of alibi you may have acquired through the compromises of a lifetime, leaving you quite naked with the truths of your life as created by its architect, i.e., yourself.

At the same time, Allen's guidebook will effectively equip you to the task of straightening any bent pathways in your life and building upon that exposed foundation whatever edifice of life experience you choose.

As A Man Thinketh could easily be read in a sitting, but I do not recommend it. The preferred course with a book like this would be to absorb a chapter at a time, highlighter in hand; a chapter an evening makes this a one-week project. (When I first read it, I broke the longish second chapter, "The Effect of Thought on Circumstance," into two bite-sized evenings for more careful and thoughtful chewing.)

If you were to choose a single book to have always on your bedside table, from which to take rejuvenating nightly nips before sleeping or daily draughts before rising, As a Man Thinketh gets my vote.

Paperback: 68 pages, $3.50, DeVorss & Company.