Essay / Misc.

Why Few Succeed and Many Fail

I love weird old books, and the worse they are, the better I like them. One of my favorite bad books is a modest little volume from 1927 called Why Few Succeed and Many Fail, by Dr. R. A. Richardson. Never heard of Richardson? He was “A Graduate and Licensed Osteopathic Physician and Surgeon, Also Oculist and Optometrist.” In addition to this book (published by himself The Eyesight and Health Association Publishers, Kansas City, Missouri), Richardson wrote “Strong, Healthy Eyes Without Glasses” and “Removing Facial Wrinkles.”

I know what you’re thinking: WHY do few succeed and many fail? Well, put that thought out of your mind, because Richardson never clearly answers it in this 200-page rambler with no chapter divisions. He does complain a lot about how many failures there are in the world: 95 out of 100, to be precise. From page 20: “Only five out of every hundred people are successful, the other ninety-five are failures. Remember, you can have what you want if you want it badly enough.” And he lets us know of one who succeeded: Dr. R. A. Richardson, Osteopath and Oculist. He has learned the secret, or maybe he was a born winner, or maybe it’s a combination of secrets: salesmanship, positive thinking, impeccable haberdashery. I’ve read this book far too many times (“Honey, what’s got you so interested in that awful book,” asks my wife), and I can’t figure out if Richardson is a laissez-faire social Darwinist, a fatalist, or a bootstraps Pelagian. I think perhaps he’s all three at once.

Why Few Succeed has no structure that I can discern. Instead it churns on for page after page, changing subjects in mid-paragraph, and always circling back to a few loosely-related favorite subjects: One paragraph begins with men who are failures because they read the same kind of books too much, contrasts that unrelieved monotony with the way we treat our machines (clean, lube, rest), and then settles into Richardson’s favorite rut: health and why losers don’t have it. “He allows his human machine to become clogged and congested; he allows waste material to remain inside to decay and form a poison that eats its way through the tissues, finding its way into the heart, the liver, the lungs, and into the joints of the body, his blood stream carrying it on and on until it finds some point of least resistance.” (p. 13)

One thing is clear: Richardson is a champion of hate. His contempt for failures (that’s 95% of us) knows no bounds. Avert your eyes if you can’t tolerate the withering scorn of the self-made osteopath-oculist…

Soy un perdidor! Some people just can’t be helped. “They are already beyond redemption. It would be an easy matter to go on and relate just one case after another of these stupid individuals. Yes, some of them are very well educated, so far as book learning is concerned, but as practical people, they are failures.” (p. 43). Medical doctors? Don’t get him started. “It is really a case of one failure treating another.” (p. 14)

Though he never provides a ranking, Richardson speaks as if he could easily produce a taxonomy of failures and their causes: “The majority of the biggest failures I have known have been afflicted with self pity. Get the idea out of your mind completely that you need help. What you really need and what every successful man or woman needs, is to learn how to help themselves. No one can say that he is successful physically, morally, mentally or financially, so long as he is dependent on any one else. He is just a miserable Parasitic failure. (p. 10)

R.A.R. is serious about this self-sufficiency thing, even taking it to its metaphysical conclusion:

God did not place man on this planet to be constantly asking for help, and praying for peace, praying for happiness, and praying for prosperity, praying for health, and the Lord only knows what-not. Man was placed on the planet and everything placed here to maintain him. He was given power over animals of the land, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and every living thing. He was given a mind superior to all other forms of animal life. He was given the strength and the ability to reason, and the liberty to set himself free. Now this same weakling turns out to be a beggar, after God has given him everything, he gets on his knees and asks for more. Certainly, he should suffer. Selfish, lazy individual that he is, why should he not suffer? But the question is, how much more suffering does one individual need than another? (pp. 15-16)

Um, how is that the question? I think I missed something between “weakling turns out to be a beggar” and “selfish, lazy individual” who deserves to suffer. Richardson appeals directly to you: “Oh, my dear reader, can you not see that our Creator has provided everything; that all we need is here; that we have the intellect, the energy and everything to do with? It is only a matter of doing it –not leaving it for George to do.” (p. 91) Yes, don’t leave it for that loser George! Everyone’s always leaving it for George!

But let Richardson have his say:

Let me say that anyone who remains in the same position for even one year, or for even one month, without having made some advancement, is simply too stupid for words. I know of no way of expressing my opinion of such an individual… (p. 23)

Note that the phrase, “I know of no way of expressing my opinion,” is a figure of speech: he actually knows exactly how to express his opinion of these worthless, Parasitic, miserable, grovelling, weaklings who are beyond redemption and simply too stupd for words. Again, “too stupid for words” is a figure of speech. Here’s a word: Dumbbell. “Any dumbbell can fill a position that requires nothing but the ability to carry out orders. Of course there are many of the failures who lack even this ability.” (p. 30)

The self-correction, not to say contradiction, built into th at last pair of sentences is typical of Richardson’s writing style. At his best, he sounds something like a motivational sensei Yoda: “The moment you admit defeat, then you are defeated. You are the one to determine that. Many people fail, because they admit their defeat, long before they are defeated.” (p. 29) Do not ask how they can admit defeat before they are defeated, if simultaneously they cannot be defeated until they admit defeat. Embrace both truths. All is one. Free your mind and lose your loser self. Ommmmmmm.

Here’s something that could be straight out of Chuang-Tzu: “The big questions today are, where did you get it, how did you get it, and have you got it? The principal question is, have you got it, and did you get it honestly?” (p. 65) But teacher, which of the two is principal? And what is the difference between the three big questions and the one/two principal question? And what, O teacher, is “it?” The it that can be got is not the constant it, seeker.

Richardson is a big believer in progress, and the modern world has brought us two giant leaps forward: osteopathy and salesmanship. Anybody who doesn’t accept the fact that salesmanship is the new way of life is doomed to failure, especially in social matters. Salesmanship re-writes all the rules and renders previous social structures irrelevant. Perhaps it has also rendered paragraph structure irrelevant, if it produces agglomerations such as this: “Times have changed, conditions have changed. If you are going to try to drag old dilapidated, shelf-worn ideas into this new modern business of men, women, and money, you are just wasting your time. Things are not done that way, so just get into the boat, and when you sail into Rome, do as the Romans do. Don’t try to change them all in one day.” (p. 37) Beaten down by this barrage of cant, the sensitive reader may feel the need to huddle in a corner and repeat quietly to himself the passage from Orwell: “This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.”

Reader, if you have come this far, you are worthy of three blasts of pure, unadulterated Why Few Succeed and Many Fail. Here are my favorite passages, all on health:

In America we deliver milk in the bottle. … we are clever enough to Pasteurize it, keep it in cold storage, handle it through wholesale and retail houses, until it has no food value, then sell it for twice what it is worth. Then we send preachers out and good physicians from the Board of Health to lecture in the schools and tell the parents that this wonderful constipating fluid called milk is good for little children. We suggest that they have at least a pint a day. In a few months or a year’s time, this constipating fluid builds up a wonderful case of appendicitis or a rotten pair of tonsils, then the father can spend all of his savings for a hospital bill, and having the tonsils removed. Oh, it is a great system, and it works. The poor, ignorant laity take the advice of the poor, ignorant doctor. He read it out of some book, written by someone who copied it from a book written by someone else, who copied it from a book written five hundred years B. C., and thus the world goes on. (p. 38)


A chimpanzee, a monkey or ape that is left alone to go out and gather its own green vegetation, nuts and fruits, never has neuritis, never has appendicitis, never has tonsilitis. These animals, when taken in and made pets of and permitted to associate with their brethren, whom they call the higher form of animal life, who eat pie-a-la-mud, potatoes au rotten, angel’s fool’s-cake, smashed potatoes, chicken au king, pickles and vinegar, and many forms of corruption; then these same animals have tuberculosis, have neuritis, gall stones, diabetes and everything else that their higher brothers have. (p. 40)


The fact is that you cannot have a cold unless you have a congestion of the intestinal tract, and a clogging of the large colon. As long as you feed a cold, you can keep it. Just keep feeding it, and after a while you will have a fever to starve. The old idea of feed a cold and starve a fever is all wrong. Many people who have tried this made a trip to the cemetery twenty-five or thirty years ahead of time. (p. 75)

Though he does not highlight it, there is one aspect of the book which Richardson might have considered his original contribution. It’s a kind of materialistic positive thinking: “Some few people have learned that thoughts are really things, that thoughts work right on through to conclusion. Thoughts are merely protons or electrons iin action,” Richardson tells us (p. 82). Apparently there is such a thing as spirit, and it influences matter through the medium of electrical “nerve force.” “In life our nerves are filled with electrons, through which our spirit manifests and makes connection with the material. The connecting link between spirit and matter is nerve force.” (p. 85) Knowing this about the contents of your mind/brain enables you to push things around by gathering enough momentum in your brain-electrons. And most importantly, keeping positive thoughts in your head makes sure there’s no room for the negative. “The more constructively one thinks, and the more harmonious their thoughts, the surer they are to possess power of attraction; they are bound to attract success; they are certain to attract health, because their body is charged with health-giving suggestions, health-building thoughts, consequently there is no room for disease; there is no room for inharmony; there is no room for failure. Positive and dynamic protons predominate, making no place and leaving no space for weak, negative electrons.” (p. 87)

The book is 200 pages long, and right around page 100 R. A. R. recommends a technique for success. What you should do is perform an exercise of relaxation and quiet meditation, in which you visualize your body as “a wonderful and divine creative mechanism,” and then “ask for an answer to your problem.” It is not clear who you are asking (since prayer is a form of begging appropriate only to weaklings). But Richardson roots through biblical language to describe this exercise: “You have asked, and you shall receive. You want the truth, knowing that the truth will make you free. Intuitively you will know right fromg wrong. If you do not, it is because you are not sincere in your asking, because in the universal supply there is a true answer to every problem, and only those who are willing to ask, and do it sincerely, will receive answers.” (p. 100)

After handing over this technique, Richardson is obviously pleased with himself, and tells the story of how he got his first book published. Then, out of nowhere, he tosses out the story of a sermon he once heard:

The preacher was very enthusiasticallly telling his flock that they should discard and dispose of their worldly possessions, their worldly ideas –they should give them up and follow Jesus. Evidently this preacher had not read St. John, chapter 8, 21st verse… If he read this verse, he certainly misinterpreted it, because in this verse you see Jesus tells us that we cannot follow him. When he says, “Whither I go, ye cannot come.” (p. 106)

Never mind the interpretive acrobatics there, my standards are low and I just want to know the point of that story.

The moral is, don’t waste too much time worrying about your past sins –to drag them along into the future with you, as many people do, only means that they multiply them by adding another sin, which is worry. Worry and fear help to disintegrate the body. (p. 106)

Ah. So that’s why many fail. Thanks, osteopath-oculist R. A. Richardson!

Stay positive!

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