Success: A Novel

Success: A Novel by Samuel Hopkins Adams (1921)

This is a book I’m certain Ayn Rand must have read and been influenced by.

Just look at these excerpts and you’ll see echoes in Rand’s own books:

And:

And:

And:

Success is a biography moreso than the recent Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson, even though it’s a novel.

It traces the life of Errol Banneker from his childhood roots to his ascendancy near the pinnacle of newspaper publishing in New York City. Banneker, I’m convinced, is the progenitor of Rand’s Gail Wynand, newspaper publisher of The Banner (hello!) in The Fountainhead.

There’s also a composer who had to have been the inspiration for the character Richard Halley in Atlas Shrugged. And Banneker himself is also the template for Rand’s Howard Roark in many ways.

Despite having a style that would be seen as archaic today (with a sense of morality that would be entirely alien to most people raised in the past thirty years), this novel is still very much modern, with dialogue that puts many current writers to shame:

And:

And:

And:

And:

There’s also some sly narrative about the early consumer culture and how marketing attracts people.

There is an astonishing depth of thinking in this book that makes it both timeless and immortal.

Once I started reading it, I had to finish. It was very compelling reading that never dragged, never bored me, with plot twists and chapter endings that were surprising and made me want to keep reading. What delayed this post about it was my own lack of discipline, which is no fault of the book.

Success is also the first book to convince me that a soundtrack in a book might actually have some merit. Look at this excerpt:

Wouldn’t you like to pause reading to listen to that, to better understand what the characters are experiencing? I would. There are several more places like that in the book where music is a key point. I felt as if I was missing a dimension of the story by not knowing these pieces of music which seemed to be a cultural currency when the novel was published in 1921.

The novel is shockingly modern too in that the title is ironic. Without spoiling any of the plot, the title of the book could have been called Success?, had the writer wanted to be obvious.

I discovered this novel in Google Books, while keyword searching for books sharing common themes.

If ever there was a reason for Google Books to exist, this book is a good argument for it.

Put down whatever book you’re about to read next and go get this one. Don’t bother with the ePub version. It’s riddled with typos and formatting errors. In all cases with Google Books, grab the original scan in PDF format. Seeing the actual typeface used in the original book adds to its charm and also makes you really feel as if you’re living in the science fiction future as you read a book from 1921 on a screen.

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