Review: The Greatest Salesman in the World

Spoiler Alert: If you plan to read this book, and are concerned about having the ending spoiled, don’t read this. I tell you how the story ends, although it’s not terribly relevant to the majority of the book.

Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World was a book I found and read with little understanding of what it was. Perhaps because of this fact, I was rather disappointed by it.

We should establish two facts. First, I have never been, and hope never to be, a salesman. I wanted to read the book, however, because I had found this page, with the following quote:

Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if he or she were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do so with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.

The quote was revelatory for me at the time I found it. And though I do not manage to live up to it’s high ideals, as often as I can remember to, I like to try.

But this quote is not actually in The Greatest Salesman in the World. Even if it had been, I doubt I would have liked the book much more. Perhaps I’m a greater stickler for historical accuracy and internal consistency than most (the book’s Amazon page suggests that), but I just couldn’t accept it’s flaws.

The story is unclear in it’s setting. It wasn’t until the last few pages that I was sure that it was set in Damascus around the year 40 C.E. (or A.D. to you Latin speakers). And the language was at best inconsistent, with people randomly lapsing into “wouldst thou”s for no good reason.

More grating was its structure, which offers a weak to middling story which straddles the books main feature (the ten golden rules of selling, more or less). There is little flow from the story to these Ten Commandments of selling, which leaves it to feel like Mr. Mandino was scared to just write a book called The Ten Rules of Selling and built a story into which he could paste this text.

Further, the rules themselves lack internal consistency, with one instructing us to live each day like its our last and another encouraging us to develop and constantly work toward long term goals.

Perhaps the most over-the-top failing of the book is it’s inexplicable Forrest Gump-like quality. For no apparent reason, the stories protagonist was present at the birth of Jesus Christ and offered the young child a robe. A robe which the child kept his whole life, was taken and gambled on by the Romans, retrieved by a struggling but recently-converted Paul, and then brought to our protagonist in the books stunning conclusion.

What’s worse, the book seems to offer that the secret to the success of Christianity is because Paul discovered the ten rules of good selling, and only after this was successful in converting the world to Christianity. This seems to be not only unlikely, but sacrilegious.