On This Page

The Truman Method for greatness worked for Harry. It can work for you.

Recommended biographies for your consideration

But I don’t want to read biographies of dead people! Its boring! Show me another way because I’m just not a reader.

Luck and its impact on success



The Truman Method to Greatness


Harry Truman was a voracious reader, and it was said that he read every book in the city library. He was particularly fond of Young Harry Truman's High School LIbraryhistory and biography. I have noticed that many “rags-to-riches” stories begin with a young man or woman from humble circumstances who develops the habit of reading books. They borrow books from the library or friends. If you can read, you can educate yourself in any subject. Young Harry Truman - 1900We can imagine the young Truman in the Independence High School library, reading about the lives of famous and admirable people and imagining how he might live his own life.

Truman said that when he was having trouble making a decision or deciding upon a course of action, he would often imagine how a certain admirable person might deal with that problem. This ability was based on the many biographies he had read. A psychologist might say that Truman used this technique as a device to visualize courses of action that he would otherwise be inhibited from imagining. Cincinnatus, Caesar, Washington, Lincoln, and other heroes - in Truman’s imagination - always did the Statue of Cincinnatus in Cincinnati, OHright thing, the courageous thing, the noble thing, the unselfish thing, the correct thing. Heroic action is bold and decisive. In modeling himself after his heroes and imagining how their heroic personalities might deal with the problems he himself faced, Truman was able to free his imagination to devise bolder and grander solutions than it otherwise might. Truman was apparently a humble man and a modest man. He found it difficult to imagine himself as a great man. But Truman’s capable mind could imagine what certain great men might do if faced with his own circumstances, and that enabled him to reach beyond the limits that his personal modesty would otherwise allow.

The Truman Method to Greatness only works if you know enough about admirable people to imagine them facing and dealing with your own problems. I’m suggesting here that reading a few good biographies might be a way to fill your mind with the biographical material necessary to use the Truman Method. Just below this panel is a short list of favorite biographies that I recommend to you.

But, if you don’t like to read books, then it will do you no good to stare glumly at the pages of a thick biography like a sulky sixth grader doing algebra homework when all of your girlfriends are at the mall. I am acquainted with a number of very intelligent people who do not enjoy reading books. Some of them are college professors who consider reading to be a chore done only at work but they do not associate reading with pleasure, like a flight attendant might not enjoy flying across country on vacation. When I visit their homes, I am struck by the complete absence of bookshelves. If this is you, then skip the list of biographies immediately below and jump straight to my recommendations for those who hate biographies.



Recommended Biographies


My personal policy is that I can only recommend to my readers books that I myself have read, enjoyed, and benefited from. It may well be that there are better books than these, so do not be reluctant to shop around. My own interests lean toward politics, history, philosophy, history of science, history of religion, psychology, personality theory, technology, science fiction, and detective novels. I do not read biographies, for example, of show business personalities or the autobiographies of corporate CEOs. If your desire is to become a movie actress or CEO of General Electric, then I can’t recommend anything to you. You will have to do some hunting on the Amazonor BarnesandNoble web sites yourself. Of course, any book store or web site has pretty much the same same books at pretty much the same price, so shop where you like.


Here is a short list of a few of my own favorite biographies. Harry Truman's Memoirs


Harry Truman - Truman’s own remarkable and highly readable Memoirs provide a guided tour of his own attitudes and personality. The two-volume set is out of print now, but used copies are widely available for less than five bucks. David McCullough’s masterful biography of Truman is a splendid work and initiated my own fascination with the man. I recommend it without reservation. Do not be surprised to discover that Truman was one of America’s most decisive, courageous, and unpopular presidents.

Abraham Lincoln - Of the hundreds of biographies of Lincoln, I have only read one, by Doris Kearns lincoln_goodwin_biographyGoodwin. Her Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln is yet another superb book by an superb writer and very capable scholar. Any Machiavellian can learn from Lincoln and no reader can be disappointed with any of Ms Goodwin’s wonderful books.

Lyndon Johnson - Goodwin’s biography Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream is unique in that she worked for and with Johnson while he was in power and later when he was struggling unsuccessfully with his own never-written memoirs. Lyndon Johnson was the undisputed master of American politics for a time, yet he considered himself a failure at the end of his life. How can things have gone so wrong for a man who only wanted to do good and who won the presidency by a massive landslide? The life of Lyndon Johnson contains many lessons for the Machiavellian.

Bill Gates, founder and presiding genius of Microsoft, is a remarkable man who has led an amazing life. The young Bill Gates (lower left) would eventually earn $500,000 per hour.His work has touched us all. Even now, I am writing on a Microsoft Windows PC and reviewing my work on Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. The Modern Prince was written using Microsoft Word. There is a 97% chance that you are reading this using a Windows PC with Internet Explorer. My own reading on Bill Gates is out of date, and was focused mostly on the early days of the PC industry. There are two kinds of people: those who love Bill Gates and those who hate Bill Gates. You will learn something from a good biography of Bill Gates or a history of Microsoft. Young Bill (at lower left in the group photo) is shown here with the Micro-Soft staff in 1978, back when the company was in Albuquerque, NM. He has earned about $772,000 per hour since that time. He must be doing something right.

The early history of the PC industry is quite a story in itself. Anyone interested in business and marketing could benefit from reading Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date by Robert X. Cringely It is dated now, and there must be other histories available, but the writing is good and the book is still an easy, short, fascinating read.

Sam Houston was an extraordinary man. He was elected twice Congressman from Tennessee, twice Governor of Tennessee, Sam Houston, Cherokee Ambassador to Washington (1830)Commanding General of the Army of Texas, Ambassador from the Cherokee Indians to the US Government (left), twice President of the independent Republic of Texas, twice Senator from the state of Texas, and twice governor of the State of Texas - an incomparable resume. He had no education and was completely self-taught. He abandoned white civilization and lived among the red Indians for years, though the Indians ultimately expelled him from their tribe out of disgust for his constant drunkenness. Houston’s strategy at the Battle of San Jacinto, in which his forces defeated the superior Army of Mexico in a 17 minute battle, is still studied at military academies. He criticized the treatment of the Indian by the white man, much to the disgust of most white men. He refused to recognize the decision of Texans to secede from the United States and join the Confederacy in its hopeless (as he predicted) Civil war. Paradoxically, he was a slave owner who was infuriated when one of his own slaves ran away to Mexico where slavery was forbidden. For his opposition to secession, he was expelled from the governor’s office by disgusted White Texans. He was a drunkard who gave up alcohol in middle age and was a more-or-less teetotaler thereafter. He was a terrible husband to both of his wives. His first wife divorced him in an age when divorce was a scandal. His second wife bore his children, lived in poverty, and lived most of her life alone while he was busy building his resume. Good biographies teach us that great men usually have great flaws. No matter what you think of Houston, his list of accomplishments is without equal in American history. Sam Houston by John Hoyt Williams is the only biography of Houston I’ve read, though there might be others that are better. I chose this one because it was the only biography of Houston that I could find in that particular bookstore at that particular time, and I was lucky to get a good one.Cleopatra 7 Philopator

Cleopatra was a woman that Machiavelli would have admired if he had lived in a time that knew her history. Her enemy Octavian, who became the first emperor of Rome, wanted nothing more than to murder Cleopatra himself. Cheated of that opportunity by her suicide, he made sure that she was described as a political whore who screwed men for political advantage. That is the description that was known to Machiavelli. Fortunately, Cleopatra’s real history is now better known to us thanks to twentieth century scholarship. Cleopatra was a queen descended from the brother of Alexander the Great. She was an amateur philosopher and scholar, though if she wrote anything it is unknown to history. She bedded and gave sons to two of the three greatest men in the world: Caesar and Anthony. She did this not because she was a slut but because Caesar and Anthony were the only two men in the world who were, in her opinion, worthy of her. With Anthony, she ruled the eastern, Greek speaking half of the Roman Empire for two decades. She and Anthony intended to found a dynasty which would rule forever by dividing eastern Europe and western Asia among their children. She was the wealthiest person in the world at the time of her suicide. Her intelligence was surpassed, they say, only by her arrogance. She arranged for the murder of her brothers and sisters, but that was the custom of the time. I have only read Cleopatra by Michael Grant (1972), which may not include the most recent knowledge about her. He has produced a more recent book, which I have not read. It is Cleopatra - A Biography, and it surely includes updated material.


A few points to remember about biographies of these and other remarkable people.

  • Great people often have enormous flaws. Perhaps this is true of you too. Do not expect Sunday School perfection in those whose lives you choose to study. Look for the personal characteristics that led the person to her success. Look for the personal characteristics that led to her failures. Look for the impact of Luck on her life.
  • You cannot live Sam Houston’s life or Cleopatra’s life. You can only live your own. You can, however, learn from these men and women. How did they organize and accomplish their victories? How did they rebound from setbacks? How would they deal with your problems?
  • If you don’t think that the lives of dead queens and presidents hold any value for you, then shop around for a good biography of someone who has achieved greatness in the field of your choice: business, education, art, writing, scholarship, union/labor, science, technology, volunteerism, religion, etc.
  • If you don’t enjoy a book or don’t find any value in it, then drop it after the first hundred pages. You do not have brain cells or time to waste. Take it to a used bookstore and swap it for something you’ll like.
  • Never take a copy of one of my books to a used bookstore for credit. Instead, keep them forever.
  • If you read a remarkable biography, write a review of it and post it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other web sites so that other readers can be guided by your experience. Send it to me too, if you want, and I might post it on www.MidasJones.com .


I Ain’t Gonna Read No Dang Biogerfees!


I understand. Some of the brightest and most creative people I know are not readers-of-books. While I feel sorry for them because they are unable to access the greatest treasure-house of human thought, feeling, and expression, I must tell you that many of them feel sorry for me because I can’t dance and I prefer the solitude of my desk and the companionship of my books and my computer.

The artist and musician develop one part of their brains, the scholar another, and the athlete yet another. Some people are mildly dyslexic, and find deciphering print to be a bit of a struggle. Others do not even notice the effort of reading. For them, the thoughts of the author are transmitted effortlessly from the page into their own minds. In short, the human race varies greatly in its enjoyment of reading. Some love it, some hate it, some are in between.


There are other ways to find good examples to follow.

  • The best site on the internetThe Internet: Some of the people I know who don’t like to read books read thousands of words on the Internet every day without noticing that they are reading. The Internet is like a vast dumpster of text and images. You can find information about people whose lives are interesting to you by searching the net. You can also find a ton of crap. Some web pages deny the known history, distorting and denying verifiable facts, so be selective.
  • Television: The Discovery Channels, A&E, Ovation, the Biography channel, the news networks, and others often have excellent programming that would be enlightening to a Machiavellian. Selective TV watching is a way to learn about the people whose lives can illuminate your own. Also, search the dark corners of Netflix or Blockbuster and you may find some excellent documentaries about people that are of interest to you. PBS, the jewel of the airwaves, airs many excellent documentaries and programs on current events.
  • Movies: Drama has always been a thought provoking source of enlightenment, providing insight into life in general. A Machiavellian can learn a lot from Forbidden PlanetAny Machiavellian can learn from The Shawshank Redemption about persistence, courage, defeat, and triumph. Based on Stephen King’s brilliant novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the movie is worth more than a semester of philosophy lectures. Forbidden Planet, a campy sci-fi flick from the fifties, has caused me to think a lot about human nature. You will encounter a few reviews of recommended movies for Machiavellians - including Shawshank and Forbidden Planet - in other chapters of these pages.
  • Magazines: There are thousands of magazines. Some of them are excellent. Most of them are only useful as starter material for your fireplace. The authors of articles in good magazines have read the books that you don’t want to read. Their articles are summaries of the author’s own reading. You can read a little instead of a lot.
  • Encyclopedias - Reading an article in a good encyclopedia is a fast way to get a summary of knowledge on a topic written by an experienced scholar or expert in the field. Wikipedia is online, searchable, free, and excellent on most topics. My copy of Encyclopedia Britannica on a CD was only about twenty bucks from Dell. There are many good free online reference sites.
  • Your local Community College is a tremendous resource for you. Continuing Education courses are cheap. There are no tests, no homework, no reading assignments, and no pressure. The instructor is someone who has done a lot of reading in the subject, and you can pick her brains for a few bucks.
  • Free municipal and county libraries are found in every community in America as well as on the campuses of every local college or university. Libraries have lots of magazines, not just books, and they each have a lonely reference librarian who will guide you to what you want to learn for the price of a smile.
  • Human Beings: There are people living near you who have accomplished at least some of the things that you have planned for your own future. In particular, retired individuals might enjoy mentoring you in the subjects that you need to know about. Some of the retired people in your town were movers-and-shakers in their day. Develop relationships with people - retired or not - who can teach you. Pay them for their time (money, dinner, yard work, baby sitting, whatever) and have conversations with them in which you can pick their brains relentlessly. It will be flattering to your mentor and highly educational for you.

If you are not a reader-of-books, you must face the fact that knowledge does not appear magically in your mind. It has to come from somewhere. Design your own education program that will allow you to learn about the people who have succeeded and failed in the area where you hope to make your own mark. Education is the easy way to gain knowledge. Experience is the hard way. Every Machiavellian prefers to take the easiest, shortest path to every goal.





When looking for a good example to follow, be thoughtful about the impact of luck on the success of those who appear to be successful. In our society, someone has to succeed. Success in life is always a mixture of skill and luck, but the ratio of luck to success is not always obvious at first glance.

Among our presidents, for example, we can state with some confidence that Lyndon Johnson’s success was based more on skill than luck. Born to a poor Texas hill-country family with no contacts and no history of success, he had to overcome his initial bad luck. He attended a backwater teacher’s college in central Texas but rose to the presidency. George W. Bush, on the other hand, was born to a wealthy and prominent family, the great-grandson of a close advisor to President Hoover, the grandson of a Senator, the son of a President. He attended Yale, like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He was surely luckier than Johnson. Did both of them work hard? Certainly. Did one of them have more advantages than the other? Certainly. You can decide for yourself which one was the better president, but the impact of luck on both of their lives is obvious.

Remember, every successful person is lucky, but not every successful person is skillful. You want to select someone who was more skillful than lucky. It is not always easy to tell, so you will have to be thoughtful in your analysis.


You will read much more on luck in the next chapter and in chapter XXV. For now, let’s say that luck shapes all of our lives for better or worse.



Chapter 6





Download or read online: Machiavelli’s Prince in English translation by W. K. Rowling


Read a brief summary of Machiavelli’s life and works,

written by W. K. Rowling as the Introduction to his translation of The Prince


A readable summary of Machiavelli’s Prince can be found at






The Modern Prince:

Better Living Through Machiavellianism


Click to read a couple of sample chapters. Click here to read a couple of chapters


  Download PDF -  $4.95

  Order the Book - $14.95

  Amazon Kindle  -  $4.95