Example Book Talks
We are by this time agreed that the sale of the proper books at lecture
meetings is greatly to be desired. In this article we shall consider the
chief instrument by which this is attained--the book talk.
We might treat this theme by laying down general rules as to the
elements which enter into the make-up of a successful book talk, but
while this is necessary it is not enough--so many speakers seem to find
it very difficult to apply rules. This part of the question will be
treated in a few sentences.
A book talk, to be successful, must answer the following questions:
(1) Who wrote the book? It is not, of course, simply a question as to
the author's name, but his position and his competence to write on the
(2) What object had the author in view?
(3) What is the main thesis of the book?
(4) Why is it necessary that the hearer should read the book?
Above all, a book talk should be interesting. How often have we seen a
speaker begin a book talk at a meeting by destroying all interest and
making sales almost impossible! The speaker holds up a book in view of
the audience and says: "Here is a book I want you to buy and read." That
settles it. The public has been taught to regard all efforts to sell
things as attacks upon their pocketbooks, and the speaker who begins by
announcing his intention to sell, at once makes himself an object of
suspicion. In the commercial world it is held and admitted that a seller
is seeking his own benefit and the advantages to the buyer are only
incidental. In our case this is largely reversed, but that does not
justify the speaker in rousing all the prejudices lying dormant in the
A good book talk thoroughly captures the interest of the audience before
they know the book is on hand and is going to be offered for sale. About
the middle of the talk the listener should be wondering if you are going
to tell where the book can be obtained and getting ready to take down
the publisher's address when you give it.
His interest increases, and toward the close he learns to his great
delight that you have anticipated his desires and he can take the volume
with him when he leaves the meeting.
This is a good method, but where one is to make many book talks to much
the same audience there are a great many ways in which it can be varied.
I will now submit a book talk which has enabled me to sell thousands of
copies of the book it deals with. This is a ten-cent book, and this
price is high enough for the speaker's experiments. The speaker will
later find it surprisingly easy, when he has mastered the art to sell
fifty-cent and dollar books.
The speaker may use the substance of this talk in his own language, or,
commit it to memory and reproduce it verbatim. Any one who finds the
memorizing beyond his powers should abandon public speaking and devote
his energies to something easy.
BOOK TALK NO. 1.
ENGELS' SOCIALISM, UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC.
For some time previous to the year 1875 the German Socialist
party had been divided into two camps--the Eisenachers and the
Lassallians. About that time they closed their ranks and
presented to the common enemy a united front. So great was their
increase of strength from that union that they were determined
never to divide again. They would preserve their newly won unity
at all costs.
No sooner was this decision made than it seemed as if it was
destined to be overthrown. Professor Eugene Duehring, Privat
Docent of Berlin University, loudly proclaimed himself a convert
to Socialism. When this great figure from the bourgeois
intellectual world stepped boldly and somewhat noisily into the
arena, there was not wanting a considerable group of young and
uninitiated members in the party who flocked to his standard and
found in him a new oracle.
This would have been well enough if Duehring had been content to
take Socialism as he found it or if he had been well enough
informed to make an intelligent criticism of it and reveal any
mistakes in its positions. But he was neither the one or the
other. He undertook, without the slightest qualification for the
task, to overthrow Marx and establish a new Socialism which
should be free from the lamentable blunders of the Marxian
Marx was a mere bungler and the whole matter must be set right
without delay. This was rather a large task, but the Professor
went at it in a large way. He did it in the approved German
manner. Germany would be forever disgraced if any philosopher
took up a new position about anything without going back to the
first beginnings of the orderly universe in nebulous matter, and
showing that from that time on to the discovery of the latest
design in tin kettles everything that happened simply went to
prove his new theory.
Duehring presented a long suffering world with three volumes
that were at least large enough to fill the supposed aching
void. These were: "A Course of Philosophy," "A Course of
Political and Social Science" and "A Critical History of
Political Economy and Socialism."
These large volumes gave Duehring quite a standing among
ill-informed Socialists, who took long words for learning, and
obscurity for profundity. His followers became so numerous that
a new division of the ranks threatened and it became clear that
Duehring's large literary output must be answered.
There was a man in the Socialist movement at that time who was
pre-eminently fitted for that task, who for over thirty years
had proven himself a master of discussion and an accomplished
Engels' friends urged him to rid the movement of this new
intellectual incubus. Engels pleaded he was already over busy
with those tasks, which show him to have been so patient and
prolific a worker. Finally, realizing the importance of the
case, he yielded.
Duehring had wandered all over the universe to establish his
philosophy, and in his reply Engels would have to follow him. So
far from this deterring Engels, it was just this which made his
task attractive. He says in his preface of 1892:
"I had to treat of all and every possible subject, from the
concepts of time and space to Bimetalism; from the eternity of
matter and motion to the perishable nature of moral ideas; from
Darwin's natural selection to the education of youth in a future
society. Anyhow, the systematic comprehensiveness of my opponent
gave me the opportunity of developing, in opposition to him, and
in a more connected form than had previously been done, the
views held by Marx and myself of this great variety of subjects.
And that was the principal reason which made me undertake this
otherwise ungrateful task."
Dealing with the same point, in his biographical essay on
Engels, Kautsky says:
"Duehring was a many-sided man. He wrote on Mathematics and
Mechanics, as well as on Philosophy and Political Economy,
Jurisprudence, Ancient History, etc. Into all these spheres he
was followed by Engels, who was as many-sided as Duehring but in
another way. Engels' many-sidedness was united with a
fundamental thoroughness which in these days of specialization
is only found in a few cases and was rare even at that time. * * *
It is to the superficial many-sidedness of Duehring that we
owe the fact, that the 'Anti-Duehring' became a book which
treated the whole of modern science from the Marx-Engels
materialistic point of view. Next to 'Capital' the
'Anti-Duehring' has become the fundamental work of modern
Engels' reply was published in the Leipsic "Vorwaerts," in a
series of articles beginning early in 1877, and afterwards in a
volume entitled, "Mr. Duehring's Revolution in Science." This
book came to be known by its universal and popular title:
After the appearance of this book Duehring's influence
disappeared. Instead of a great leader in Socialism, Duehring
found himself regarded as a museum curiosity, so much so that
Kautsky, writing in 1887, said:
"The occasion for the 'Anti-Duehring' has been long forgotten.
Not only is Duehring a thing of the past for the Social
Democracy, but the whole throng of academic and platonic
Socialists have been frightened away by the anti-Socialist
legislation, which at least had the one good effect to show
where the reliable supports of our movement are to be found."
Out of Anti-Duehring came the most important Socialist pamphlet
ever published, unless, perhaps, we should except "The Communist
Manifesto," though even this is by no means certain. In 1892
Engels related the story of its birth:
"At the request of my friend, Paul Lafargue, now representative
of Lille in the French Chamber of Deputies, I arranged three
chapters of this book as a pamphlet, which he translated and
published in 1880, under the title: "Socialism, Utopian and
Scientific." From this French text a Polish and a Spanish
edition was prepared. In 1883, our German friends brought out
the pamphlet in the original language. Italian, Russian, Danish,
Dutch and Roumanian translations, based upon the German text,
have since been published. Thus, with the present English
edition, this little book circulates in ten languages. I am not
aware that any other Socialist work, not even our "Communist
Manifesto" of 1848 or Marx's "Capital," has been so often
translated. In Germany it has had four editions of about 20,000
copies in all."
The man who has the good fortune to become familiar with the
contents of this pamphlet in early life will never, in after
life, be able to estimate its full value as a factor in his
intellectual development. I have persuaded many people to buy it
and have invariably given them this advice: "Keep it in your
coat pocket by day and under your pillow by night, and read it
again and again until you know it almost by heart."
At this point you may hold up the pamphlet and announce its price. If
this is done before the lecture, have the ushers pass through the
audience, each with a good supply, and beginning at the front row and
working rapidly so as not to unnecessarily delay the meeting. If the
sale is at the close of the meeting announce that copies may be had
while leaving and have your ushers in the rear so as to meet the
audience. A good deal depends on having live and capable ushers. Our big
sales at the Garrick are due to ushers being past masters in their art.
BOOK TALK NO 2.
THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO.
In the year 1848--over sixty years ago--Scientific Socialism was
born. Almost every objection we now hear against Socialism holds
only against the utopian Socialism which died and was discarded
by Socialists more than half a century ago.
The birth of Scientific Socialism came as the result of the
discovery of a great new truth. This truth revolutionized all
our ideas about society just as Darwin's discovery, eleven years
later, revolutionized our notions of organic life.
From 1848 forward there was no need for speculations and guesses
as to how the world will be in the future or how it might be now
if it were not as it is. From that time we knew that the present
was carried in the womb of the past and the future is already
here in embryo.
If you think you know the main outlines of the future society
yet cannot find those outlines already developing in the society
about you, you are nursing a delusion. You belong to the
Socialism of Utopia--if your future society is not already here
in part, it is "nowhere," as Utopia means.
We know today that science does not consist of a mere collection
of facts. The facts of course are necessary, but science comes
only when we push through the facts and find the laws behind
The discovery that gave birth to Scientific Socialism had to do
with history. This discovery changed our ideas as to what
constitutes history. The rise and fall of kings, tales of bloody
wars, the news of camp and courts; these were supposed to be all
that was important in history. This has been well called: "Drum
and trumpet history."
Since 1848 history is the story of the development of human
society. The introduction of machinery overshadows all kings and
courts in history, as we now know it, because it played a
greater part in social development than ten thousand kings.
History itself is not a science but it is one of the chief parts
of "the science of society"--sociology.
Historical movement like all movement proceeds by law. When Karl
Marx discovered the central law of history he became the real
founder of modern sociology. His discovery of this law of
history ranks with Newton's discovery of gravity or the
Copernican revolution in astronomy. It ranks Marx as one of the
men whose genius created a new epoch in human thinking.
Marx made the discovery before 1848, but that date is immortal
because in that year it was published to the world. That date
ranks with 1859 when the "undying Darwin" gave us "The Origin of
The book was not intended for a book and became a book only by
reason of its great importance. It was published as a political
manifesto--the manifesto of "The Communist League." Hence its
name--"The Communist Manifesto." This book is the foundation and
starting point of Scientific Socialism and is indispensable to
all students of social science or social questions.
The book itself explains why it is not "The Socialist Manifesto"
as we might have expected. At that time the various groups using
Socialist as a title were Utopian and some of them positively
reactionary. There is a description and analysis of these groups
in the third chapter which shows why Marx had no part in them.
Their advocates know nothing of the new historical principle
which now stands at the center of Socialist thought and which
has successfully withstood half a century of searching
This great new principle is called: "The Materialistic
Conception of History." It is not mentioned by name in the
manifesto, but it is there like a living presence spreading
light in dark places of history which had never been penetrated
by previous thinkers. The key to all history is found in methods
of producing and distributing material wealth. Out of the
changes in this field all other social changes come.
Forty years later Frederick Engels gave completeness to the
Manifesto by adding a preface which defines the main theory,
gives an estimate of its value, and explains his part as
co-author with Marx.
No other book can ever take the place of the Communist
Manifesto. Its value grows with the passing years. It was the
first trumpet blast to announce the coming of the triumphant
The Manifesto's first two chapters and its closing paragraph are
beyond all price. They are without parallel in the literature of
the world. They sparkle like "jewels on the stretched forefinger
of all time."
Here the speaker may show the book and state its price, and proceed with
the selling. If the sale is made while the audience is leaving, nothing
further need be said, and if the sale is the last thing in the meeting
it is useless to ask the audience to remain seated during the sale. They
get irritated and the meeting breaks up in confusion. See that your
salesmen are posted at the exits where they will face the audience as it
leaves. At one big meeting in Pittsburg where the sales of a fifty cent
book reached over sixty dollars they would have been double but some of
the sellers came to the front, and while the audience was clamoring for
books which could not be had at the doors, these sellers were following
the audience in the rear with armfuls which they had no chance to sell.
If the sale is made before the lecture while the sellers are passing
through the audience the speaker should continue speaking of the book so
as to sustain interest. There will be no loss of time making change if
the right priced books are sold. 10c, 25c, 50c or $1 are right prices.
At a public meeting it is a mistake to try to sell a book at an odd
price as 15c or 35c or 60c. The demand dies and the audience gets
impatient while the sellers are trying to make change.
The speaker who endeavors to make a success of book-selling at his
meetings will find his labors doubled. The larger his sales the greater
his labors. On my last western trip I sold on an average half a trunk
full of books at each meeting and I had no spare moment from the work of
ordering by telegram and rushing around to express offices and getting
the books to the meetings. But the rewards are great. My trips are
always a financial success and the books I leave scattered on my trail
do far more good than the lectures I delivered.
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