Author believes prosperity requires taking a 'leap into the dark'

Bruce Rosenstein, USA TODAY business book critic, interviewed Tom Butler-Bowdon, author of a series of books on self-help, success, psychology and spirituality. Butler-Bowdon's latest book is 50 Prosperity Classics: Attract It, Create It, Manage It, Share It; Wisdom From the Best Books on Wealth Creation and Abundance.

Rosenstein: In the introduction, you write: … "wealth is about money but prosperity is about life, taking in the wider ideas of good fortune, abundance and well being." Do you find the advice and insights in your previous books (especially on psychology and self-help) dovetail well with the kind of thinking skills and belief systems required for attaining prosperity?

Butler-Bowdon: Yes, because every great legally gotten fortune is built upon one person's willingness to take a leap into the dark, creating something that most other people thought was too difficult or impossible. The point made in 50 Prosperity Classics is that the foundation of all wealth, beyond any technological know-how or access to finance, is character. You must have a very strong belief in yourself, and that what you are doing will benefit the world, in order to see past the inevitable obstacles.

Rosenstein:The Secret by Rhonda Byrne has been hugely successful, but also controversial. You don't sidestep controversies in your books, but do you have a sense of whether people are making sustainable changes in their lives as a consequence of reading The Secret and/or watching the DVD? Also, did its popularity help raise the profile for the books you've written?

Butler-Bowdon: No one has told me they have 'manifested' a million dollars after reading The Secret, but I don't think that's the point. It is not just a tool for making money but a new way of seeing things, one that is about making things happen by going with the grain of the universe instead of against it. For me, the key point of the book is gratitude. Appreciating the riches already in our lives seems to make us richer in every sense. This is metaphysical concept, but also profoundly practical.

The genius of Rhonda Byrne's book and DVD was to distill over a century of great writings in the prosperity field that people didn't know about. Thanks to her, previously obscure figures like Charles Fillmore and Genevieve Behrend have become popular again.

Rosenstein: Do you meet people whose lives have been changed by specific books you've written about in your own series of books? What are some of the most life-changing books, based on evidence of other people's lives?

Butler-Bowdon: Someone recently told me how much Joseph Murphy's self-growth classic The Power of Your Subconscious Mind changed his life. Never before had he considered that most of our perceived limitations are imaginary, and this was a revelation. Many people have told me that Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich (1936) altered their course in life. Hill was perhaps the first to identify generic laws of success that anyone could follow, and the discovery of these has made many people really believe in their own powers. People also get a religious quaver in their voice when talking about Ayn Rand. For many tastes she is too extreme, but Atlas Shrugged, her 1,000 page novel, is about as powerful a read you can get about the individual's ability to create and achieve. For this reason I include her in the self-development pantheon.

Rosenstein: Have you developed a system for how to read, understand and digest numerous books under time deadlines? Do you have tips for readers on how to extract the essence/core messages from reading books, documents or articles?

Butler-Bowdon: Lots of people ask whether I speed read, given the number of titles I've covered with the deadlines I have. Actually, I am not a fast reader, but I read carefully. When you do that it makes it easier to pull out the important themes. My tip is to forget about speed reading and simply respect the author; silence your critical mind and try to see things as they do. In 90% of books, if you pay close attention in the introduction and first chapter you will have the key message. The rest fills out what has initially been said.

Rosenstein: Do you have any time for pleasure reading, and if so, what are some non-work books you've read during the past year or two? Do you belong to a book group?

Butler-Bowdon: In the past, in mental exhaustion after writing a 50 Classics book I have given myself the sweet pleasure of reading the latest John Grisham. But after finishing 50 Prosperity Classics a friend gave me Scar Tissue, the autobiography of Anthony Kiedis, frontman of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I was glued to it, even though I hadn't been a fan. I've also finished Copies in Seconds by David Owen, about the man who invented the photocopier. Sounds boring, but it tells the amazing story of how Chester Carlson came from poverty to invent one of the most useful things of all time.

I started a book group earlier this year. Each week we look at one of the self-development classics. I love it because it's an excuse for me to re-read great titles like The Magic of Thinking Big and Learned Optimism.

Rosenstein: After reading so many books, with their variety of different messages, do you find in your own life it can be difficult to put into practice what these authors have written?

Butler-Bowdon: Yes, because I make myself a guinea pig for every book that I write about, trying out the strategies, tips and laws in each. To other people I recommend finding one or two books they love and living according to them. On the other hand, thanks to my work as a contemporary "scholar of success," I have had the privilege of discovering hundreds of powerful self-development tools that most people don't even know about. The rest of my life will be devoted to making "success" a proper field of study in the way that "management," for instance, entered the universities. At present it is the domain of the motivational gurus, but in the future I think it will get more rigorous and scientific.