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A number of years ago, I followed a boyfriend down to a coastal town in Georgia, where, I recall, we were asked to be in a regatta (don't ask me why). Our host was a local bigwig who had the most interesting living arrangement: In the winter, his family resided in a Tara-like manse (stately columns, three stories, the works), and in the summer they left winter clothes and fireplaces behind to walk about 200 yards to their summer residence, a low-slung, modern house with air conditioning and a pool. I've never forgotten that property; it was both completely sensible and totally bizarre. Nor have I ever forgotten the owner's question to me when he found out I was from New York City: "Do you know Dr. Norman Vincent Peale?" I answered that though New York City is in its way a small town, I had no connection to Norman Vincent Peale, not even through six degrees of separation.

That said, I'm sorry I never got to hear one of the famous man's sermons at the Marble Collegiate Church, just across town from where I live. By all accounts, Peale was an inspiring sermonizer and pastor; he increased the membership of that church from 600, when he arrived in 1932, to 5,000. Peale also co-founded the Horatio Alger Society, which has honored, among others, Barry Griswell, chairman of Principal Financial Group (we learned this when he visited the Inc. offices a few months ago). Mostly, though, Peale is known as the author of one of the greatest self-help books of all time: The Power of Positive Thinking. Published in 1952, it stayed on The New York Times' bestseller list for 186 weeks. Over time, it was translated into 41 languages and sold 20 million copies. One of these copies ended up in the hands of our cover subject, Joe Cirulli.

I don't know how many lives have been positively affected by Peale's self-help masterwork, but I do know of one very successful entrepreneur from a hard-knocks New York background who read it and took it to heart. His story, and the story of his Gainesville, Florida, company, begins on page 86. Is there a book that inspired you, and could you tell us why? It could be a novel, a business book, a biography. I'd like to print the most provocative responses.

Last updated: Aug 1, 2008




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