Vitale, Joe. _There's A Customer Born Every Minute: P. T. Barnum's Secrets
to Business Success_. New York: AMACOM, 1998. Pp. xviii + 217.
Bibliography, index. Paper, 6" x 9". $17.95. ISBN 0-8144-7953-7.
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Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
Tarleton State University
Copyright (c) Mark Twain Forum, 1998. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.
On March 2, 1867 Mark Twain penned a letter to the editors of the Alta
California newspaper, "Now that Barnum is running for Congress, anything
connected with him is imbued with a new interest. Therefore I went to his
Museum yesterday, along with the other children. There is little or
nothing in the place worth seeing, and yet how it draws!" (Reprinted in
_Mark Twain's Travels With Mr. Brown_, p.116.)
In Joe Vitale's latest book _There's A Customer Born Every Minute: P. T.
Barnum's Secrets to Business Success_ Vitale attempts to unravel Phineas T.
Barnum's nineteenth century business formulas that transformed "nothing"
into businesses that "draw." Vitale theorizes that Barnum's methods of
genius are translatable and transferable to twentieth century businesses.
His book offers the reader convincing evidence to prove his theory.
Vitale also sets out to dispel the myth that Barnum originated the phrase,
"There's a sucker born every minute." And historical evidence bears him
out. Vitale emphasizes that Barnum did not swindle the public; but merely
provided them with good-natured jokes and entertainments which he called
"humbugs" that kept his customers coming back for more.
_There's A Customer Born Every Minute_ offers the reader little information
relating to Mark Twain and Twain's relationship with P. T. Barnum. And it
does not pretend to. Neither does it masquerade as a source that examines
Barnum's influence on Twain's writing. Twain's name is mentioned on only
fourteen pages throughout the book. The majority of Twain references are
only one or two sentences in length; only five are indexed -- albeit one
entry is indexed incorrectly in the review copy provided. Unfortunately,
Vitale misses some golden opportunities to discuss Twain's reaction to some
of Barnum's most well-known publicity stunts. Vitale does give a one
sentence referral to Twain's Coy Coggia comet newspaper story of 1874,
which included Barnum in the story line; but Vitale misses a chance to
expound upon Twain's use of Barnum's famous Cardiff Giant hoax as the
source of Twain's sketch titled "A Ghost Story."
Vitale's book has as its main purpose the examination of the promotional
and business techniques employed by P. T. Barnum throughout his lifetime --
techniques which transformed Barnum into one of the nineteenth century's
most colorful and renown businessmen; Barnum -- the name still rings with
familiarity. _There's A Customer Born Every Minute_ belongs to the
motivational and self-help genre of books; it is designed to inspire
today's business owners to implement Barnum's techniques for sure-fire
Vitale's research into the life of P. T. Barnum can be traced back through
the archives of the Mark Twain Forum when Vitale first polled Forum
subscribers in May 1995 for any insights into the Twain and Barnum
relationship. Vitale, an independent marketing specialist, proudly
informed the Mark Twain Forum, "there's a little of both Barnum and Twain
in me" (Mark Twain Forum Archives, May 18, 1995.) Since 1995, Vitale has
done his homework on P. T. Barnum and his book contains a lengthy
bibliography of primary and secondary sources as well as chapter end notes.
Vitale also gives a personal account of his own visit to Barnum's grave.
Vitale has now molded his knowledge of Barnum into a sales training program
called "Project Phineas" which expounds upon ten marketing principles he
has identified and defined as "Rings of Power" which made P. T. Barnum an
Vitale not only demonstrates how Barnum developed and implemented his
business strategies, he illustrates how today's successful entrepreneurs
are utilizing the same strategies in the twentieth century marketplace. He
challenges his readers to imagine how the same techniques could be
implemented in their own lines of business.
Among the ten Barnum strategies or "Rings of Power" identified by Vitale
are those devoted to attention-getting. Vitale confesses, "I sometimes
dress as P. T. Barnum and give speeches on his business principles while
pretending to be the great showman" (p. 43). Harry Houdini and Evel
Knievel are other famous personalities who are identified as masters of
attention-getting techniques first employed by Barnum. Knievel has even
written a blurb for the back of Vitale's book praising its merits.
Linking publicity to news events is another Barnum technique which receives
colorful attention in Vitale's volume. Not only is Donald Trump identified
as a modern-day Barnum and master of negotiations, but also an adept master
at whipping Trump deals into major news events.
In another prime example of "Barnumism," Vitale relates how techniques
learned from his "Project Phineas" sales training program were instrumental
in luring former President George Bush to a potentially nondescript Houston
parachute symposium in February 1997. The symposium ended up with world
wide news coverage via the CNN television network.
According to Vitale, modern day Barnums are also public speakers as well as
writers. Barnum continually updated and reissued his own autobiography.
And in one of the longer passages in this book that relates to Mark Twain,
Vitale discusses a Twain-Barnum collaboration for a book -- a book that
would make use of "queer letters" that Barnum received from people pitching
money-making or money-borrowing schemes. For some yet to be discovered
reason, Twain never wrote the book.
Vitale's book provides a realm of Barnum biographical facts and trivia in a
random format. Among the most fitting bits of Barnum trivia -- the word
Phineas translates into "mouth of brass" in the Hebrew language. _There's
A Customer Born Every Minute_ lightly touches upon almost every facet of
Barnum's career from Jenny Lind to Jumbo the elephant; from the FeJee
Mermaid to the failed Jerome Clock Company; from the little General Tom
Thumb to the Cardiff giant; free buffalo hunts in Hoboken, museums that
burned, his mansion called Iranistan, Queen Victoria -- they're all in the
The Barnum secrets of success range from discovering the requirements of
fun to the importance of personal faith; from networking to negotiating;
from writing effective advertising copy to establishing people contact
networks. _There's A Customer Born Every Minute_ includes a complete
reprint of Barnum's famous speech "The Art of Money Getting" -- a speech
that noted newspaperman Horace Greeley once characterized as worth "a
hundred dollar greenback" to a beginner in business (p. 165).
If Twain researchers are seeking more insight into P. T. Barnum, the man
who sometimes appeared to be both a source of fascination and irritation
for Mark Twain, _There's A Customer Born Every Minute_ fits that niche and
provides bibliographical references to more extensive studies of Barnum's
If Twain researchers are seeking an in-depth review of the Twain and Barnum
association and their influences upon one another, they'll pass this one
by. In fact, one might ask how a book with Twain cast in such a miniscule
role received a review from the Mark Twain Forum. The answer might be that
there really is a lot of P. T. Barnum in Joe Vitale.