FEW BOOKS IN RECENT memory have been so grotesquely successful as Robert Ringer's Looking Out for No. 1 (Fund & Wagnalls, $9.95). And admittedly, the book can arouse powerful emotions - the reader cannot help but be overcome by mixed sympathy and contempt for those who are living in such godforsaken misery that they will pay $10 for this kind of drivel.Ringer, author of the previous best-seller, Winning Through Intimidation, has qualified in this book for the Harold Robbins Award for Contemporary Ethics: "When you boil it all down, I think that's what everyone's main objective in life really is - to feel good." In the pursuit of this elegant truth, Ringer wants to rid you of outmoded notions of duty, charity and social good, and to replace them with a more streamlined concept: "Let's get it out in the open once and for all: All people act in their own self-interest all the time. There, that wasn't so hard, was it?" (And, by the way, Merry Christmas.)
If that were the case, of course, no one would buy the book. But it isn't; and this self-righteous homily drones on for upwards of 300 pages, replete with numerious P.T. Barnum-like pronouncements. On money: "The most important thing I've found that money can buy is freedom." On friendship: "No matter how many friends you have, and no matter how close you may be to one or more persons, the reality is that when you go down for the final count, you'll be in that wooden box all by yourself." Or this Bill Grahamism on society: "Life is like a giant pinspotter in a goliath's bowling alley, with billions of humans relegated to the status of bowling pins."
This book is an embarrassment, and those who want the same kind of message in a more professional treatment are invited to read Your Erroneous Zones, by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer (Funk & Wagnalls, $6.95 - now also an Avon paperback at $2.25), which is not only a more practical guide to asserting your personality, but one which discusses serious problems in a humane and sympathetic way.
More cynical but equally practical is Michael Korda's Success: How Every Man and Woman Can Achieve It (Random House, $8.95). If you are interested in the pop anthropology of business life, the talismanic properties of Gucci loafers and the awesome charisma of Vuitton bags, this is the book for you. Idiosyncratic and engagingly opinionated, Korda - unlike Ringer - makes no apologies for his superficial approach to existence, and that is refreshing. Perhaps he should have read The Fear of Success, by Leon Tec (Reader's Digest Press, $7.95), which argues that almost all of us fear success as the flip side of our desire to succeed. It is not the fear of failure (which is simply "the conscious fear that a person's incompetence will result in specific mistakes.") but the "unconscious fear that his success is not justified and that he is a fraud." Which finally explains why your boss has been acting so strange lately.
For those of us saddled with habits which we cannot break, there are several useful titles available. The most sophisticated and programmatic of them is Kicking the Fear Habit, by Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D. Smith wants us to make use of Orienting Reflexes to unlearn our fears and habits, and provides step-by-step outlines to relieve fear of flying, heights, animals, automobiles and, of course, sex. If you are not sure that you have a phobia, you may find out in Phobia Free: How to Fight Your Fears, by E. Ann Sutherland, Ph.D., and Andrew Weiner, M.A. (Stein & Day, $8.95). This crowd has developed a behavior modification technique for controlling your fears, and a chart to rate your horror of, among other things, gerbils, shellfish, babies, doorknobs or vegetables.
Habit Control in a Day, by Nathan H. Azrin, Ph.D. and R. Gergory Nunn, Ph.D. (Simon & Schuster, $7.95) concentrates on less spectacular but equally disconcerting habits, and offers concrete advice and relaxation exercises for the nation's 40 million nail-biters (take that, Sally Hansen!), four million stutterers, eight million hair-pullers and two million nervous tic-ers.
Self-Mastery Through Self-Hypnosis, by Dr. Roger Bernhardt and David Martin (Bobbs-Merrill, $8.95), propounds a technique which will allegedly allow you to pop off just about anywhere, and which in places is reminiscent of the old Svengali business: "Your whole body is heavy and warm . . . floating down, down, down, right into the chair." Finally, there is You Can Stop, by Jacquelyn Rogers (Simon & Schuster, $8.95), which tries to light up your life by stopping you from smoking. Rogers is a co-founder of the profitable SmokEnders organization, and mentions some of the techniques; since the seminars themselves cost around $150, this book could be a considerable saving.