Book Reviews

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to 2004 Book Shelf


The Present: The Gift That Makes You Happy and Successful At Work and In Life by Spencer Johnson


Rating: DNR (Do Not Read)


Click on title or picture to buy from



Carpe Today

Millions of readers of Spencer Johnson’s new book, The Present, will remain blissfully unaware that it’s a rewrite of an earlier book of his that provided a rather empty message: it’s all about now. Perhaps the evolution of Johnson’s own thinking helped him understand that we bring to the present our past experiences, and we are heading somewhere. Whatever the reason, Johnson has rewritten an older poorly written book into a new poorly written book. Here’s an excerpt, pages 22-29:

As the teen grew into a young man, he resolved to find The Present on his own.

He read magazines, newspapers and books. He talked with his friends and family. He searched the Internet. He even traveled far and wide seeking answers from everyone he met. But no matter how hard he searched, he could not find anyone who was able to tell him what The Present was.

After a while, he became so tired and discouraged that he simply gave up his search.

Eventually, the young man took a job working for a local company. To those around him he seemed to be doing well enough. But he felt that something was missing.

When he was at work, he thought about where else he might enjoy working more. Or he thought about what he would do when he got home.

His mind often wandered at meetings and even in conversations with his friends. During meals, he was often distracted and unaware of the taste of his food.

In his job, he dealt adequately with his projects, but he knew he could do better. He knew in his heart he was not giving it all he could, but he didn’t feel what he did really mattered.

After a while the young man realized he had become unhappy. He thought he worked hard and that he did what he was expected to do. He usually arrived on time and felt he put in a full day’s work.

He had hoped to be promoted. Perhaps that would make him happier.

Then one day he learned he had been passed over for the promotion he thought he was entitled to.

The young man became angry. He didn’t understand why he had been passed over for the promotion. He tried his best not to let his anger show as it was not welcomed at work. However, he could not let his anger go and it began to consume him.

As the young man’s anger increased, the quality of his work decreased.

To those around him, he tried to act like the promotion didn’t matter. But deep down inside he began to doubt himself, “Do I have what it takes to succeed?” he wondered.

The young man’s personal life wasn’t much better. He hadn’t been able to get over breaking up with his girlfriend. He worried over whether he would ever find true love and have a family of his own.

He found himself floundering. His life seemed to be a series of loose ends, unfinished projects, and unattained goals and dreams.

He knew that he was not fulfilling the promise he’d showed when he was younger.

Every day the young man came home from work a little more tired and disappointed. He never seemed satisfied with what he was doing. But he did not know what to do.

He thought about his youth, and recalled the days when life seemed simpler. He thought about the words of the old man, and the promise of The Present.

He knew he was not as happy, or as successful, as he wanted to be.

Perhaps he should not have abandoned his search for The Present.

It had been a long time since he had spoken to the old man. He was embarrassed about how badly things were going for him, and was reluctant to go back and ask for help.

Finally, however, he was so dissatisfied with his work and life, that he knew he had to talk to the old man.

The old man was pleased to see him. He immediately noticed the young man’s lack of energy and obvious unhappiness. Concerned, he encouraged the young man to tell him what was on his mind.

The young man described his earlier frustrating attempts to find The Present and how he had given up his search for it. He talked about his current troubles.

But, to the young man’s surprise, things didn’t seem so bad in the old man’s presence.

The young man and the old man had a wonderful time together talking and laughing.

The young man realized how much he liked to be with the old man. He felt happier and more energetic in his presence.

He wondered why the old man seemed more alive than most other people he knew. What was it that made him so special?

He said to the old man, “I feel so good when I am with you. Does it have something to do with The Present?”

“It has everything to do with it,” the old man answered.

The young man said, “I wish I could find The Present. And finding it today wouldn’t be too soon.”

The old man laughed and said, “In order to find The Present for yourself, think of the times when you were the happiest, and most successful.

“You already know where to find The Present. You are just not aware of it.”

He continued, “When you stop trying so hard, you will find it is easier to discover. In fact, it will become obvious.”

Then the old man suggested, “Why don’t you take some time away from your regular routine and let the answer come to you.”

Following the old man’s suggestion, the young man accepted a friend’s offer to spend some time at his cabin in the mountains.

Alone in the woods, the young man found things moved at a slower pace and life looked different.

He took long walks and reflected on his life. “Why isn’t my life like the old man’s?” he wondered.

The young man had learned that while the old man was modest, he had been very successful in the world.

He had started at the bottom of a highly respected organization and had risen to the very top. And he had helped the community in many ways.

The old man had a strong and loving family and many loyal friends who often came to see him. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and a wisdom others enjoyed and respected.

Most of all, there was a calm about him that the young man had rarely encountered.

The young man smiled. “And he has the youthful energy of someone half his age.”

The old man was clearly the happiest and most successful person he had ever met.

So, what was The Present that gave the old man so many good qualities?

As the young man walked for miles around the lake, he reflected on what he knew about The Present: It was a gift that you give to yourself. He’d known it best when he was younger.  He’d simply forgotten it.

However, his mind drifted back to his failures. He remembered exactly where he was when he found out he didn’t get the coveted promotion. It was as if it had happened yesterday. He was still angry.

The more he thought about it, the more he worried about going back to work.

Then he noticed it was growing dark and he hurried back to the cabin.

Once inside, he lit a fire to ward off the chill. He noticed something he hadn’t seen before.

As he stared at the fire, he became aware of the cabin’s great fireplace for the first time.

It was made of large and small stones. A minimum of mortar held one stone to the next. Someone had very carefully chosen, chiseled and perfectly placed each stone.

Now that he was aware of it, he appreciated and enjoyed what had been right in front of him all along.

Whoever had built the fireplace was more than a mason. He was an artist.

As the young man marveled at how extraordinarily well built the fireplace was, he thought about how the mason must have felt as he worked.

He must have been completely focused on the job before him. It was clear the mason’s thoughts had not wandered or strayed very often. The work was that good.

It was unlikely that he had been thinking about a past love or that night’s dinner. Nor could his thoughts have raced on to what he would do when he was finished. Or what he could have been doing that he might have enjoyed more.

The young man could tell by looking at the masonry masterpiece that is was obvious the mason had succeeded. He must have concentrated on nothing else but the task at hand.

What was it the old man had said? “To find The Present, think of the times when you were happiest, and most successful.”

When not calling attention to the importance of “now,” or what brought us to now, or where we head from now, there are too many pages of nothing at all in The Present. Take a pass.

Steve Hopkins, May 25, 2004


ã 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the June 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Present.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth AvenueOak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687