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Sydney J. Harris, The Man Who Put Cutting Edge Wisdom In a Nutshell

Updated on May 29, 2019

Sydney J. Harris, knows the meaning of good advice.

Sydney J. Harris is one of my favorite authors. I remember back in 1987 when I read a copy of his 1973 masterpiece, Winners & losers. This is a very thin book, consisting of only 119 pages that can be read in half an hour. It’s not the size of the book that matters; it’s the power of the words in that book that truly contributes to its greatness. Page by page, Winners & losers is just bursting with cutting edge wisdom. Each page contains a comparison of what makes up the mentality of a winner and that of a loser. For example, on the first page it says “A winners makes commitments; a loser makes promises.” I remember when I first read that; I was blown away. I really began to examine my own convections, and how shallow many of my so called “commitments” really were. Another example of the great wisdom contained in this wonderful book of maxims is on page twenty five, which states the following: “A winner listens; a loser just waits until it’s his turn to talk.” There you have it, the foundation of true communication in a nutshell. The book is divided into five sections of comparisons between the mindset of a winner vs. that of a loser. Each section of the book is filled with great maxims, comparing the habits of a winner with that of a loser. I personally rank this book with such masterpieces, as Dale Carnegie’s, How to Make Friends & Influence People and Steven Covey’s, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Sydney J. Harris was born in London on 1917, his family came to America and he grew up in Chicago. He became a journalist and worked for the Chicago Daily News and The Chicago Sun Times. He had a column that was syndicated throughout the United States called “Strictly Personal.” Harris was a member of the Chicago Daily News’ editorial staff back in 1941, and began writing his famous column in 1944. For many years he was member of the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary. He was also a drama critic, teacher and lecturer, he received numerous honorary doctorates. His work even landed him on the list of Nixon’s political opponents.

Harris has written several other books besides Winner & losers, the titles of some of his other works include: Strictly Personal, Majority of One, Last Things First, On the Contrary, For the Time Being, Pieces of Eight, & Clearing the Ground. One of his best essays, “A Definition of a Jerk” truly demonstrates what an insightful individual Harris was. In this powerful essay, a jerk is truly described to a tee. In part of the essay Harris states the following: “A jerk, then, is a man (or woman) who is utterly unable to see himself as he appears to others. He has no grace, he is tactless without meaning to be, he is a bore even to his best friends, and he is an egotist without charm. All of us are egotists to some extent, but most of us--unlike the jerk--are perfectly and horribly aware of it when we make asses of ourselves. The jerk never knows.” Here, in the following statement, the reader is given even greater insight to the nature of a jerk “he is totally incapable of looking into the mirror of his soul and shuddering at what he sees there.” Harris is what you would call a modern day Solomon, whose insight, and cutting edge wit helps the reader to look deeper inside himself and examine his motives.

Harris, who married twice and fathered five children and died in 1986, leaving a legacy of wise maxims for the modern day seeker of wisdom. I, for one would recommend, Winners & losers to anyone, who is looking some good advice. It is a great book for students, homemakers, and professional alike. People from all walks could truly benefit from what I call “proverbs in a nutshell.”


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    • Internetwriter62 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thank you ytsenoh, for your kind words, for your interest in my article and in Sydney Harris' work. It is always a pleasure to run into wise individuals, like yourself that appreciate great works like that of Sydney Harris. I am always learning myself, since it is the only way to become wiser.

    • ytsenoh profile image


      7 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      I am glad I came across your piece. Thank you. I especially liked it when you stated, "It’s not the size of the book that matters; it’s the power of the words in that book that truly contributes to its greatness." I couldn't agree more. Thanks for sharing this book and author. I keep learning.

    • Internetwriter62 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Hi Nijah,

      Thank you and I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge and ideas with me. I agree another world is possible, although I still have to wake up in this one everyday. I guess one of the greatest gifts we humans all pocess is the ability to hope so keep hoping and yes I also believe a better world takes action. I try to do my best to do my part, I can only hope others do the same.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      HI, THANKS,

      "We all have to gain the understanding and the experience to formulate and implement ideas. You learn from the people you're trying to organize. Something must be done in a disciplined, sustained way, and soon. It won't be easy to proceed."

      TWO DANGEROUS DEVELOPMENTS IN THE INTERNATIONAL ARENA OVERSHADOW EVERYTHING ELSE: First, nuclear weapons-energy, and second, of course, is environmental catastrophe. I'll make point on new or emerging sciences and/or technologies; i.e. Bio, Cognitive, Geo-engineering, Info and Nano.

      You can't achieve significant initiatives without a larger, active, popular base. Organizing such base involves EDUCATION and ACTIVISM.

      Old KARL MARX sad: "The task is not just to understand the world but to change it.", and John Cage said: "We can't change our minds (the collective consciousness)without changing the world."

      So, I do believe that "ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE."

      Looking forward to...



    • Internetwriter62 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thanks for sharing that with me Nijaz, that is very true, unfortunately for the younger generation, anyway, it is starting to look that way.

    • profile image

      Nijaz Deleut Kemo 

      8 years ago

      "The real danger to humanity is not that computers will come to think like humans, but that humans will come to think like computers."

    • Internetwriter62 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

      Thank you Terry for your kind invitations to your Keep Print Media Alive on Face book. I will be more than happy to visit your page. I'm glad you like my article on Sydney Harris, who was a truly great writer and journalist.

    • profile image

      Terry R. Reid 

      8 years ago

      Hello, I wanted to let you know that I run a Facebook page entitled “Keep Print Media Alive!” Read a Book, Buy a Newspaper, get Ink!” and I have posted a link to your article on one of my favorite newspaper men. I think he was one of the all-time writers in the field. As I believe in making connections that reinforce our age-old love of traditional newspapers, real bound books, and papers and letters of all sorts, who better personifies the link we have today with the printed word than the likes of Sydney J. Harris? Please visit the page at As a Friend of the Print community you are welcome to post here at anytime anything that pertains to all things written and published by the late Mr. Harris and other newspaper journalists!

    • De Greek profile image

      De Greek 

      9 years ago from UK

      I have learned something from you Young Internetwriter62 about Sydney J. Harris and I thank you :-)


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