Thomas Wolfe? Orlando Aloysius Battista? Eddie Rickenbacker? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: While searching for quotations about success I found the following:
You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, or publicity.
Several web pages credit this saying to the famous writer Thomas Wolfe, but I’ve read “Look Homeward, Angel” and Wolfe’s style seems very different. Maybe he wrote in multiple styles, but I didn’t see a specific reference to a location in his writing. Could you explore this?
Quote Investigator: QI shares your skepticism and believes that this saying was actually created by a man named Orlando Aloysius Battista who specialized in constructing epigrams. Battista was an accomplished chemist who also devoted considerable effort to composing and disseminating thousands of his original aphorisms via books and a syndicated newspaper column. He trademarked the term Quotoons and often used it to refer to his creations.
The earliest citation QI has located for this quote is in a collection of sayings compiled and published by Laurence J. Peter in 1977 called “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time”. The expression is credited to “Dr. O. A. Battista” [PQB]. Here are additional citations in chronological order.
In 1966 Battista published “A Dictionary of Quotoons”; however, QI has searched this text and the saying under investigation does not appear in it [DOQ]. In succeeding years Battista published revised and updated versions of his collection. In 1981 an edition was published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons called “Quotoons: A Speaker’s Dictionary”. On the back cover of this book the adage about success is displayed [QSD]. QI suspects that the saying was placed in an earlier 1977 edition and that edition was seen by Laurence J. Peter.
In 1991 the reporter Liz Smith used the quote as the first sentence in her gossip column “Scoop”. She credited Battista and aimed a barb at business magnate and personality Donald Trump [LST]:
“You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments or publicity,” said O.A. Battista. Quick – somebody tell this to Donald Trump.
In 2000 a book called “Wise Words and Quotes” published the saying but attributed the words to a World War I fighter ace instead of Battista [WWQ]:
You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments or publicity.
In 2003 The Plain Dealer, a Cleveland, Ohio newspaper, published a column containing a group of quotes. The author said they were obtained from Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, websites, and “a few other places.” The expression about success was attributed to Wolfe [PDW]:
“You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments or publicity.”
— Thomas Wolfe.
Some of the databases of quotations available on the web assign the saying to Thomas Wolfe, e.g., ThinkExist.com and IWise.com [TETW] [IWTW].
In conclusion, Orlando Aloysius Battista was a prolific epigram designer and by 1977 or earlier he released this adage to the world. Thanks for your question. QI hopes you receive a satisfying amount of money, compliments, and publicity.
[PQB] 1977, “Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Time” by Laurence J. Peter, Page 455, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Google Books has 1993 edition preview; Verified on paper in 1977 edition) link
[DOQ] 1966, A Dictionary of Quotoons by O. A. Battista, Reader-Services Company, Morrisville, Pennsylvania. (Examined on paper)
[QSD] 1981, Quotoons: A Speaker’s Dictionary by O. A. Battista, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, Reprint of 1977 edition published by Research Services Corp., Fort Worth, Texas. (Google snippet view; Quote visible on back cover; Many thanks to the librarian at the Central Library of Manatee County, Florida for verification) link link
[LST] 1991 November 30, Indiana Gazette Scoop by Liz Smith, Page 12, Column 1, Indiana, Pennsylvania. (NewspaperArchive)
[WWQ] 2000, Wise Words and Quotes by Vernon K. McLellan, Page 255, Tyndale House Publishers. (Google Books preview) link
[PDW] 2003 December 14, The Plain Dealer, Look to this Column for Wealth Health by Bill Lubinger, Section Business, Page G2, Cleveland, Ohio. (NewsBank)
[TETW] ThinkExist.com website, Quote attributed to Thomas Wolfe, “You have reached the pinnacle of success”. (Accessed 2011 February 3) link
[IWTW] IWise Wisdom on Demand, IWise.com website, Quote attributed to Thomas Wolfe, “You have reached the pinnacle of success”. (Accessed 2011 February 3) link