What Makes Sammy Run?

By: Budd Schulberg

This is a novel about the dark side of ambition. The story of Sammy Glick, a kid with insatiable hunger for success which drives him to the top, but blinds him of everything good along the way, and in the end, leads to his ultimate downfall.

Raised in a culture where success and being #1 are so highly prized that we never consider the consequences of ambition, What Makes Sammy Run? was an eye-opening read. It's not all about the career, the money, or being on top—if you disagree with that statement, this is the book for you!

My 10 Favorite Index Cards:

This was one of his most valuable gifts, for perspective doesn’t always pay. It can slow you down. I have sat in my office and said to myself, there are twelve million of your fellow Americans unemployed this morning. Who the hell are you? If that kept me from writing a line all morning it might mean I have perspective. Or thinking how the world was fifty million years ago and all the men who had their chance at living in it and what that had to do with the big payoff scene in Nick Turner – Boy Detective I was supposed to be turning in at five o’clock. That’s perspective too. Or just staring up at millions of stars at night until you become molecular. Perspective is a fine thing. It can make you very unhappy. I couldn’t imagine Sammy ever unhappy. Or happy either. I wondered what emotions he did have. Perhaps only a burning impatience to be further, further on.
The theater entrance was full of excitement that came mostly from women who were attracted to the leading man, and men resentful or regretful that they would never go to bed with anybody like the star, and unimportant people who idealized their envy into admiration and kids who wanted to have more autographs than anybody else in the world.
He was so grateful it was painful. He backed away like an awkward courtier, hoping he wasn’t being too much trouble and thanking me again.
I don’t really believe that liquor will cure all the ills in our society. But two or three healthy slugs often cure our curious inability to know each other. Unless we know people well, we sit around with our worlds and our minds starched, afraid of being ourselves for fear of wrinkling them.
Was Sammy ever down here with you?” She shook her head. “I pointed it out to him once. But he didn’t want to stop. No one ever taught him how to play.
What do you think Sammy is but a desperate, hungry little guy?” It was true. He was going around being desperate in a $150 tailor-made suit. He was hungrier than ever after five-dollar dinners at Marcel’s.
It would have been funnier if it hadn’t contained so much horror, the horror of a fetus called Sammy Glick sprinting out of his mother’s womb, turning life into a rat race in which the only rules are fight for the rail and elbow on the turns and the only finish line is death.
I saw Sammy Glick on a battlefield where every soldier was his own cause, his own army and his own flag, and realized that I had singled him out not because he had been born into the world any more selfish, ruthless and cruel than anybody else, even though he had become all three, but because in the midst of a war that was selfish, ruthless and cruel Sammy was proving himself the fittest, the fiercest and the fastest.
I tried to look innocent, but I knew he was beginning to suffer just as much about playing second fiddle to Fineman as he had about being a copy boy or only making five hundred dollars a week. Instead of sitting on the roof of the tenement with that terrible hunger to be out of the slums, he was up there on top of the Waldorf going crazy to get out of the B-picture field he was just about to enter.
I thought how, unconsciously, I had been waiting for justice suddenly to rise up and smite him in all it’s vengeance, secretly hoping to be around when Sammy got what was coming to him; only I had expected something conclusive and fatal and now I realized that what was coming to him was not a sudden payoff but a process, a disease he had caught in the epidemic that swept his birthplace like a plague; a cancer that slowly ate him away, the symptoms developing and intensifying: success, loneliness, fear. Fear of all the bright young men, the newer, the fresher Sammy Glicks that would spring up to harass him, to threaten him and finally overtake him.

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