I first read this book at the tender age of six or so. I knew it was supposed to be funny, because the way I had found it was by browsing the humor shelves of the public library. (At six I was already exploring out well beyond the confines of the library’s juvenile sections.) It probably had a salutary effect on me, in terms of making the gamesmanship in which it purports to offer instruction seem utterly repellent, albeit curiously arresting.
Potter often describes the complex and antagonistic relationship among the three factors of sportsmanship (constructive sociability in the game context), skill (mastery of game-specific processes and contents), and gamesmanship (exploitation of socio-psychological factors to defeat opponents). In fact, gamesmanship turns out to be not so much about the “art of winning” (note the sparse and apologetic chapter on “Winmanship”), but the art of precipitating losses in rivals.
Some of the best bits of the book are the elaborate (and often pointless) diagrams, and the end-matter: especially “A Queer Match” in the “Gamesmanania” section (105-107). Appendix II, a “Note on Etiquette” betrays the essentially esoteric character of gamesmanship, which may account for the fascination it once exercised over me.
One of the most powerful life skills, and one of the most important to hone and develop for both professional and personal success, is creating clear outcomes. This is not as self-evident as it may sound. We need to constantly define (and redefine) what we’re trying to accomplish on many different levels, and consistently reallocate resources toward getting these tasks complete as effectively and efficiently as possible.
“In the first place, the wretches in power, when they get a perfectly competent author—say a novelist of great repute—will not trust him at all. The great writer’s story has always been a ‘movie’—on the screen of the author’s mind. It was complete in every picture before he ever put pen to paper. But the producing wretches do not know that. They do not realize that he has done the thing right. They do not even realize this in the case of a famous novel—or play—where a long success has proved it.” [via]
“It never disappeared completely. In fact, that experiment showed me that I was on the wrong track. Success lay not in an optical disappearance, but in the power of fascination. ‘Having eyes, they see not.'” [via, also]