Earl Nightingale’s 1956 vinyl classic.

The Strangest Secret

How a Pearl Harbor veteran and radio broadcaster unlocked the secret of life in six words

Mitch Horowitz
8 min readSep 11


The emergence of business motivation as an electronic medium — first on vinyl albums, cassette tapes, and DVDs and later through podcasts, audiobooks, and apps — grew from the aching search of a child of the Great Depression.

He was a Marine who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, a successful broadcaster and salesman, and, above all, a relentlessly curious man who hungered to know what set apart successful people.

His deep, sonorous voice became familiar to millions after he recorded “the secret” to success on a pioneering vinyl record in 1956. His name was Earl Nightingale (1921–1989).

Nightingale was born in 1921 in Long Beach, California. By the time Earl was twelve, in 1933, his father had abandoned the family. Earl, his mother, and two brothers lived destitute in a “tent city” near the Long Beach waterfront, home to people displaced in the Depression.

Earl’s mother supported the family by working as a seamstress in a WPA factory. The adolescent Earl despaired not only of the family’s poverty but also of the people he came in touch with. Everyone around him seemed backbiting, sullen, and directionless.

“I started looking for security when I was 12,” Nightingale recalled. [1] What he specifically meant was that he wanted to determine why some people were poor while others thrived. He yearned to join the latter group.

As a twelve-year-old, Earl ignored broader socio-economic factors. This reflected a blindness to the outer mechanics of life, political and otherwise, which endured across his adulthood. Nonetheless, the wish to succeed, however narrowly framed — and perhaps because of it — drove him to read voraciously in search of “the answer.” He haunted the Long Beach Public Library, poring over every available work of religion, psychology, and philosophy.

At seventeen, Earl was no closer to solving his riddle. Thirsting for independence and needing three meals a day, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps on the eve of World War II. In December 1941, Earl became one of twelve survivors out of a company of a hundred Marines aboard the U.S.S. Arizona during the…



Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China