Paul Dickson Loves to Write—He’s Working on His 67th Book

By Jack Limpert


Paul Dickson talks books with Johnny Carson.

The handsome guy who looks very 1970s in the picture is Paul Dickson, who turned 75 yesterday. When the picture was taken, Paul was on NBC-TV’s Johnny Carson Show to talk about his then latest book, The Official Rules.

Since that 1978 television appearance with Carson, Paul has out-authored any other writer in Washington, and maybe in the world. His first book, Think Tanks, was published in 1971. The Official Rules, in 1978, was his eighth. Authorisms, his 66th, was published this year.

As an editor in Washington, I loved the wit and insights of The Official Rules, especially the fun Paul had with people in the nation’s capital, and in 1978 the Washingtonian published an excerpt from the book. Some of the entries:

Broder’s Law: Anybody who wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organizing and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office. —David Broder

Brown’s Law: Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance. —Sam Brown

Colson’s Law: If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow. —Poster alleged to have hung in Nixon aide Charles Colson’s office.

Dean’s Law: Washington is a much better place if you are asking the questions rather than answering them. —John Dean

Galbraith’s Law: Getting on the cover of Time guarantees the existence of opposition in the future. —John Kenneth Galbraith

Herblock’s Law: If it’s good they’ll stop making it. —Herblock

Kafka’s Tout: In the fight between you and the world, back the world. —Franz Kafka

Mankiewicz’s Environmental Law: People who are excessively concerned about the environment invariably turn out to have a great deal of land. There are damn few unemployed and renters in the ecology movement. —Frank Mankiewicz

Navy Law: If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, maybe you just don’t understand the situation. —U.S. Navy

Nixon’s Law: If two wrongs don’t make a right, try three. —Lawrence J. Peter

Parkinson’s First Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. —C. Northcote Parkinson

Parkinson’s Second Law: Expenditure rises to meet income.—Ibid

Parkinson’s Third Law: An enterprise employing more than 1,000 people becomes a self-perpetuating empire, creating so much internal work that it no longer needs any contact with the outside world. —Ibid

Pierson’s Law: If you’re coasting, you’re going downhill. —L.R. Pierson

After that first compilation of official rules, Paul wrote other books of rules, with the ultimate book of official rules—5,427 of them— published last year. Many of his books are collections—one that sells well year after year is Toasts.

Paul loves baseball. His 2012 biography, Bill Veeck—Baseball’s Greatest Maverick, was honored by three organizations of writers, and eight other Dickson books have baseball in the title.
Paul lives in Garrett Park, one of Washington D.C.’s prettiest suburbs, with his wife Nancy, who works with him on his books.

At 75, is he slowing down? His next book is Contraband Cocktails, described as the paradoxical rise of an urbane cocktail culture which began to appear during Prohibition. And then he’ll work on another big baseball book: a biography of Brooklyn Dodger manager Leo Durocher.

Happy birthday, Paul, and remember this advice (in the first edition of The Official Rules) from baseball legend Satchel Paige:

Avoid fried foods, which angry up the blood.

Go very lightly on the vices, such as carrying on in society, as the social ramble ain’t restful.

Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.


  1. Great advice for an American treasure!

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