5. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)
Dale Carnegie is the undisputed father of the self-help industry as we know it, and How to Win Friends and Influence People is probably the most influential of all the books that feature on this list.
Carnegie initially made a living by doing corporate training and self-improvement courses, which were consolidated into book-form on the advice of publisher Leon Shimkin in 1934. Read today, How to Win Friends is nostalgically naïve, citing smiling, remembering people’s names, and avoiding conflict as some of the main constituents of popularity.
The book sold tremendously well from the outset of its publication, which bespeaks our timeless desire for clearly delineated guidance. It is regarded as one of the most influential books in the history of American publishing, and more than 100,000 copies of Carnegie’s primer are still purchased every year – although one hopes that, at this stage, it’s coveted for its appeal as a cultural touchstone, and not for the decidedly acquiescent strategies it recommends.
6. You Can Heal Your Life by Louise L. Hay (1984)
Louise L. Hay was at the forefront of the New Thought approach to self-help, and You Can Heal Your Life is her magnum opus. Written at the dawn of her 60th year of being, Hay expounds on her long-held belief that physical ailments are often manifestations of mental ‘dis-eases’, especially the twin demons of stress and grief. In sum, according to Hay, if you change the way you think – by means of daily affirmations and “mirror work” – you can actually effect changes on your body.
To her credit, Hay’s central premise is neither entirely nonsensical nor entirely novel, as the idea that the body mirrors the mind has been endemic to most human societies, in one form or another, throughout recorded history. On the other hand, Clay made some specious claims about how confronting her childhood trauma cured her of allopathically ‘incurable’ cervical cancer; and, irrespective of the veracity of the anecdote, I personally find it unsettling that sick people might infer that they should forego medical or surgical interventions, in favor of visualization exercises.
You Can Heal Your Life was translated into 30 different languages; and, by 2008, it was estimated that over 35 million copies of the book had been sold worldwide.