Self Help Book Reviews

Donald Norfolk

This is a new collaborative initiative, launched in July 2010 under the aegis of the Self Help Alliance. Its objective is to find the ten most influential self help books published during the last two hundred years, a time limit imposed to make sure that the impact of the entries could be fairly compared. Ever since we thinking hominids mastered the art of communicative writing, some five thousand years ago, we’ve been passing down our collective words of wisdom in the form of proverbs and maxims. Many of these precepts refer to the attainment of human well-being, health and happiness, and are reiterated time and again in modern self help books. ‘A soft answer turneth away wrath’, a truism attributed to King Solomon, remains as valid today as it was when it first appeared in the biblical book of ‘Proverbs’. The same applies to the belligerent advice offered by Sun Tzu, the sixth century Chinese military strategist, in his book ‘The Art of War’. His principles of conquest and dominance still circulate today, and are particularly popular with sports trainers and management consultants. However, in the days of King Solomon and Sun Tzu, manuscripts were exceedingly costly to produce, which meant that they could only be enjoyed by the truly wealthy. Today, everyone has cheap and ready access to a wide range of self help books which have the power to transform their lives. Our campaign sets out to identify and describe the manuals in this field which have had the greatest merit and influence.

So far we’ve trawled through some two hundred, well fancied, titles which all offer a wealth of practical advice on holistic well-being, ranging from life style coaching to exercise, diet, mind control, music therapy, personal relationships, success, longevity, health and happiness. In the process we’ve had to discard books which fall outside our arbitrary time limit. That means we couldn’t include Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac which contains such lovely quotes as ‘Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’, and ‘There are no gains, without pains’. We also felt obliged to exclude academic books which are long in learned analysis but short in practical advice. For this reason we felt obliged to veto Eric Fromm’s excellent book ‘Man for Himself’, since he openly admits in his introduction: ‘Many people today expect that books on psychology will give them prescriptions on how to attain ‘happiness’ and ‘peace of mind’. This book does not contain any such advice.’ On the other hand we had no difficulty accepting Samuel Smile’s ‘Self Help’, a manual which inspired countless Victorians by its vigorous support of the virtues of hard work, thrift and perseverance. That book was published on the same day, and by the same publishers, as ‘The Origins of the Species’ but far outstripped the sales of Darwin’s seminal book. Lord Lever, the soap magnate, claimed that he owed his success to following the principles of the Puritan work ethic extolled in a copy of Smiles’ book, which his father gave him when he was sixteen and about to join the family grocery business.

On these pages we’ll be publishing reviews of thirty or more of our short-listed Self Help books. Copies of some of these books are now being sent to experts who we hope will review the book and then pass it on to a colleague for their independent appraisal. (We’re curious to know how long these book chains will last!) All these assessments will be published on these pages. The books will then be judged by a small panel of public health experts, who will be responsible for making the final, ‘Top Ten’ selection, which we hope to publish in 2011.

Current Reviews

Click on a book cover to go to the review

On Civil Disobedience

On Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau (1854)

Not All In The Mind

Not All In The Mind, Dr Richard Mackarness (1976)

The F-Plan Diet

The F-Plan Diet, Audrey Eyton (1982)

The Prophet

The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran (1923)

Don't Sweat The Small Stuff

Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, Richard Carlson (1997)

Baby and Child Care

Baby and Child Care, Dr.Benjamin Spock (1946)

Self Help

Self Help, Samuel Smiles (1859)

The Practice of Management

The Practice of Management, Peter Drucker (1954)

How to Win Friends & Influence People

How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie (1937)

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra (1994)

Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach (1970)

The Power of Positive Thinking

The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale (1952)

The Wisdom of the Ages

The Wisdom of the Ages, Wayne W. Dyer (1998)

One-Dimensional Man

One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse (1964)

The Pleasures of Life

The Pleasures of Life, Sir John Lubbock (1887)

Love and Will

Love and Will, Rollo May (1969)

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey (1989)

Who Moved my Cheese?

Who Moved my Cheese?, Spencer Johnson (1998)

The Gospel of Wealth

The Gospel of Wealth, Andrew Carnegie (1889)

The Road to Serfdom

The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek (1945)

The Man Versus the State

The Man Versus the State, Herbert Spencer (1884)

As a Man Thinketh

As a Man Thinketh, James Allen (1903)

The Purpose Driven Life

The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren (2002)

The Easy Way to Stop Smoking

The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, Allen Carr (1985)

The Kingdom of God is Within You

The Kingdom of God is Within You, Leo Tolstoy (1894)

On Liberty

On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (1859)

You Can Heal Your Life

You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay (1984)

Think and Grow Rich

Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill (1937)

The Joy of Sex

The Joy of Sex, Alex Comfort (1972)

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ

Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, Daniel Goleman (1995)