Skip to content

Is This Self-Help Book Still Relevant? How To Win Friends And Influence People

March 29, 2015
If the cover says it's "the only book you need to lead you to success," that's good enough for me!

If the cover says it’s “the only book you need to lead you to success,” that’s good enough for me!

Just so you know, I didn’t decide to read How to Win Friends and Influence People  by Dale Carnegie because I needed some self-help.  Well, I might need help, but if I ever read a self-help book because I actually need help, I’m not going to admit that to anybody.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, the big self-help book was called I’m Okay-You’re Okay.  That title rubbed me the wrong way because it implied that everybody was okay and even then I knew a lot of people who weren’t okay.  I wasn’t even sure I was okay.  Maybe the author and I disagree about what “okay” means.  I’ve never read the book to find out.  Sometimes I think I’m better off if my opinion is uninformed.

When I review a book, I usually start with the title, and How To Win Friends And Influence People is a little misleading.  If I’m going to read a book about how to win something, it won’t be for friends.  To me, friends are something that you either have or don’t have; you can’t win them.  If I’m going to win something, I’d like to know how to win the lottery or maybe learn how to win at blackjack or how to win in court.  Maybe I’m being too literal, but How To Win Friends And Influence People is a very literal book.  There’s not a lot of figurative language in HTWFAIP.

Even though HTWFAIP was written in 1936, it might still have some relevant advice.  The chapter that most interested me was “An Easy Way to Become a Great Conversationalist.”  If there’s one thing I’m bad at, it’s talking to people I don’t know.  To be fair, I’m bad at a lot of things, but making small talk is one my worst.  I was looking forward to great insightful advice, and all I got was “Be a good listener.”  That kind of ticked me off.  I’m already a good listener.

I need advice to get me to the stage where people will talk to me enough so that I can demonstrate my great listening skills.  After “Hi, how are you?” I’m accustomed to long awkward silences, especially if I’m talking to somebody else who is a great listener.  Two great listeners put together alone in a room can make a bad conversation.  When I was younger, I could have used a chapter about how to get the other person to start talking so that I can be a good listener. Instead, I had to figure it out for myself.

Advice you won’t find in How To Win Friends And Influence People:

 If you know about football and reality shows, you can start a conversation with almost anyone.

Back when HTWFAIP was first published, “be a good listener” was probably new advice.  Maybe very few people thought that being a good listener was important back then.  I don’t know.  I wasn’t around.  But maybe HTWFAIP seems irrelevant because the advice that was brand-new in 1936 has become so commonplace.  Again, I don’t know.  I haven’t read any pre-1936 self-help books.  Maybe pre-1936 self-help books suggested that you talk loudly and shout over people to get them to do what you want.  I’ve never read a self-help book that says shout people down, but it has to be in a lot of self-help books because I see people do it all the time.

One problem with HTWFAIP is that a lot of the references are old.  There are a lot of traveling salesman stories and lots of references to companies that no longer exist.  When I was a kid, traveling salesman stories usually ended up involving a farmer’s daughter.  If a story was really good, it involved more than one daughter and maybe some of her friends.  None of the traveling salesman anecdotes in HTWFAIP have any farmer’s daughters (or any kind of daughter) in them.  Having at least one would have made the anecdotes more realistic to me.

I’m also concerned that most of the companies and businesses that are mentioned in HTWFAIP don’t exist anymore.  I’m not sure what that means.  Did they stop following the advice given in the book and then fail because of that?  Or did they follow the advice in the book and still fail?  Maybe the stories and testimonials given in the book were all lies.  We know people lie in their books now.  I’m pretty sure people lied in their books back then too.  Maybe all of Carnegie’s anecdotes were fake too.  I have no proof, but it makes me wonder.

Is HTWFAIP still relevant?   Probably.  It’s not the book’s fault if most of the advice is commonplace now.  Is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer irrelevant just because everybody knows the white picket fence trick?  Heck no!  HTWFAIP is still relevant because it’s the first of its kind (at least that’s what one of the many book covers says), and people still read (and argue about) it today.  As long as people willingly read it, then HTWFAIP is still relevant.  And at least it didn’t destroy a generation like I’m Okay, You’re Okay.


What do you think?  Is HTWFAIP still relevant?  What self-help books have you read?  Is “be a good listener” practical advice in the new millennium?  Have you read I’m Okay, You’re Okay, and is it as bad as it sounds?  If you’re reluctant to talk about self-help books, it’s okay.  Having an opinion about a self-help book is not an admission that you really need help.

  1. it’s probably not that relevant anymore, in an age of internet friends…

    • Initially, I kind of agreed with you, but this book is #39 in sales rank on Amazon (whatever that means) and has over 3,000 reviews. I was surprised by that (more by the sales rank than the number of reviews).

      • I guess people really do want “to make friends and influence people,” lol. Thanks for the info!

      • Elizabeth Mason permalink

        Thank you for taking the time to reply back. I do enjoy writing; in fact, I just finished a 62,000 word romance novel. I will be reaching out to agents this month. Blogging is my next step in my writing adventure. Thanks again, fellow blogger.

  2. “Be a good listener” is always good advice, but as you point out, it’s hard to be a good listener when the other person isn’t talking. These days, advice along the lines of “Stop texting and TALK to each other — you’re right there!” would be even more relevant, I suspect.

    • An updated version in the 1980s added a few more current anecdotes/sections and got rid of a few outdated chapters. Now, there’s an even newer updated version called How To Win Friends and Influence People In The Digital Age by Dale Carnegie and Associates. But I haven’t read it because I wanted to read an older version, and I don’t trust the Associates, whoever they are.

      I rarely have pleasant experiences with Associates.

  3. You know, at Brick & Mortar booksellers, the Self Improvement section was recently revamped and changed to Living Your Best Life. Isn’t that grand?

    • Living Your Best Life? I like “self-help’ better, and I’m not even wild about “self-help.”

      Amazon still uses “self-help.” I don’t know if Amazon is behind the times or if B&M Booksellers is needlessly changing for the sake of change.

  4. I think it’s still relevant, especially the chapters that talk about how encouraging people is more fruitful than criticizing them, how we all want to feel important/significant, the value of a smile and remembering people’s names, etc.

    • I was at a grocery store this afternoon, and the manager (I think) was yelling at the cashier and baggers to speed things up. Everybody looked annoyed at the guy.

      I thought, maybe the manager could help himself (and others) if he read a couple chapters from How To Win Friends and Influence People. I didn’t say anything though. I’m not the type to do that.

  5. It is my first important book. Thank to your post 🙂

  6. It is still helpful for me. …..I would recommend this book to everyone who is just opening towards selfhelp books…its a good start in my opinion

  7. I read the book in the ’50s and I can’t find my copy among the books So I am speaking from memory. It made a great impression on me then and some of the principles are still relevant I think. The world has changed since it was written and we have to ignore the details and what may be made up stories. The word “friends” has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Carnegie says you have to take the trouble to find out about the person or the firm you are going to visit beforehand. You have to know enough to ask intelligent questions. Reporters still have to do that when they interview somebody. I advised my kids when they went for job interviews to research the firm and be not afraid to ask questions about the future of the firm. The other main trick is to smile. Sales assistants still employ that. Smiling and firm handshake and eye contact (albeit in some cultures) is still a good way of getting positive results. Carnegie wrote the book when American business was booming and a new breed of business people had to be taught people skills. It is to us still relevant in personal relationships. If I find a newly formed friendship is worth nurturing, I employ Dale Carnegie’s principles. Sounds a bit false. But when you have established easy communication you can relax and be yourself.

    • Reading your comment made me think of all the interview mistakes I made after I graduated from college. I definitely would have benefited from reading this book before I started my career (that has nothing to do with writing). In some ways, I was probably lucky I was hired right away (and it wasn’t because of my interview skills).

      If I ever have to interview for a job again (you never know!), I’ll read a few of those chapters again.

  8. titaniahudson permalink

    Reblogged this on kindleebooksshowcase and commented:
    This book will always stay relevant forever…

  9. I have read the more current copies of this and do believe he is successful in presenting a need in society. We still need reminders to develop good posture, eye contact, make connections, etc. I loved Dale Carnegie’s positive words and they helped me along in my life.

  10. I have a friend of mine who enjoys reading old Psychology textbooks, and then proceeds to try an implement them in his day to day life. Now this doesn’t sound that bad, but he reads some crazy old stuff that can’t have any scientific solid ground left. Wonder how he’d react to reading this book.

    • Does he know that the crazy old stuff is crazy and is implementing it just to be crazy/funny?

      Or does he think the crazy old stuff has validity?

      • He just started acting strange, very analytical of situations. His vocabulary was even different as he tried to use the vocab from these books. It seemed like he thought they were still valid. He’s stopped doing it now thank god.

  11. A) You write that most people are good listeners. I would challenge that. As a fellow writer, I would assume that you are an observant individual that has listening skills burned into your system, because people fascinate you. As a writer, with decent skills in observation, I would say that most people are not skilled in the art of listening, because they are far more fascinated with themselves, and your reaction to what they have to say.

    I used to be a grade ‘A’ listener, and people were drawn to me. I’ve found that people love to speak to people that display characteristics that suggest that you find them fascinating. The downfall arrives soon after you decide to say something about yourself, and that something has nothing to do with them, or what they’ve just said.

    “What a jip!” is the look they give you. Some of them will even complain that they thought you had a reputation of being an excellent listener, and if that is the case, why didn’t you listen to them?

    “Hey, I just wanted to say something about myself,” is the theme of their reply. They’re not interested. They walk away.

    B) Some would argue that the etymology of the term OK, okay, or for the purpose of this argument O.K., was derived from the presidential campaign of Martin Van Buren in the 1830’s. Martin Van Buren was from Old Kinderhook, aka O.K., as opposed to N.K. or New Kinderhook, and most voters assumed that when the Van Buren campaign said that Van Buren was O.K., they assumed that meant that Van Buren was a quality candidate, or a good guy, and the term caught on. So, anytime you say that someone is O.K., you’re technically saying that that person is from Old Kinderhook.

    C) I had a poor lawyer. I put up with his inability to provide me the services I thought I needed at the time. I knew nothing about law, and this is why I hired a lawyer. After a couple of weeks, I’d had it. I told him he was an incredibly poor lawyer, and he suggested that I take some Dale Carnegie classes. I asked him if this was going to help me find a better lawyer. He said that it might help me find a better attitude. “About having an incredibly poor lawyer?” I asked. This was my introduction to Dale Carnegie, any why I have never read his book.

    • I’m thinking maybe the incredibly poor lawyer didn’t really read Dale Carnegie’s book either.

      If he had read How To Win Friends And Influence People, he never would have said you needed a better attitude. Instead, he would have listened to your legitimate complaints, talked it over with you in a positive way for hours on end if necessary, and then you would have ended up being a life-long client of his.

      I’m pretty sure that would have happened because there are a lot of stories like that in the book.

      • And in a rational world where we all have faults, and we’re all trying to learn how to correct our errors to be the best that we can be, and we all value the constructive criticisms of others, your advice (based on the reading of Carnegie) is excellent. In a world where some of us irrationally believe we have already reached a certain point of quality, any opinions that suggest otherwise need to be defeated with ammunition. If Carnegie ever saw the movie Cool Hand Luke, I’m sure the line “There are some people you just can’t reach … ” stuck with him.

  12. Found such books puerile and filled with information better suited to some Utopian ideal rather than true reality. I have much stronger opinions on this subject that I really can’t share as I don’t feel anyone deserves to see that much profanity in writing:)

    • I bet we’ve both read enough science fiction to know what happens to societies when they go Utopian.

      Hey! That’s a great idea for a book, a Utopian society where everyone follows the Dale Carnegie principals to the letter, everyone… except that one guy who can’t help criticizing everybody else.

  13. I think there are some universal truths about people, even if the cultural specifics in the book are different. Personally I agree with your football/reality show theory. I sometimes think the main reason people watch sports and TV is to have something to talk about besides the weather.

    • If the NFL Network had been around when Dale Carnegie was writing books, I’m sure he would have devoted a chapter to how watching/talking football improves your social standing.

  14. I read the first part of the book. I hope to finish reading it soon. My key takeaway is just to be more considerate to the person you’re talking to. Contribute to the discussion, but listen to the other person as well. 🙂

  15. If you’re out to make real connections with people, this book is essential. Everything holds true today that was true then, even if our society is more disconnected than ever.

  16. Elizabeth Mason permalink

    I enjoy the honesty and witty humor of your posts. Your blog is truly one of a kind, and I can’t wait to read more in the future. Please follow me at as you have been an inspiration to me. Honesty is the best policy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: