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The Best Self-Help Book Ever! How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

June 16, 2019

The cover says it’s “the only book you need to lead you to success.” That’s good enough for me!

If you’re going to read a self-help book like How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie , it’s better to read it when you don’t actually need self-help.  When you read a self-help book from a position of strength, you’re less likely to be tricked into following bad advice that might be in the book.  And if you actually need self-help, let somebody else try the advice first.

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.  If I wasn’t okay, then I knew a bunch of people around me were really messed up, and telling everybody that they’re okay doesn’t do anybody any good (except the self-help author who gets rich giving out bad advice).

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.

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 the best self-help book ever?   Probably.  Most of its advice is commonplace now.  It reminds me of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in that everybody knows the white picket fence trick, but they read the book anyway.  HTWFAIP was 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.   And at least it didn’t destroy a generation like I’m Okay, You’re Okay.

*****

What do you think?  Is HTWFAIP the best self-help book ever?  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.

*****

And here’s the video version with a slightly different perspective.

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