Do Self Help Books Honestly Work?

Dale Carnegie can easily be considered the granddaddy of the self-help industry with his book “How to win friends and influence people”. This book, first published in 1936 has now sold well over 16 million copies and is the benchmark for the introspection that told us to pull your socks up and go and make something of yourself. His wonderful book did two things; it helped millions and it buoyed others into thinking that they too could write how others could improve themselves and their situations.

Self-help books took off late in the 20th century when all manner of self-appointed experts in all manner of things began spouting advice, many of these books took on a life of their own spawning one sequel after another, selling hundreds of thousands of copies, far more than most books of the time.

There are those who will tell you to toss these books in the garbage and get on with what you have, play the cards you were dealt, then there are others who do not agree, those who are reaping a small fortune from writing books on every subject from getting thin to gaining weight and every other subject you can possibly think of.

Can books help us help ourselves?

Perhaps they can, however, there are psychologists who remain sceptical. Amongst others, there are books which tell you how to find everlasting fulfilment, success in your career, steps to emotional healing, how to stop anxiety from ruining your marriage and the secrets to joy. The statistics are quite revealing, during this recent downturn in the economy, book sales per se are down by 1%, self-help book sales are up a staggering 25%. It is numbers like these that have turned the publication of self-help tomes into a $10 billion a year industry. Herein lies the question, “if self-help books for business are so good, why are there so many of them?”. Logic tells us that if there was a book which unlocked all the secrets to a successful business not only would we not be in the financial pickle we are in right now, there would be no room in the market for the hundreds of other titles also promising the secret. How many secrets can there possibly be?

Are self-help books dangerous?

It’s hard to call them dangerous, they don’t come complete with a weapon but they can perhaps be a weapon of destruction in their own right. People who buy into the claims made by these self-help books are often led into believing that they must be failures because the claims in the book didn’t help them nor change them one iota. Little of the advice offered in business help books or life, in general, has been scientifically tested and proven even though there are ways to test such things as happiness quotients as an example. Many self-help books offer ways to make readers feel good but rarely do these books and the advice contained therein actually cure what ails the person. When buying a self-help book be aware, there are a few valid points that should be assessed before putting your money down;

  • Are the claims even realistic, can you possibly lose 50 pounds in 10 days, I don’t think so?
  • Evaluate the credentials of the author, if the book is about selling, has he ever sold anything?
  • Check the testimonials, are they from recognized experts or from his family and friends?
  • As at the bookstore what comments they are receiving about the book.
  • Check the authors supporting material, if he refers to his other books in support of this one odds are he is only gunning for new sales.
  • Does he give a practical suggestion on how to do things, after all, that is the purpose of the book?
  • Compare content to similar books on the shelf, is the content less or more, is it radically different?


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