The grandfather of modern self-help


41 points | by flummox 25 days ago


  • pessimizer 25 days ago
    Might be more accurate to say that he's the grandfather of modern business productivity/sales advice works. I'd say that the secret grandfathers of modern self-help are Jose Silva and his Silva Mind Control, along with Werner Erhard of est and Hubbard's Scientology. It was of course highly influenced by that sort of productivity advice through Holiday Magic/Leadership Dynamics, but was also very influenced by Theosophy through a science fiction lens that turned everything once supernatural psychic.

    That's how we end up with all of these mind-training, success-mindset works that make up most of self-help now. It's a weird culty stew.

    edit: Mill is a more noble origin for modern self-help than it deserves. His descendant is How to Win Friends and Influence People which is altogether more wholesome, more akin to Scouting (note Carnegie's constant advocacy of Toastmasters.) Modern self-help is trying to convince you that you can hypnotize people, memorize books, learn languages in a month, build billion dollar businesses, and bend probability through sheer concentration and adherence to miracle systems and new psychologies explained in listicles.

    • Torwald 25 days ago
      The works you cite are all comparatively late. Even the theosophists came earlier. If the title is "granfather of modern self-help" we cannot be later than 1920s.
      • pessimizer 25 days ago
        What I'm saying is that modern self-help doesn't resemble Mill's Self-Help. And that it's a comparatively far more recent development.
    • dvaun 24 days ago
      For anyone interested in another famous book from this time period I recommend reading “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen[0]. I came across this book during a depressing period 8 years ago and it helped me climb out of my hole. In addition to this, I read a portion of another book of his, “Eight Pillars of Prosperity”, from which a lot of concepts are now probably common advice and platitudes.

      I’d venture to guess that a lot of these older books have some “outdated” concepts within them — though it’s easy enough to ignore. There are still good parts within old books that you can take to heart, and selectively skip past things you disagree with.

      I have not read Smiles’s “Self-Help”, so I’ll give it a shot here.


      • pdamoc 24 days ago
        I personally think the self-help movement peaked with "Lead the Field" by Earl Nightingale.

        The only things better than that program can be found in science backed endeavors from something like Psychological Self-Help[1] to the entire field of Positive Psychology.

        [1] -

      • jcrben 25 days ago
        Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle comes to mind. Everything in moderation
        • markhollis 25 days ago
          I remember the documentary 'The Century of the Self' where Adam Curtis talked about the origins of personal development and self-help.
          • cubano 25 days ago
            In my opinion, the first self-help book was the Bible.
            • johnchristopher 25 days ago
              Would you elaborate ? And highlight what makes the Bible a self-help book and why similar and older written texts don't qualify ?

              Not getting into a theological debate but in the context of the Bible help is usually considered to come from outside the self. (although there are interesting conversations to have about that)

              • bnjms 24 days ago
                > in the context of the Bible help is usually considered to come from outside the self

                That’s something I try, struggle, and fail to put to words sometimes. One of Christianity’s strengths (maybe the bible, I’ve only read a few of its books) is that it externalizes the source of truth in a way that gives it more power and prevents or helps the individual not give themselves an excuse from following their beliefs.

                For instance the Christian might say, ‘I heard the Holy Spirit say to me do such and such but I didn’t want to’. And since the source of the command is understood to be connected to the something outside the self it helps them act of the command/conviction.

                So to see the Bible as a self help book you only need to disbelieve in an external god and take Jesus teachings as directions on how to live life. They’re external to the self in teaching but not in practice. (Assuming one does not believe in spirits)

                PS while I can think of the Bible self help I don’t think it deserves that categorization as it differs too much from modern “self help” and it shouldn’t be lumped in with the likes of Joel Olsteen’s type of books.

              • eitland 25 days ago
                I enjoy the Bible myself but I don't think it fits in this context.

                One might possibly make an exception for the Proverbs: it is a gold mine for productivity, but it is still not written in the (often) annoying form of modern self help.

                • goldfeld 24 days ago
                  Someday when I'm about 120 I'll write a knowledge work manual for the young lad and lady and start each chapter with "My child, "
              • bennysomething 25 days ago
                Stopped reading after there's a lot to cristise: "white males" or something like that. For heaven's sake it's western Europe a few hundred years ago. How is that relavent!? Suppose they needed to get some virtue signalling in there some how.
                • Voloskaya 25 days ago
                  The article's author isn't saying the book is morally wrong for only taking about white european males, they are only saying that might be a contributing factor to explain why this book is not often read, namely that few people can relate to the characters of the book, which is pretty important for self-help.

                  Seems to be me you are a bit too quick at signalling virtue signalling.