City Journal Winter 2014

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Laura Vanderkam
The Paperback Quest for Joy « Back to Story

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Check out “The Nature of Life” by Anton Glotser, it’s the best self-help book out there
For me, early on in my life and career, the book, "The Greatest Secret" by Earl Nightingale, made the difference. It was simple in it's messgae to think about "who and what you want to become." I still use it after nearly 41 years of marriage [to the same woman] and 36 years in the same business.
Eh, I'm willing to bet that Ramesh Raghuvanshi lives in the US -because that's the best place for his bottom line.
The stories in your article show that intelligently used, self help is fantastic. There are other stories, too. For instance, I have an acquaintance who for the past decade has immersed himself in self help books but failed to achieve any actual personal change. In his case, reading all this literature with its promises of a better future is a safe way to remain very stuck in his attitudes and lifestyle. Almost entirely, self-help literature doen't victimise its reader; it praises, exalts, and assures the reader of his or her fantastic potential and right to abundance and happiness. This, of course, is the attraction. Some people buy self help books like they buy gambling chips, and I suspect your stereotype of the 'unemployed crazy lady sitting on the couch eating chips' (wow) is a closer portrait of the typical reader than you care to realise.
Tossed out all my self help books years ago and embraced Heraclitus, Epicurus and Bill Wilson, now life is simple and rich :-)
....self help authors are generally shallow people writing on their own low plane of understanding to satisfy their own narcissism - no other reason, really. They don't care about their readers beyond their credit card number. One or two may stumble upon some facet of a truth that works for them so they cling to it - and it may help someone, somewhere, somehow - temporarily....because there is only one true wisom and one correct knowledge upn this earth....the Word of God! www.ttb.org
Dear Laura:

I enjoyed your discussion of the self-help genre.

I must take exception to the association of the "rugged individualist" with Charles Manson. You quote the critic Salerno: "I think it's safe to say that Charlie Manson was fully self-actualized."

Charlie Manson has never been self-actualized. He has never possessed a sense of self. On the contrary: Manson has always been completely alienated -- from himself as well as from society. Manson was and is an utterly unself-conscious nihilist.

A barbarian or a monster, like Manson, is not a "rugged individualist," who cultivates a strong and refined sense of self. The rugged individualist has more in common with Nietzsche's Ubermensch, occupied with the existential project of self-overcoming, than with the anarchist, who seeks to tear down everything.

America needs more "rugged individualists." Heck: I'd like to meet one besides myself. The country is in decline, and its citizens have become infantilized, in part because it has lost the pioneer spirit, the adventurous, risk-taking character that made America great.

One last thing: a rugged individualist reads philosophy books, which engage and manipulate ideas. But I doubt he would ever consult a self-help book, which offers prescriptions, formulae, and bromides.
Beckham's Books in New Orleans shelved such books under "Self-help and Greed."
To Ramesh Raghuvanshi: What a shallow, ignorant thing to say. Educate yourself about, say, the 19th century in the United States, maybe starting with William and Henry James, and visit a few museums that display fine American art.

What would you think of someone who made hostile, dismissive comments about an entire country (such as India)?


Ramesh Raghuvanshi December 31, 2012 at 2:37 AM
By nature American are shallow people.They have no long tradition.No good philosophers, classical writers musicians painters. That is why "How to win the friends and influence people" these kind of books most popular in America.Their shallowness not indicated only in books in all prts of life they behaved just like childish way.Those white people migrated in U.S. mostly uncultured naturally they developed shallow philosophers, artists.How can American change their psyche that is their concern ,they change this with their own effort
Great article!

I think we all have a handful of self-help books in our library. As the article states it is a good way to kind of self examine yourself.

Of course some self-help books are bunk but its up to the reader to decipher what to keep and what to disregard.
There are always just so many fools. If self-help is sought from a book, it can only be the one of prayer.
Very enlightening article. I have just published a series of "Daily Guide to Success" calendar books in an effort to promote a positive attitude and personal success, whatever that means to the reader. It is my hope that authors of self-help books motivations are just that - to provide help to a hungry society.

Thanks for the insight.

www.jamesharryman2002.wix.com/allenjamesbooks

Allen James
Wonderful article! Thank you.
Humanism (jettisoning the notion that a higher power is a part of our lives) and deracination (leaving family, community. and the established order behind) have resulted in an existential existence, where we have only ourselves to look to for guidance and fulfillment. Since our inventory of solutions is minimal, general unhappiness prevails...and is now the default setting for society.

Armies of the deracinated now fill our cities, leading empty lives. As a corollary, opportunistic charlatans who promise to cure our disaffection find no end of new recruits; they do well by doing good.

Where this decaying orbit ends, no one can say.
Fabulous analysis from a writer I respect. Too bad it is all undone by the fact that she, too, evidently, writes self-help books. What's the lesson in that?