Dozens of self-help books are published in the US every year. Some are read and soon forgotten and eventually go out of print, while others become classics. A classic book is a book that is accepted as exemplary or noteworthy and has stood the test of time. This is a list of what I consider to be the best self-help book classics.
- For RHJ
Although not as well known as the other books on this list, “IT Works!” was first published as a pamphlet in 1926 and has been in print ever since. The author was listed only as RHJ, and it was later learned that RHJ was Roy Herbert Jarrett and little is known about him except that he was born in 1874.
“It works!” describes a simple, workable plan for manifesting your desires by focusing your thoughts. The simple but powerful blueprint as described in the book can be used to get anything you want by focusing your thoughts, and it has brought happiness and fulfillment to many. Almost all goal setting and mind control books published since “It Works!” followed the same basic ideas. And there is no better proof of validity than imitation!
- The Richest Man in Babylon, George S. Clason
The Richest Man in Babylon began as a series of pamphlets designed to teach financial prosperity, distributed in large quantities by banks and insurance companies; the pamphlets were bound and published in book form in 1926. Each pamphlet tells a parable illustrating various financial skills such as saving, investing, getting rich, etc.
The most famous parable is the one about Arkad “The Richest Man in Babylon” who is asked by two childhood friends how he became rich and if he would teach them that. He agrees and shares with them how he became rich. He tells them that he got rich when he decided to keep a part of everything he earned as his own. He paid himself a tithe of everything he earned.
If this idea sounds familiar, many financial writers should have embraced this idea, most notably David L. Bach, best known for his Automatic Millionaire Series of motivational financial books.
- The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles
The Science of Getting Rich was published in 1910 by the Elizabeth Towne Company. It was written by New Thought Movement writer Wallace D. Wattles. The book explains how to overcome mental barriers and how creation, not competition, is the hidden key to attracting wealth.” Each of the seventeen chapters is short and straight to the point.
The Science of Getting Rich predates similar and equally famous books such as The Master Key System by Charles F. Haanel (1912) and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (1937). It was the main inspiration for Rhonda Byrne’s bestseller and the film The Secret (2006). In the 100 years since its publication, it has seen many editions, and remains in print by several publishers.
- Earl Nightingale’s strangest secret
Not a book, but a recording of a weekly pep talk given to the Nightingales sales team, he was the owner of an insurance agency at the time, The Strangest Secret earned the first spoken word gold record, selling over a million copies.
Nightingale, known as the ‘dean of personal development’, reveals how he discovered and lived the secret of success. Demand for the tape was so high that Nightingale teamed up with Vic Conant to promote the tape and is credited with starting the self-help/personal development field.
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Considered by many to be the greatest self-help book ever published, Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, first published in 1937, is the end product of two decades of research conducted by Napoleon Hill.
His research began when Andrew Carnegie (a steel tycoon who was then the richest man in the world) commissioned Hill to organize the Philosophy of Personal Achievement. Hill, who was a poor journalist, received Carnegie’s letter and began interviewing more than five hundred successful people including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, John D. Rockefeller, George Eastman, William Wrigley Jr. and Charles M. Schwab.
The result of Hill’s research was a correspondence course entitled The Law of Success in Sixteen Lessons published in 1928. For more than seven years, Hill gave lectures based on the Law of Success in practically every city in the United States. Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937, was based on the earlier Sixteen Laws of Success and condensed the sixteen laws into 13 principles of personal achievement. By 2011, more than 70 million copies of the book had been sold worldwide. BusinessWeek’s Best Sellers List ranked the book as the sixth best-selling paperback business book, and Think and Grow Rich is on John C. Maxwell’s list of must-read books for a lifetime.