It’s hard to stroll the aisles of the local Barnes & Noble or stop in any airport book store without seeing the shelves and tables stacked with self-help books. The last time I passed through O’Hare I counted twenty-nine volumes. I hardly ever recognize the authors’ names. Your cousin might have written one, or a person you work with. Maybe even the babysitter.
They’re all about motivation, of course. Somebody wants to help motivate us to increase our brain power, set our thinking straight, self-actualize, propel, excel, achieve, believe. It’s all there. We’re all on the “journey.”
Mostly, it’s the old timeless wisdom with a fresh coat of paint—there’s really nothing new under the sun, after all, just a lot of clever new wording. The fact that it still works for us is a good thing. Tomorrow there will be more, and I suppose that’s okay, too. We can all use a shot in the arm or a re-boot.
As I look over this endless array of books (Amazon’s is really endless), what continues to amaze me is that long before many of the famous names like Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins, before anyone ever heard of Wayne Dyer, Deepok Chopra, Les Brown or Steven Covey, and about another fifty we might have heard of, there were only three—three remarkable men who captivated our imaginations for more than half a century.
Honestly, there were once really only three to speak of: Napoleon Hill, Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie. Three people who taught the world to be better, live for a higher purpose, succeed in life, and all-around just excel at everything we did.
Napoleon Hill published his landmark book, “Think and Grow Rich,” in 1937. Norman Vincent Peale wrote “The Power of Positive Thinking” in the early 1950s, and it was no less than seventy-five years ago that Dale Carnegie wowed the world with “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
People who read these books tended to rise to the top, start their own companies, outsell everybody else, get promoted quicker, become dynamic thinkers, problem-solvers and leaders, get better at whatever they did, live happier lives.
It seems to take a lot more books and a lot more people to get us going in these fast and busy times. But those three men must have packed quite a wallop. Who can say how widespread their influence was, but it was on their watch that, among other things, we invented nylon, developed the jet engine, created Disneyland, broke the sound barrier, ran the three-minute mile, reached the summit of Mt. Everest, conquered polio, and defeated Hitler.
It’s reassuring to have so many people who want to follow in their footsteps. Still, it’s nice to pay homage to those earliest of self-help heroes. Here’s to you, Mr. Hill, Mr. Carnegie, and Dr. Peale.