How-to-succeed books Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The how-to-succeed genre became an increasingly important and lucrative segment of the book publishing industry from the twentieth into the twenty-first century. It also provided their authors, publishers, and other investors with significant additional revenue through television, radio, films, and the Internet. It exerted an influence on other markets, as consumers made decisions based on the advice they received.

Financial how-to-succeed books are an important segment of a larger genre, self-help books, which also includes books focusing on self-therapy and spirituality, health and weight loss, relationships, and related topics. Publishing industryThere is a significant amount of overlap among these subgenres, because self-image, visualization, and human relationships are parts of finance as well as other dimensions of life. The full self-help industry, moreover, exceeds the self-help publishing industry, making it difficult to measure comprehensively. Successful authors leverage their written works to profit from lectures, workshops, training organizations, and media productions.How-to-succeed books[How to succeed books]Books;business how-to

The first self-help books included financial advice alongside other practical suggestions. One of the earliest authors of these books was Benjamin Franklin, BenjaminFranklin, an American business entrepreneur, inventor, and statesman. Franklin’s Poor Richard Improved (1757; also known as The Way to Wealth) was the first American book on personal finance. Originally published as a preface to Poor Richard’s Almanack (1732-1758), this thirty-page, pocket-sized book established a pattern for subsequent works in the how-to-succeed financial genre and sold millions of copies with numerous printings. Franklin used memorable phrases and couplets to give financial advice about hard work, frugality, debt, and other topics.

Orison Swett Marden, Orison SwettMarden, inspired by the self-help writings of Scottish author Samuel Smiles as well as earlier American authors, became a leader of the New Thought movement, and his many books and magazine articles made an important connection between personal cultivation and financial affairs. One of his earliest books, How to Succeed (Marden)How to Succeed: Or, Stepping-Stones to Fame and Fortune, was published in 1896. In 1926, George Samuel Clason, George SamuelClason published Richest Man in Babylon, The (Clason)The Richest Man in Babylon, a collection of ancient Babylonian parables, each illustrating a simple financial lesson. Stories included “The Camel Trader of Babylon,” “Seven Cures For A Lean Purse,” and “The Goddess of Good Luck.” The book had sold more than 2 million copies by 2004, when Fred Siegel and Rick Crandall published a modern version, The Richest Man in Babylon for Today: New Secrets for Building Wealth in the Twenty-First Century.

Popular Culture

The trend of inspirational authors advocating self-confidence, positive visualization, and good thoughts as prerequisites for success in business grew in the twentieth century, and the genre became an identifiable aspect of American popular culture, as well as a thriving industry. In 1937, Napoleon Hill, NapoleonHill published Think and Grow Rich (Hill)Think and Grow Rich, a landmark motivational book that has been a consistent best seller. Hill used stories from Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and other wealthy contemporaries to formulate his philosophy of success, which he said was attainable by anyone willing to use the power of the mind. Dale Carnegie, DaleCarnegie, who taught courses in public speaking and related topics, became a renowned writer. His 1937 book,How to Win Friends and Influence People (Carnegie)How to Win Friends and Influence People, was an overnight success that became one of the most popular how-to-succeed books ever written, with more than 15 million copies sold worldwide. Carnegie believed the key to business and personal success was gaining the support of other people.

The Power of Positive Thinking, Power of Positive Thinking, The (Peale) by Norman Vincent Peale, Norman VincentPeale, was published in 1952, eventually selling 7 million copies. Peale, a minister who had counseled unemployed businessmen during the Great Depression, was active in inspirational radio broadcasts and was a cofounder of Guideposts magazine. In the same year, Shepherd Mead, ShepherdMead’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Mead)How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying attracted attention by satirizing American corporate culture and the use of instruction manuals to guide careers. Mead’s book, which later inspired a successful Broadway musical and a film of the same title, showed the extent to which the self-help book genre had pervaded American society by the middle of the twentieth century.

First published in 1960, Maxwell Maltz, MaxwellMaltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics (Maltz)Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life, eventually sold more than 30 million copies. Maxwell was a plastic surgeon who was surprised when many of his patients still felt ugly after successful surgery. He came to believe that self-image and human behavior were internal processes controlled by the mind and that positive visualization techniques would lead to happiness and financial success. In 2002, an updated edition, The New Psycho-Cybernetics: The Original Science of Self-Improvement and Success That Has Changed the Lives of Thirty Million People, was published.

Holistic Approaches

Dale Carnegie reads from his best-selling How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1955.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

After the cultural changes of the 1960’s, large segments of the American public became interested in more expanded notions of self and society. Although traditional self-help and financial how-to-succeed books remained popular, new authors appeared who combined the essentially positive outlook of previous authors with an emphasis on moral and spiritual values, often with insights from other cultural sources.

First published in 1989, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey)The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, Stephen R.Covey sold more than 10 million copies. The book presented a holistic, principle-based approach to personal and professional success. Your Money or Your Life (Dominquez and Robin)Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence (1992) became a best-selling handbook for a new morality of money management. The authors, Joe Dominquez, JoeDominquez and Vicki Robin, VickiRobin, left successful careers to live more meaningfully and to make better use of their life energy. They advocated frugal living instead of conspicuous consumption, saving the planet while saving money, and a “wholeness” of lifestyle.

Deepak Chopra, DeepakChopra, an Indian American physician with an interest in meditation, became the author of more than forty books in which he synthesized insights from Indian philosophy, modern physics, and other fields. A pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine and human potential, Chopra wrote Creating Affluence (Chopra)Creating Affluence: Wealth Consciousness in the Field of All Possibilities (1993), which suggested simple steps for developing wealth consciousness and attaining what the author saw as a natural state of affluence. In 1994, Chopra published the best-selling Seven Spiritual Laws of Success (Chopra)The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, which summarized the essence of his teachings in seven principles.

The New Realism

Avoiding the emphasis on optimism and hope of the mid-century texts and the holistic philosophies of the New Age authors (who also remained popular in their own right), some writers at the end of the twentieth century candidly emphasized wealth as the goal and provided strategies for becoming rich without any spiritual or moral dimension. Many books focused on millionaires and how they became wealthy.

In 1996, Thomas J. Stanley, Thomas J.Stanley and William D. Danko, William D.Danko published Millionaire Next Door (Stanley and Danko)The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, a landmark study that refuted popular beliefs about the wealthy. Based on twenty years of interviews with more than one thousand millionaires, the book asserted that most millionaires were frugal, lived below their means, invested diligently, and had little inherited wealth. They did not have the highest incomes or live in the most expensive neighborhoods. At the same time, many people with high incomes lived extravagantly but had low net worth or actual wealth. Thus, anyone could become a millionaire through hard work, saving, and investing. By 2004, The Millionaire Next Door had sold more than 2.5 million copies. In 1999, Stanley and Danko published a second best seller, The Millionaire Mind, probing deeper into the secrets of the wealthy.

Entrepreneur and educator Robert Kiyosaki, RobertKiyosaki discarded conventional thinking about how to become rich. In his revolutionary best seller, Rich Dad, Poor Dad (Kiyosaki)Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money–That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! (1997), Kiyosaki described how his real-life father, the “Poor Dad,” saved money and worked hard as an employee all his life but died poor. Instead of depending on wages, his mentor, the “Rich Dad” was a multimillionaire with ample cash flow in the form of passive income from wise investments, real estate, and businesses. Rich Dad, Poor Dad sold millions of copies worldwide, and Kiyosaki’s financial philosophy led to a series of Rich Dad books, workshops, television appearances, games, and other products.

David Bach, DavidBach became famous for his “Latte Factor” idea that, by avoiding small purchases such as caffe lattes or sodas each day, one could save that money and “finish rich.” Bach also argued that saving money had to be automatic to be successful. These ideas formed the basis of his seven consecutive national best sellers. Automatic Millionaire, The (Bach)The Automatic Millionaire was the number-one business book in 2004. Bach’s Finish Rich books were translated into more than fifteen languages, with more than 5 million copies printed. They include Smart Couples Finish Rich (2001) and Start Late, Finish Rich (2005).

Women and Wealth

Financial and money management books for or written by women became increasingly popular during the late twentieth century. Bach published the best seller Smart Women Finish Rich: Nine Steps to Achieving Financial Security and Funding Your Dreams in 1999. Eight years after publishing The Millionaire Next Door, Stanley published Women Millionaires Next Door: The Many Journeys of Successful American Businesswomen. This significant study portrayed most millionaire women as frugal, hardworking, and very generous.

Kiyosaki’s wife, Kim Kiyosaki, KimKiyosaki, used her husband’s Rich Dad strategies to become wealthy in her own right and wrote Rich Woman: A Book on Investing for Women–Because I Hate Being Told What to Do! (2006) to show women how to become financially independent. SuzeOrman, SuzeOrman, a television celebrity, author, and financial adviser, wrote numerous best-selling how-to-succeed books. These included The Nine Steps to Financial Freedom (1997), The Courage to Be Rich (1998), The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke (2005), and Women and Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny (2007). Jean Chatzy, JeanChatzy, a financial coach, television speaker, and magazine editor, has published many popular books, including Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day (2004) and Make Money, Not Excuses (2006). Psychologist Lois P. Frankel, LoisFrankel applied insights from her field to counsel women in books such as Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office (2004) and Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich (2005).

Further Reading
  • Anker, Roy M. Self-Help and Popular Religion in Early American Culture: An Interpretive Guide. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Analysis of the role of religion and nineteenth century American culture in shaping self-help and how-to-succeed philosophies and literature.
  • Archibald, Matthew E. The Evolution of Self-Help. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Historical study of the self-help movement, focusing particularly on the implications of the movement’s institutionalization and the consequences of achieving mainstream legitimacy.
  • Dolby, Sandra K. Self-Help Books: Why Americans Keep Reading Them. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005. Study of the distinctively American character and audience of the self-help genre.
  • Simonds, Wendy. Women and Self-Help Culture: Reading Between the Lines. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992. Examines the gendering of the self-help genre in general. Useful for understanding the audience of both male- and female-centric how-to-succeed books.
  • Starker, Steven. Oracle at the Supermarket: The American Preoccupation With Self-Help Books. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1988. A clinical psychologist studies the social significance of the genre itself, as well as the contents of specific popular self-help books.

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