This post was inspired by one I put on Facebook this morning:
So many self development books are being published now that there is a real danger. As new readers come along, they may believe in the cult of the new, not realizing the tremendous breakthrough books that came out in the 1970s and 1980s, or even earlier. There’s, for instance, Think and Grow Rich, and How To Win Friends and Influence People. Here’s the problem: many of the new books are watered down, surface scratchings of these earlier books. The essence and heart of some of the classics is missing in these new books that are basically like bad movie remakes.
And that post was inspired by the fact that so many people tell me about new books they’ve read (or, more likely, skimmed) and when I check them out, I find them to be merely a rehash of a book I read thirty years ago, or even one I wrote thirty years ago.
I remember when I was a kid, hating the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, a series that had about five popular books in abridged form in each volume and lasted for about fifty years. I felt battered and insulted that some editor would distill the ideas or plot in a well-written book and spoon it out in a shortened form. I feel that way about many of the new books being published. This is not to say there aren’t some great new and innovative books being published. There are even some great books that take the themes of earlier books and expand on these and see those older ideas in useful, original ways.
There is such a glut of books being published, that I realize it is hard keeping up with new titles, let alone older ones. Luckily, however, we have online search engines that can track almost any book ever published. I do think many people are missing out by never having read the real classics in personal development and growth. If you choose to check some of these “classics” out, you will find they laid the foundation for many of the concepts being touted as cutting edge today. Way back in 1976, I wrote a book called Friends, and at the back of the book there was an annotated bibliography, listing fifty powerful books in interpersonal communication and self development.
I decided to choose, for your consideration and edification, seven of my favorites from that list, books that really had a strong impact on my attitudes and approach to life:
1. Be The Person You Were Meant To Be, by Dr. Jerry Greenwald. This was the first book to really delve into the differences between nourishing and toxic relationships.
2. Beyond Success and Failure, by Willard and Marguerite Beecher. A classic with a lot to say about dependency and self-reliance.
3. Decision Therapy, by Dr. Harold Greenwald. I got to attend some of Harold’s workshops and they informed my own work on the importance of making good decisions in one’s life.
4. Contact: The First Four Minutes, by Dr. Leonard Zunin. Leonard was a friend and a pioneer in the study of the impact of first impressions. The book has exercises, and I especially like his comment that, “A friendship may start in four minutes, but it has to be cultivated like a plant.” His title is also a great example for quickly letting a reader know what the book is about.
5. Handbook to Higher Consciousness, by Ken Keyes, Jr. This book changed countless lives, including mine. Ken became a good friend as well as mentor. I attended more of his workshops than anyone else’s. He probably knew more about the psychology of the human brain than any author or teacher I can think of. A paraplegic, due to a bout of polio in his twenties, Ken was one of the happiest people I’ve ever met–and sometimes he called his work, The Science of Happiness.
6. Love, by Leo Buscaglia. The next best thing to seeing Leo in person or on one of his PBS specials. Lots of great stories and gems of wisdom you’ll find yourself quoting to friends.
7. Ways of Growth, edited by Herbert Otto and John Mann. A great compendium of articles on humanistic psychology and the human potential movement. Worth having just for the opening chapter, Growing Awareness and The Awareness of Growth, by Dr. Sidney Jourard. Many consider it to be the best explanation of personal growth ever written.
Not in any order of importance or chronology, and I just as easily could have picked another 7 from my list of fifty. But if you haven’t read any of these “classic” self-help works (or perhaps never even heard of them or their authors), you are missing out.