From the concept of the American Dream featured in self-development classics such as Think & Grow Rich and The Power of Positive Thinking to the New Age thinking and positive psychology in books such as The Power of Now and Daring Greatly, self-help literature has always reflected societal trends.
Taking that all into consideration, what are the best self-help books of all time? Which books rise above the cultures and time periods they came from to represent the best of the best in terms of evergreen life lessons and timeless wisdom?
Any book is a self-help guide if you can take something from it.
– Kevin Smith
Here are 11 of the best self-help books of all time:
1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The only fiction book on this list, The Alchemist is a seminal classic that has sold over sixty-five million copies worldwide.
So, why is a fiction book on a self-help book list? To put it simply, the way it was written by author Paulo Coelho was unlike anything of its kind at the time. It’s a fictional story, but you’re just as much within main character Santiago’s head as you are there beside him in his journey to discovering his Personal Legend.
If you’re looking for guidance in a general sense, are at all religious (or even agnostic), or simply want wisdom on how to discover what it is you were meant to do and become (and, honestly, probably even if none of those things apply to you), this book will quite literally change your life forever.
2. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is one of several well-known classics on this list, though I personally find it to be the most refreshing one.
On one side, this self-help book is exactly what it sounds like: a guide to the habits of successful, effective people. On the other side, though, there runs an incredibly important undertone that forms the real power of the book and the prime takeaway: living with fairness and integrity is the path to maximum efficiency and success.
In a world where shortcuts, secret deals, and dishonesty are prominent, Covey’s classic preaches a message that the world needs more than ever — and shows you how to apply it in the form of simple, straightforward habits.
3. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
If you read one book on spirituality, you can’t really go wrong with Tolle’s classic The Power of Now. It isn’t just a guide to spiritual practice and how it can transform your own life, it’s a guide to transforming the world with the power of that practice as well.
The key takeaway here is that you have the ability to change the world one step at a time if you work on transforming yourself from the inside out, an insight that can serve you well for your entire life.
4. Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
On the complete other side of the spectrum, there’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad is to financial literacy what The Power of Now is to spiritual practice. It presents you with a complete set of sound, useful principles for living better and more effectively when it comes to money and personal finances.
The book uses the contrast between two characters, “poor dad” and “rich dad,” to teach various financial principles. The primary takeaway is that those who aren’t good with their money and have less are that way because they work for money, whereas those who are good with their money amass more of it because they learn how to make money work for them. They’re generalities, but the lessons taught are no less valuable.
If you want to improve your ability to manage your finances, Rich Dad, Poor Dad is the perfect package of enlightening knowledge and actionable instruction.
Dale Carnegie wrote several great self-help books in his time, but How to Win Friends and Influence People is easily his best. This book is king when it comes to learning how to work and communicate with people, so I consider it required reading — especially for an introvert like myself.
Carnegie does a great job of showing that good communication really has nothing to do with natural talent or smooth words, but knowing the right tactics to use with interacting with others, something everyone can do.
Communication is one of the single most important skills you can work on, given how critical communication is to everything that we do. If you want (or believe you need) to become a better communicator, or simply want to get better at working with people, read this now.
Think and Grow Rich is one of several old-school classics on this list and its place is well-earned. For twenty years, author Napoleon Hill studied the most successful people of his time, including Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell and chronicled those findings together into one neat little package.
The main takeaway? A focused, burning desire (or the power of a made-up mind, what Wayne Dyer called intention), gives us the power to achieve or acquire what we want most in life.
If you’re looking for insights on how to achieve your dream or a specific goal, this is a classic you can’t do without.
7. What to Say When You Talk to Your Self by Dr. Shad Helmstetter
This book had a profound effect on me at a very critical point in my life. A classic that’s not often listed on best self-help book lists, Dr. Helmstetter’s WSWYTYS has the ability to completely transform your life by showing you how to master your inner self-talk.
Our inner dialogue holds huge amounts of control over our life, influencing virtually every decision we make each and every day. The only problem is, our inner dialogue is usually incredibly negative and self-destructive.
So, what happens when you learn to master this inner dialogue and change it? Your entire life changes. I credit this book, in part, for helping me get out of a difficult spot in my life where I was working somewhere I knew didn’t align with my purpose but didn’t have the confidence or belief to take the next step.
If you believe your inner dialogue is holding you back, this book has the chance to change your life forever.
8. The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
Dr. Peale’s classic is the quintessential self-help book, being one of just a handful of early books from around the 1950s that shaped the entire self-improvement space as a whole. For that reason, there are many themes in the book that you’ll see echoed throughout many of the other books on this list. However, the perspective is slightly different and a refreshing change.
The value of positive thinking is such a basic mantra of self-improvement that it’s now almost overlooked. The Power of Positive Thinking is great for anyone looking to get back basics and learn some of the fundamental lessons that are critical to believing self-confidence and an optimistic mindset.
9. The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz
The Magic of Thinking Big is a book that I’ll always remember because reading it was probably the first time I was introduced to the true power of the mind. Like Peale’s Positive Thinking, this is another classic, so the examples and speech that Schwartz uses are often entertaining in themselves.
Above all else, The Magic of Thinking Big will teach you not to short-change yourself. Think big, don’t settle, and watch as a simple shift in the way you think literally changes your results.
The Magic of Thinking Big is great for anyone looking to learn more about how to use the mind to achieve higher levels of success.
Awaken the Giant Within is probably Robbin’s most well-known self-help book and, once you read it, you’ll know why. Many of the books on this list hone in on a particular subject, but this one doesn’t. It gives you the whole damn thing and then some. Robbins gives his best advice for improving your relationships, confidence, finances, and finding your purpose.
However, the main takeaway and the theme that runs through the entire book is that you have an inner confidence, a giant within, that you can awaken by changing the way you think in a fundamental way. And doing so will allow you to create real change in your life– no matter the type of change you want to make happen. If that’s what you’re looking for, prepare to be blown away.
Many of the books on this list are centered around old-school ideas of acquisition and self-improvement. If you’re a bit tired of all that (I don’t blame you), this will be a breath of fresh air.
The classics are classics for a reason– they work. They include invaluable wisdom which for anyone trying to make a great dream or goal a reality. However, the older classics tend to ignore something very important: the challenges we face throughout life.
Of all self-help type books, researcher and author Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly strikes at the heart of the most important issue of all: our lack of self-worth and struggles with shame.
The main takeaway of Daring Greatly? You’re not alone in thinking that you’re not worthy. In fact, most people think the same way. It’s the single most universal challenge facing people of all cultures. But you are worth it and you can find that self-worth– and great strength– in the willingness to open up and be vulnerable.
If you’re looking to work more from the ground up and want to tackle fundamental issues, this is the one book you need.