The 7 Most Influential Self-Help Books of All Time


By Amy Reilly

Each year, publishers inundate us with new self-help books promising to teach us how to be better: better parents, better spouses, better workers, better organizers, better everything! It’s enough to make the head spin. However, every so often a self-help book rises to the top and morphs into something of a cultural phenomenon. These winners often spawn a school of wannabes and lookalikes (bookalikes?), but the originals retain something special. Here are seven self-help books that were groundbreakers in their day, and have stood the test of time. Make sure you also don’t forget to read these iconic books.

Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson (1998)

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A motivational business allegory featuring mice, mazes and cheese, this title was on the best-seller list for almost five years and sold 26 million copies. Its characters, Sniff and Scurry (the mice) and Hem and Haw (the humans) can still teach us a lot. These are books that you can quickly read in a day.

What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles (1972)

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This book offers advice about career choice and job hunting. It’s been updated several times over the years, adding additional info about the digital age, but its basic premises still hold true. Ten million copies sold and counting.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1939)

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Perhaps the granddaddy of them all, this self helper provides practical and accessible advice on everything from how to make friends, become a leader, and have a successful home life, just to name a few. Revised as recently as 2011, it was ranked #19 on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential books of all time. Here are tips on how to be a better friend.

The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen R. Covey (1989)

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Covey’s website credits the book for being a top-seller “for the simple reason that it ignores trends and pop psychology for proven principles of fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity.” It sold more than 25 million copies to date, and has spawned a slew of Seven Habits spinoffs. These are time management skills that all successful people use.

I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas Anthony Harris (1969)

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An icon of pop psychology, this book takes “transactional analysis,” i.e. transactions between people, and puts it into layman’s terms. It spent two years on the best-seller list, and sold over 15 million copies. The book also had the distinction of making it into a Seinfeld episode: when George Constanza is having trouble figuring out how to break up with his girlfriend, Jerry is dispatched to get some self-help books, including this one.

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki (2000)

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This book teaches personal finance through parables about two fathers and two sons. It was inspired by the author’s own life growing up in Hawaii. Oprah featured it on her TV show, and sales boomed to the tune of 26 million copies.

Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray (1992)

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Perhaps the quintessential relationship book, the author starts with the premise that men and women are fundamentally different, and if we can learn the code of conduct for the opposite sex, we’ll all be happier and have better relationships. While it might seem obvious to some of us that men and women are pretty different (why do women talk about their feelings all the time? Why do men bond over sports?), the author was nonetheless clearly onto something. The book sold 50 million copies and according to CNN was “the highest ranked nonfiction book of the 1990s.” In addition, the title has spawned more books, seminars, theme vacations, workout videos, a one-man Broadway play, fragrances, and yes, even his-and-her salad dressings. These are signs that you are in a solid relationship.


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