5 Wildly Popular Self-Help Books Not Worth Your Time or Money
It’s a quagmire of misleading marketing out there — don’t fall into it!
As technology’s progress makes lives easier across the world, more and more people are getting the time to focus on self-improvement. We all turn to books to guide us through the darkness: those age-old and most trusted repositories of human knowledge.
And thus, the self-help industry grows.
But not all books are equally helpful. Where some of the best advice I found was from books that no one knows about, I found a lot of the popular ones to be full of crap.
Ironic, I know, but that’s how the cookie crumbles. Thinking someone had to do something about it, I decided to make a list of the worst offenders: wildly successful self-help books that don’t offer any accurate, actionable advice.
These books were written only to pad the sales stats. I wasted my time on them, so you won’t have to. This five-minute blog will save you several weeks.
1. How To Win Friends and Influence People
With a catchy title making a tall claim, Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People: The Only Book You Need To Lead You to Success is the poster child of the self-help genre. It has a minimalist cover with large, friendly lettering that draws the eye and an associated promise to spark interest.
Now, the book works fine — as a lesson in marketing strategy. It plays on the innate human need to build a community through its title. The clever subtitle generates a measure of FOMO, pushing you to consider reading it.
What’s unfortunate is the fact that the book is chock-full of manure.
The basic premise is simple: you want to be agreeable to people, so they open up. Find some common ground and talk about your shared interests. Rinse and repeat for a while, and soon, you’ll make many friends.
But if you keep doing it for a long time, you’ll become a people pleaser with no personality of your own. Everybody will see you as an emotional sponge and will begin dumping their baggage on you: a super unhealthy dynamic in any relationship.
That’s what makes How to Win Friends so disgusting: it’s more harmful than helpful. You shouldn’t even approach this cash-grab scheme looking to monetize hope, not without a 6-foot pole and full PPE gear.
2. The 48 Laws of Power
Having garnered a cult-like following despite being banned in most prison libraries and some schools, Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power is an intriguing book.
At the same time, it’s a NY Times bestseller. A book People magazine describes it as “beguiling” and “fascinating”. Needless to say, 48 Laws is controversial.
But is it useful? I’d say yes, to a degree. It’s a vast book covering several topics, making it impossible to give a definite answer to this question.
There’s no denying that the book contains some good advice. At one point, Greene says you shouldn’t reveal all your cards in one go (Law #4). This is super useful in negotiations, and I’ve personally used it several times while making deals with clients.
Another law says you should win through action, not argument (Law #9). Again, it’s obvious why this works — everybody respects doers. It’s the argumentative types that get laughed at.
That said, the majority of the 48 Laws is malicious poison. You’ll ruin relationships and your career if you follow them blindly.
A large part of the book focuses on gaining power by manipulating others. While these tactics may have worked in the monarchies and dictatorships of the old, they fall apart in a modern setting.
You need collaboration to get ahead these days. Sadly, Greene hates this idea so much.
All things considered, this book will do you more harm than good. Sure, it’s possible to derive some value by nitpicking the text, but I don’t think it’s worth the effort. You’re better off reading the summaries that keep popping up every couple of weeks.
3. Think and Grow Rich
Boasting a total sales figure of over 15 million copies, Napoleon Hill’s Think And Grow Rich is one of the most famous self-help books of all time. It’s also garnered hundreds of thousands of positive ratings on Goodreads. At a glance, the book seems solid.
And yet, scouring through its 200-odd pages tells a different story.
Most of the book is filler, bloated with disingenuous and generic “good” advice. Pseudoscience like the “law” of attraction and toxic positivity fill up its pages.
In fact, this one quote summarizes the entire structure of the book —
“A dream written down becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by actions becomes reality.”
Hill takes an inane fact of life, dresses it up with pretty words, and presents it as a ground-breaking idea. All the above quote tells you is that people improve through practice and focus.
No one needs three sentences to state that simple concept. But Hill does it anyway and keeps doing it throughout his magnum opus. Of any actionable plan, there’s a glaring lack.
All this combined with Hill’s blatant lies makes TAGR a repulsive read. I fell for the marketing and wasted a whole week on this book. I hope you steer clear of it.
4. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Mark Manson sets out to teach you that life won’t ever turn out as you wish in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
This world is a harsh place, and all its inhabitants are flawed in their own ways. You’re much more likely to face smog and cockroaches in life than you’ll get to enjoy rainbows and butterflies.
To survive, you have to develop thick skin.
That’s the core theme of Subtle Art. It’s a perfectly valid concept — commendable even. What I hated was the execution.
Manson goes from anecdote to opinion to curses like he’s ranting on Reddit. There’s hardly any elegant deduction, rigorous analysis, or interesting inferences in the book. All you’ll get is a steady stream of “fuck this, fuck that” ad nauseam, ad infinitum.
The book might have been interesting to me at one point — way back when I was in high school. But today, I find it infantile to the point of being infuriating. Combined with Manson’s subtle undertones of misogyny, reading Subtle Art was painful and embarrassing.
5. Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Certain clever strategies allowed the world’s richest to amass ridiculous amounts of wealth. But conventional education conveniently skips such tutorials, leaving most of the populace to wallow in poverty.
Robert Kiyosaki challenges that status quo in his 1997 bestseller, Rich Dad, Poor Dad. An excellent concept, I’ll admit, one that was intriguing enough to pull me in.
Unfortunately, RDPD falls apart under the slightest scrutiny. The whole book revolves around real estate and its potential as a wealth-preserving asset. The author promotes dangerous tactics like taking massive debts to buy real estate in a tanking economy.
I agree that this is a good business opportunity, but it isn’t conducive at all to society’s progress. I cannot, in good conscience, advise people to read his book.
And that concludes my rant. I hope you liked my take on these famous, popular books.
I’m sure you’ll have some contrary views, so feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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