Cover photos of the best self help books. The Power Of Positive Thinking, How To Develop Self Confidence And Improve Public Speaking, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truths In Ancient WisdomBooks

20 Best Self Improvement Books: Top Self Help And Personal Development Reads


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Finding the best self improvement books can be frustrating. Many best-selling self help books are entertaining reads, but they rarely produce noticeable change for us. We still end up stuck in the same place in life.

Initially, it sounds like just the thing missing in our quest for personal improvement. We buy the hype but soon realize that the concept is difficult to adapt in our lives. The book does a good job at telling us what we need but doesn’t tell us how to implement it. And this is the main reason why most self help books don’t work on us.

Sorting the good self improvement books from the unproductive ones is the difficult part. If you are still searching for those elusive self help books that will bring about real change, there is good news.

But first, we need to delve into why many of the books on self help are so complicated and ineffective.

Influential self help books are hard to find among the murky mess out there. Far too many authors write books in this popular field. Plus, the space is constantly littered with the latest insight from a popular TED talk. Gone viral mostly because the speaker was charismatic and told a captivating story. And now there is a best-selling book out that you think might be worth your time to read. But does it really help you?

Another type of popular personal development book that invariably ends up getting picked by your company book club is one about the skills and habits of famous entrepreneurs, business leaders or CEOs. Again, these books are rarely productive for us. The outstanding skills they teach you here are usually back-fitted into this person’s story. They leave out the lucky breaks they got at the start of their careers.

Many self help books focus on teaching your what the problem is. But understanding a problem alone does not help you solve it.

Don’t waste your time buying or reading these books. Give them to your competitors as a gift.

How To Identify The Best Personal Development Books To Read

The way to identify good self help books is to see if the main points were known and practiced by the ancients in some form. Time-tested principles are the only ones you should look to try out in your life for self improvement.

Self help books actually worth reading will also have a clear, simple point. Nothing fancy and no made up psychological equations for success. The author will give you actionable plans that are easy to understand and implement in your life. In fact, some of them might seem too simplistic to you. And you might initially dismiss them.

But real change comes from a series of small, easy solutions. Once you apply what you learn in them, you will feel noticeably happier. And it will be clear to you that those methods made the difference. There won’t be any doubt.

Our list below has you covered and will clear the murky waters of the so-called popular self improvement books. And we shall discover the best self help books to finally transform us. They will bring motivation and fulfillment, not just in our lives, but will also inspire people around us.

A Visual Web Story version of this article can be found below:

Top Self Development Books That Have Stood The Test Of Time

1. The Power of Positive Thinking: A Practical Guide to Mastering the Problems of Everyday Living

By Norman Vincent Peale, Touchstone (Simon & Schuster), New York, NY 1952 (2015).

The Power of Positive Thinking is an old school self help book that has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide and has been translated into over 40 languages. Millions of people swear by the effectiveness of these techniques in overcoming obstacles in their lives. Peale teaches us how to achieve a constant state of optimism through affirmations and visualizations.

It is a must-read self improvement book that is loved by the masses but hated by the scholars. A counterintuitively revealing trait of a highly influential and useful book.

2. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

By Jonathan Haidt, Basic Books, New York, NY 2006.

The Happiness Hypothesis is another outstanding self help book. Though written recently, it focuses on ten great ideas that were discovered by ancient civilizations. Haidt shows us how these old ideas have been rediscovered in modern psychological research. And he shows us how to apply them in our current lives to find happiness and fulfillment.

A simple, yet highly powerful book on self improvement and motivation.

3. How to Develop Self Confidence and Influence People by Public Speaking

By Dale Carnegie, Gallery Books, New York, NY 1926 (2018).

Public speaking is usually high on people’s self improvement list. There is nothing better for developing your speaking and presentation skills than a Dale Carnegie course. But if you cannot attend one in person, the next best thing is his best-selling book that has been helping millions of people since the 1920s.

This version has been updated for current language and content. But the steps and advice are still quintessential Dale Carnegie. If you haven’t been introduced to this approach, it will change your life.

Self Improvement Books To Understand What Really Drives Success And Personal Development

The next two books on this list are not what most would consider traditional personal development reads. However, they will teach you how to spot unproductive self improvement advice and steer away from it.

4. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (Incerto)

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Random House, New York, NY 2004.

Fooled by Randomness is a lot more than just learning about “black swan” events. It is a book that will change how you view success, in yourself and others. Fortune Magazine named it one of the smartest books of all time for good reason. It is an eye-opening book. And is the best self help book to show you how to identify other productive self development books and techniques.

Taleb teaches us how humans are probability-blind in most cases. They see patterns and causality where none exist. Self improvement books based on the abilities of a famous founder or CEO, don’t help the rest of us because they fail to account for survivorship bias and luck.

They leave out key losers in the game — the people who had the same skill set, but failed to achieve the same success. Thus, luck or chance, play a much bigger role in outcomes than differences in individual abilities among people.

5. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life

By Scott Adams, Penguin, New York, NY 2013.

Adams’ book is a good reminder that even on projects in your life that are not successful, you will still learn valuable lessons. If you act on what you learn wisely, you can use that to increase the likelihood that your next effort will yield positive results. Even if it’s in a different field.

If you identify a set of 3-5 skills that if combined together — a talent stack — your performance level would be significantly above your peers. Develop yourself to about 80% efficiency in each of these areas. You don’t need to train excessively and reach the very top level.

A guide to understanding talent stacks and some help in identifying a potent combination, can be found here.

Best Personal Development Books To Drive Real Change In Your Life

6. Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard

By Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Crown Publishing Group, New York, NY 2010.

Switch is a great self improvement book on how to make lasting change in your life. Many of us know what parts of us we need to change. But finding a path to successfully getting over the natural hurdles can be where the challenge is.

This book will explain the deep psychological reasons for why change is difficult for us. How our conscious and subconscious minds battle each other and prevent us from driving the change we know if good for us. The authors nicely bring the discussion down to lay people’s terms and make it easy to understand.

7. How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

By Dale Carnegie, Pocket Books, New York, NY 1984.

Best Self Help Books To Understand How External Sources Influence You

We are constantly pulled by competing thought processes in our minds without fully realizing their impact on us. One part of us want to get better. We make a plan but often find it difficult to stay the course. This struggle is primarily related to how our subconscious and conscious minds play a tug of war with each other.

The best place to understand this is the study of influence and persuasion, within the broader social psychology field. If you are looking to lead others and get them to listen to you, these are the best self improvement books for learning how to influence others.

The other benefit of knowing how influence works is that you can then use it to persuade yourself. And to improve the areas where you are being held back in.

The best self help books for learning influence and persuasion follow below.

8. Influence, New And Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion

By Robert B. Cialdini, Revised Edition, Collins Business Essentials, New York, NY 2007.

The very best book to learn the “actual” art of persuasion. Cialdini’s six principles of influence, which you will learn in this book, will transform the way you live. You will be amazed at how much easier it will be to persuade others and get your way in life. As long as you use them ethically.

Influence is an amazing self-help book and it will boost your overall ability to excel as a person at least 10-fold.

9. Win Your Case: How to Present, Persuade, and Prevail–Every Place, Every Time

By Gerry Spence, St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 2005.

Win Your Case will teach you how to emotionally connect with people before you try to convince them of something. Spence is one of the most renowned trial lawyers in America. While this book is more about a courtroom presentation of a case, it can be easily extrapolated to your life situation.

If you want the best experience, get the audio version narrated by Spence himself, in his inimitable Wyoming cowboy swagger. It is quite the charm.

Best Self Improvement Books To Market Yourself And Get Your Way In Life

10. Best Self: Be You, Only Better

By Mike Bayer, HarperCollins, New York, NY 2019.

11. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

By Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Co., New York, NY 2000.

The Tipping Point is an engaging self help book to teach you how ideas spread. If you are an entrepreneur and are trying out a new business model, this is a great book to give you insights on how great ideas propagate.

Best Self Help Books To Leave A Lasting Impact On People

12. How to Win Friends & Influence People

By Dale Carnegie, 80th Anniversary Ed., Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 2009.

If you are unable to get people to do what you ask them to, you will always be missing things in your life. Dale Carnegie’s book will teach you positive ways to influence people and win them over as your friends.

It is a great self improvement book because it teaches us how treat others with kindness and respect. If you follow the easy steps he outlines, you will become more influential in your life and find self-fulfillment in what you do.

13. Awaken the Giant Within : How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny!

By Tony Robbins, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 2013.

Tony Robbins deserves a place on any top self help books list. Probably one of the best known “self-help” and “positive thinking” authors out there today. His approach is powerful and will give you plenty of useful advice for improving your life.

Best Personal Development Books For Women

14. The Magic of Thinking Big

By David J. Schwartz, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 1987.

15. Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions

By Carmen Simon, McGraw Hill, New York, NY 2016.

16. Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions

By Guy Kawasaki, HarperCollins, New York, NY 2009.

Best Christian Self Help Books

17. The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?

By Rick Warren, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI 2012.

With over 35 million books sold, “Purpose Driven Life” is one of the most influential Christian self help book of all time. Pastor Rick Warren leads you down a spiritual journey like no other. Uplifting and filled with great advice for living your full potential and finding happiness in God’s light.

18. Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential

By Joel Osteen, FaithWords, New York, NY 2014.

Bonus Reads: Best Self Improvement Psychology Books

19. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

By Charles Duhigg, Random House, New York, NY 2012.

The Power Of Habit is another useful book to improve your life and build positive habits. Duhigg discusses the psychological and neurological basis for our habits. And in an entertaining way, he outlines how some corporations have leveraged this information to better sell and market consumer products to us.

20. The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home

By Dan Ariely, HarperCollins, New York, NY 2015.

Shaun Mendonsa, PhD is an influencing expert and pharmaceutical development leader. He writes on the topics of influence and persuasion, and develops next generation drugs in human pharma by advising international pharmaceutical CROs and CMOs. He can be reached at


Best self help books; Best self improvement books; Motivational and inspirational books; Top books on personal development; Self help books for women; Christian self help books; Career development; Leadership development; Talent management

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