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

Best Self Help Books: Time-Tested Self Improvement Classic Reads

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Finding the best self help books can be frustrating. Many best-selling self improvement 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.

Popular Types Of Self Help Books To Avoid

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.


Don’t waste your time buying or reading these books. Give them to your competitors for the holidays.

How To Identify The Best Self-Help 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 to try out in your life for self improvement.

Self help book 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 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.

Classic Self Help Books That Have Stood The Test Of Time

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

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.

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

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

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

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.

How to Develop Self Confidence and Influence People by Public Speaking

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

How to Develop Self-Confidence and Influence People by Public Speaking

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 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.

Best Self Improvement Books To Understand What Really Drives Success

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.

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.

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (2nd Revised edition)

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 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 enormous success. Thus, luck or chance play a much bigger role in outcomes, than differences in individual abilities between people.

Outliers: The Story of Success

By Malcolm Gladwell, Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY 2008.

Outliers: The Story of Success

Outliers can be looked at as the story or narrative version of Fooled by Randomness. here we learn about some of the unusual, and often left out, reasons for success. Using Bill Gates, Canadian professional ice hockey players and the Beatles, Gladwell shows us the real factors that led to their success. And again, providential situations play the biggest role.

Once you realize that extreme success comes mostly through luck, you can do things to position yourself to take advantage of any fortune when it comes your way. Many of the books that follow below will show you how to do this.

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.

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

Adams’ book, How To Fail At Almost Everything, 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.

‘Tis a lesson you should heed:

Try, try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try, try again.’

Old proverb

He also teaches us how to develop powerful talent stacks. A group of talents, that when combined together, will make you stand out as a leader. If you are an entrepreneur looking for self improvement advice, this book is a must-read.


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.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

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

Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion

You should start with this bestselling book on influence by Robert Cialdini. It is the basis for understanding how influence and persuasion works. His premise is that our world is too information-rich. So people rely on shortcuts for decision-making instead of making what are traditionally called rational choices. Cialdini explains these six principles of influence in this book and shows how you could use them in your own life.


Influence is an amazing self-help book and it will boost your overall ability excel as a leader at least 10-fold. And it is an entertaining and enjoyable read.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

By Dan Ariely, Revised and Expanded Edition, New York, NY 2009.

Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Predictably Irrational is a book that will show you, through psychological experiments, that people make decisions not on a rational basis but through quirks and other social cues. You will also learn how to change the way you ask people for things.

You cater to their unconscious and irrational decision-making process, rather than arguing or reasoning with them.

What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People

By Joe Navarro and Marvin Karlins, HarperCollins, New York, NY 2008.

What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People

We all know that people tell us a lot through their non-verbal cues. And like most, you probably think the place to read people’s feelings is their face. Surprisingly, this is the least reliable place as we discover in the interesting book written by former FBI agent, Joe Navarro.

If you are looking for a good self help book to improve how you read people non-verbally, this is the best you will find. Navarro teaches us some of the hard-to-read cues for whether people are being honest with us or not.

Plus, it is good to know how your own body language affects what others think of you. And attempt to alter some of it to give yourself an edge in social situations.

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

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

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.

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: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

The Tipping Point will show you how to identify key people who you can collaborate with to spread your views and ideas. According to Gladwell, ideas spread like viruses.

They also benefit if they are more memorable and sticky. Certain psychological cues added to your proposals will draw people to them. These cues make people remember your ideas better and assign more importance to them. The books discusses these concepts and shows you how to tip outcomes in your favor.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

By Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Random, New York, NY 2006.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

Made to Stick also has great advice on what you can do to get better traction for your ideas. It is a supplement to Gladwell’s “Tipping Point,” and builds on similar concepts. If you make your ideas and proposals sticky in people’s minds, they will be more likely to support them.

The Heath brothers provide an acronym “SUCCES,” to summarize their guide for making ideas sticky:

  • Simple – no complicated explanations should be needed.
  • Unexpected – make sure some part of the idea gets attention through a surprise.
  • Concrete – should be easy to grasp and remember later.
  • Credible – develop trust for your idea by highlighting others who agree with it.
  • Emotional – people decide to accept or reject an idea based on how they feel about it. Elicit the right emotion with your idea by how you present it and what words you use to explain it. Tip: The book, “Pre-Suasion,” listed below will help you with this point.
  • Stories – use a story to narrate or explain part of the idea.

Trump: The Art of the Deal

By Donald J. Trump and Tony Schwart, Random House, New York, NY 1987.

Trump: The Art of the Deal

Before he became president, Trump’s Art of the Deal was the definitive guide to negotiation and making deals. And it still is. Just because you may not like him as a president, is no reason to think his advice here should be ignored.

The reason this is a great self help book is that it will show you how entrepreneurs need to think and behave. Professors in business schools who have never spent a day in real world of entrepreneurship, don’t get this. And cannot, therefore, teach it.

It will teach you how to stand up for yourself. To negotiate and advocate better options for yourself at work and in life by using some of Trump’s bold and out-of-the-box ways of making deals.


Great Self-Development Books To Drive Real Change In Your Life

Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard

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

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

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.

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: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

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.

Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America

By Scott Adams, Portfolio/Penguin, New York, NY 2019.

Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America

Most people don’t know how to think for themselves. They are mostly programmed by new outlets and social media posts from their side of the political aisle. In that mentality, they are difficult to reason with. If you want some insights on how to spot these unproductive ways of thinking in others (and sometimes in ourselves), this books works great.

This book will not just teach you about flawed thinking in people but will also give you ways to respond to them.

Plus, if we are willing to take stock of our own shortcomings in how we reason, we can start the process of breaking free. Only when our own internal thinking improves can we help others with their reasoning. You can read more from a book review on Loserthink here.


Top Self-Help Books To Leave A Lasting Impact On People

How to Win Friends & Influence People

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

How to Win Friends & Influence People

Dale Carnegie’s book is the quintessential favorite and a must-read if you want to learn ways to influence people and put it in practice. It is regularly cited as one of the best books on influence and persuasion. It shows you how to influence people in a positive and uplifting manner.

The One Sentence Persuasion Course – 27 Words to Make the World Do Your Bidding

By Blair Warren, eBook 2012.

The One Sentence Persuasion Course - 27 Words to Make the World Do Your Bidding

As far as simplified and feel-good methods of influence go, this is the best book for positive ways to influence and persuade people.

If you are short on time (and money), you should read the original 2005 version of this wonder from Blair Warren. It will change your life. He made the original free to download and you can find it by clicking here.

Yes, this books is primarily about persuading others. But it shows you how to do it by genuinely connecting with the people you are influencing in a positive way. This book will improve your influencing and persuasion skills by about 50%. And the people around you will be feel uplifted and ready to be your partner.

Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions

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

Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions

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

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

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

Bonus Reads: Best Self Help Psychology Books

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

By Robert B. Cialdini, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY 2016.

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

Pre-Suasion is another of Cialdini’s must-read books on influence. Here, he shows how to get people in a state where they will be more receptive to your future requests. It is filled with great examples and makes for an interesting read. A review on the book and some quick tips on how to pre-suade are available here.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

By Daniel Kahneman, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York, NY 2011.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 and this book shows you why. Here, he summarizes his ground-breaking research that he did with his colleague, Amos Tversky. Thinking, Fast and Slow, will help you understand how people really think and make decisions.

Kahneman’s book will teach you most of the important cognitive biases humans have. This book is essentially the science behind how most of us think and make choices. To better yourself, you need to understand how your mind works. And this book will help you do that.

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

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

The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic

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.


Best self help books; Best self improvement books; Motivational and inspirational self help books; Best self motivation books; Books on personal development; Influential self help books; Career development; Leadership development; Talent management

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