50 Self-Help Classics: A book review by Bob Morris

50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Books to Transform Your Life
Tom Butler-Bowdon
Nicholas Brealey Publishing (2003)

A brilliant introduction to the “literature of possibility”

Note: This is one of five volumes in the 5o Classics series, each available in a softbound edition and priced at less than $15.00. In my opinion, the vaue of the material in each volume is worth far more than that.

In both this volume and in 50 Success Classics, Butler-Bowdon has selected and then provided a rigorous examination of carefully selected works that have had, for decades, a profound impact on those who read them and then applied the principles which their respective authors affirm. In this instance, inspiration and guidance to transform one’s life. There are several reasons why I hold this volume in such high regard. Here are three.

First, Butler-Bowdon has assembled excerpts and focused on key points from a wide variety of works which include (with authors listed in alphabetical order, as in the book), Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler’s The Art of Happiness, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance (a classic essay), Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, Abraham Maslow’s Motivation and Personality, Joseph Murphy’s The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Obviously, some of this material would also be appropriate for inclusion in 50 Success Classics.

Second, I appreciate the fact that Butler-Bowdon also enables his readers to focus on specific themes of greatest interest to them by suggesting combinations of selections per theme as follows:

The Power of Thought: Change your thoughts, change your life
Following Your Dream: Achievement and goal setting
Secrets of Happiness: Doing what you love, doing what works
The Bigger Picture: Keeping it in perspective
Soul and Mystery: Appreciating your depth
Making a Difference: Transforming yourself, transforming the world

The diversity of Butler-Bowdon’s primary sources is indeed impressive even when grouped according to a common theme.

Third and finally, he makes clever use of a number of reader-friendly devices throughout his narrative, such as “In a nutshell,” “Final comments,” and a brief bio of the author at the conclusion of each selection. I also appreciate the inclusion of brief quotations wherever they are most relevant.

In the Introduction, Butler-Bowdon observes that a self-help book “can be your best friend and champion, expressing a faith in your essential greatness and beauty that is sometimes hard to get from another person. Because of its emphasis on following your star and believing that your thoughts can remake your world, a better name for self-help writing might be the `literature of possibility.’ Many people are amazed that the self-help sections in bookstores are so huge. For the rest of us, there is no mystery. Whatever recognizes our right to dream, then shows us how to make the dream a reality, is powerful and valuable.”

What he offers is by no means a buffet of motivational hors d’oeuvres. On the contrary, the content selected is solid and skillfully presented within an appropriate context. I am convinced that many of those who read this book will be encouraged to read (or re-read) many of the primary sources in their entirety. If Butler-Bowdon’s efforts accomplish nothing else, that will indeed be sufficient to earn the praise I think he has earned…and justly deserves.


Posted in

Leave a Comment