The first “self-help book” I was introduced to was the 1937 classic from Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich. I was probably 20 years old at the time with a little bit of an ego and I remember feeling pretty skeptical about it. “Why would I need a book to tell me how to live my life better?” It sounded like a religious text but with less authority.
But it was a gift, and while I tried reading the first couple chapters, the book eventually got relegated into a desk drawer somewhere for a couple of years before I picked it up again and spent the time to read it through and study the principles within it. For me, it was just what I needed to hear as I had just graduated from college. Looking back now, I’ve read it several times, and it has led me to pick up dozens of other “self-help” books along the way.
Life is tough. And while “self-help” might be a corny-sounding genre, the best self-help books contain nuggets of wisdom from people whose success is absolutely undisputed. The question you have to ask yourself is, why wouldn’t you pick up a self-help book and maybe save yourself the trouble and time of learning important life lessons that someone whose been there is willing to share with you in full detail?
Think and Grow Rich has become a reading staple of the modern business world, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a very wealthy person who hasn’t at least heard of its principles. So read as many you can, and without further ado, here’s a few self-help classics to get you started that are readily available for free in the public domain.
Public Domain Self-Help Books – The Lifesaver List
Compensation by Ralph Waldo Emerson – Compensation is what I would call a “deep” work. This is not something you can breeze through quickly (although it isn’t very long). The truths being articulated by Emerson here are fundamental to understanding other self-help books that are geared toward a specific aspect of life. Accept and master the wisdom in Compensation, and all the rest will make sense to you.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill – If you’re looking for a place to start, this might be it. Whether you’re looking to improve your business or personal life, this book contains fundamental principles that the entire human race can benefit from.
As a Man Thinketh by James Allen – This book is mysteriously good and no it’s not just for men. It’s not very long, yet somehow every time I open the book I see something for the first time. I hear this from everyone who reads it. The book is full of quotable passages that’ll put things in perspective like never before.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius – This is a collection of personal writings by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He wrote these meditations for his own guidance and self-improvement. Much of what is described is part of the philosophy of Stoicism.
The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science by Thomas Troward – These lectures are credited with being some of the first ideas from the “New Thought” generation of self-help books.
The Master Key System by Charles Haanel – An indispensable part of any self-help collection, each chapter ends with an exercise that the reader is encouraged to engage in daily for the next 4-7 days. Napoleon Hill himself allegedly wrote a letter to Haanel crediting his system with his own success.
Acres of Diamonds by Russell Conwell – This lecture in book form was the inspiration for Temple University’s mission. It’s a powerful and poetic story that can inspire anyone to get up and take action.
Are there other books in the public domain you think should be? Let me know in the comments. This list is not exhaustive, but I think it’s a pretty great start. If you read the above books, you cannot help but become a better and more efficient person. They are just that powerful. So check them out and let me know which one is your favorite!