The Best Self-Help Books: 10 Inspiring Titles You Must Read

Best self help books

What are the best self-help books available today?

This round-up lists some of the best self-help books worth reading.

I’ve always found the genre of self-help fascinating.

Over the past decade I’ve read many different self-help books for business, sports, writing and even my personal life.

I like self-help books because they usually contain interesting techniques and strategies for fixing problems. 

I’ve even written in the genre. My most recent book, This is Working, is basically business self-help for time-strapped executives and entrepreneurs.

Enough with the self-promotion though. 

In no particular order, here are some of the best self-help books I’ve read or listened to as an audiobook that will help you change your life (or at least part of it). 

(Need to finish more books faster? Check out my guide to reading more often.)

1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

This bestseller is one of the most famous self-help books of all time. It recounts the author’s experiences in four Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz. 

The book has been translated into over 50 languages and sold more than 16 million copies. I read it for the first time when I was unemployed and it got me out of a depressive funk.

Frankl’s book was published in 1946, after World War II, and it includes advice like,

“It does not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”

Unlike other self-help books, this one doesn’t rely on platitudes, because Frankl directly relates his takeaway to his experiences during the war.

Considering the subject matter and the death of Frankl’s family, this is a heavy read. And yet it’s hopeful too.

Man's Search for Meaning
  • Rider
  • Frankl, Viktor E. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 04/30/2004 (Publication Date) - Ebury Pr (Publisher)

2. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss has written several books over the past few years, and many cite the 4-Hour Workweek.

I’d argue this book is his real masterpiece.

He distills insights from over 200 interviews with world-class performers from his podcast. 

The book even includes an introduction by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ferriss discloses specific tactics like how to cultivate a state of focus using geranium oil and includes classic strategies for setting goals, growing a business and finding personal fulfillment.

The heavy tome took me over a month to get through. I underlined a lot of thoughts and insights and came back to them, after I finished the book.

Even though I listened to his podcast often, most of the material in this book was still new to me. 

My only criticism is that tactics of one high-performer often conflict with the tactics of another high performer. For example, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel argues for moonshot goals while Dilbert creator Scott Adams recommends systems instead of goals.

So you’ll need to wade through the book and find what works for you. Still, if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, productivity or high-performance, this book is an essential read.

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TOOLS OF TITANS
  • Ferriss, T. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 01/01/2016 (Publication Date) - Penguin Random House UK (Publisher)

3. Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana

Reading this book got me into meditation when I was in my early thirties. 

The author uses clear and concise language to write about concepts some may find wooly. He’s also a little funny, writing:

“Somewhere in this process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy.”

This book explains exactly what mindfulness is and how you can start developing a daily meditation practice and improve your mental health.

In fact, this book taught me the basics of that practice.

It also includes some interesting chapters explaining key concepts like loving kindness and how to develop your concentration.

While meditation apps are popular these days, this is the book I’d recommend to anybody who wants to find more calmness or focus. You can read this book many times and still find new insights.

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Mindfulness in Plain English
  • Mindfulness in Plain English
  • Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 224 Pages - 09/06/2011 (Publication Date) - Wisdom Publications (Publisher)

4. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine

Stoicism is all the rage these days, particularly in Silicon Valley.

In this book, the author explains how this popular ancient philosophy can help you live a better life. Practitioners advocate for the endurance of pain and hardship rather than the pursuit of wealth and comfort.

Irvine combines his approach to stoicism with modern day psychological insights and techniques. He also draws on personal stories. For example, he recounts how rowingin the cold and wet helped him cultivate stoica qualities. 

The author offers advice like,

“If we seek social status, we give other people power over us: We have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor.”

In this book, you’ll learn how to minimize worry, let go of the past and focus on your efforts. 

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A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
  • Hardcover Book
  • Irvine, William B. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 336 Pages - 11/04/2008 (Publication Date) - Oxford University Press (Publisher)

5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

This popular self-help book has been a best-seller in this genre for years.

But did you know the book was rejected 126 times before it was finally published in 1974. Since then, it’s sold over five million copies. Unlike many of today’s self-help books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a dense read that takes some time to digest. 

Don’t let the title fool you. It isn’t about repairing a motorbike!

Instead, it is about how to become more comfortable with problems in your personal or professional life. It’s also semi-autobiographical and contains a surprising ending that will stay with you long after you put the book down.

It’s a must-read, even if you’re not into the genre that much as the underlying story is captivating.

The book also provides insights on Zen and Eastern philosophy and contains advice like,

“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.”

Zen and The Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance
  • Robert M Pirsig (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 12/01/1976 (Publication Date) - Corgi Books (Publisher)

6. Mastery by George Leonard and Mastery by Robert Greene

Okay, so these are two books, but they cover the same topic in different ways: the pursuit of excellence in a field or domain.

Robert Greene’s 2012 New York Times bestseller is hundreds of pages long and full of interviews, historical research and dense chapters.

On the other hand, Leonard’s book, published in the 1970s, is about a quarter of that length. 

Both books illustrate how to go beyond mere competency at a particular task by starting a business or writing to achieve mastery.

Robert Greene’s book features interviews with many professionals and case studies. He includes people from history who’ve achieved mastery in their disciplines, including Charles Darwin and Henry Ford.

Greene writes, 

“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.”

Leonard’s book is more personal and recounts his experiences with Aikido. He writes,

“For the master, surrender means there are no experts.”

The books complement each other nicely. If you’re interested in cultivating a skill for a lifetime rather than a few weeks, these books will help.

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Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment
  • Mastery The Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment
  • Leonard, George (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages - 02/01/1992 (Publication Date) - Plume (Publisher)
Mastery
  • PROFILE BOOKS
  • Robert Greene (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 12/01/2020 (Publication Date) - Profile Books (Publisher)

7. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

If there’s classic self-help, this book is it. Published in 1936, it has sold over 30 million copies and is still in print.

This book covers topics like increasing your popularity and earning power, becoming a better public speaker and winning people over to your way of thinking.

Some key techniques that are still relevant today include: don’t criticise, condemn or complain; give honest and sincere appreciation; and arouse in the other person an eager want. 

The author also writes about how you can encourage people to like you by smiling, becoming genuinely interested in their problems, using their names and being a good listener. Carnegie writes, 

“A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People
  • English
  • First Edition
  • Paperback
  • gelatine plate paper

8. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

This popular self-improvement book combines how to succeed if your career or business and in your own life.

It contains chapters about being proactive, polishing the saw, putting first things first, beginning with the end in mind and more.

As a parent of three kids, I found the advice about conflict management useful.

Expect gems like:

“Two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right. It’s not logical; it’s psychological.”

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: 30th Anniversary Edition
  • Covey, Stephen R. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 464 Pages - 05/19/2020 (Publication Date) - Simon & Schuster (Publisher)

9. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

This self-improvement book was first published all the way back in 1937, and it’s still in print today. It contains 14 principles for the reader covering topics like planning, decision-making, the brain and your subconscious mind.

Although some of the books ideas have dated, it’s an interesting insight into the idea of money as an abundant commodity. It’ll also help you with procrastination.

Read it for motivational self-improvement advice like:

Set your mind on a definite goal and observe how quickly the world stands aside to let you pass.

Sale
Think and Grow Rich: The Landmark Bestseller Now Revised and Updated for the 21st Century (Think and Grow Rich Series)
  • Think and Grow Rich: The Landmark Bestseller--Now Revised and Updated for the 21st Century
  • Napoleon Hill (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 08/18/2005 (Publication Date) - TarcherPerigee (Publisher)

10. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Manson’s book is one of the more popular self-help books in recent years. In fact, Manson has spawned a new genre: anti-self help.

He doesn’t tackle much stock in the heart-warming advice of older books by the likes of Napoleon Hill. t

That’s a good thing because the genre was getting clichéd. Expect life-affirming statements like:

We’re apes. We think we’re all sophisticated with our toaster ovens and designer footwear, but we’re just a bunch of finely ornamented apes.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Mark Manson (Author) - Roger Wayne (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 09/13/2016 (Publication Date) - HarperAudio (Publisher)

The Final Word on the Best Self-Help Books

You don’t need a PhD to improve your life.

After reading some of the best self-help books over the past few years, I’ve discovered it’s a sprawling genre… full of classics.

But where to start?

Make a list of what you want to read.

Then choose a self-help book for a problem you’re having right now rather than an abstract topic.

Pick an instructional self-help book to discover how to achieve an end goal, or opt for a more autobiographical self-help book, like the Zen and the Art Motorcycle Maintenance. 

Whatever your choice, the answers are out there. 

Do self-help books work?

Self-help books work if you read them to solve a particular problem if your life and then put what you learnt from the book into action. Reading can turn into a form of procrastination otherwise.

What is wrong with self-help books?

Some authors of self-help books offer a cookie cutter approach to solving a professional or personal challenge. This doesn’t always translate to each reader’s circumstances.

What is the number 1 best selling self-help book?

Think and Grow Rich is the number 1 best-selling self-help book of all time. It was first published back in 1936 and has reportedly sold over 100 million copies.

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