A self-help book from 1936 is New York Public Library’s most-borrowed non-fiction title ever—here’s why it’s still relevant today

January 13, 2020 at 09:00PM by CWC

While most advice gets lost as the years go by, certain wisdom proves timeless. First published in 1936, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People is widely considered one of, if not the best self-help books to date. According to the New York Public Library, it’s one of 10 most-borrowed titles in the storied institution’s history, and the only non-fiction book to make the list.

For decades, readers have taken the sentiment of the book’s subhead to heart: “The only book you need to lead you to success.” The library’s records show that 284,524 readers have scanned their library cards to snatch up Carnegie’s recommendations—and we can certainly understand why. The author writes that his mission is to help the reader navigate a “mental rut,” make friends quickly, avoid arguments, and improve public speaking skills, among others. In other words, his insight spans multiple topics, including work, criticism, relationships, and more.

In the realm of work, one of Carnegie’s most chattered about tips is to get the person you’re trying to influence to say “Yes” to you immediately. If you’re pitching a project at work, you can kick off a meeting on common ground so that your colleagues are already agreeing with you before you get to your actual idea. That way, says Carnegie, they’ll be saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!” before you’ve even divulged your idea.

To be sure, even a tactic as smart as this one may not score you the go-ahead from a higher-up. And in that case, you’ll need to get familiar with giving criticism in a kind, effective manner. “Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment,” writes Carnegie. That means that you should lead with what people have done right. And when you do acknowledge mistakes, make sure that you communicate the errors you made in a situation first. That way, you place yourself on level ground with the person (i.e, you’re not talking down to them).

As for relationships, one auspicious piece of Carnegie’s advice stands out: “Have a sincere and genuine interest in others.” Some of the most magnetic, kind people I’ve met are those who ask about me in way that surpasses “How are you?” or some version of “What can you do for me?” When people remember that you play a rowdy game of Catan with your friends on Tuesday, or that you have a particular interest in pottery, it makes you feel seen. And it makes you want to make others feel seen, too. Timeless advice indeed.

If you’re not taking reading breaks at parties yet, I’d highly recommend it. Here’s a booklist to get you started. 

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Author Kells McPhillips | Well and Good
Selected by CWC

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