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What Is the Best Self-Help Book?

One of the reasons self-improvement books are so popular is that they are for everybody. From regular workers to high-powered CEOs, fresh college grads to elderly retirees, urban dwellers to people living in rural areas – the learning experience is never complete. Reading a book in the self-help genre is a way of acknowledging that we all have room for improvement.

Personal development books have been around for as long as people have been reading. The ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks had books advising people how to live. In the Middle Ages, books told stories of kings whose behavior should be imitated (or avoided). The personal growth books genre exploded in the early twentieth century with books

like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich that have sold tens of millions of copies and remain popular today.

Here, we present our 10 top self-help books for 2021. Some of these books are well-worn classics while others are recent best-sellers. All of them have two things in common: they are great reads and they contain important lessons for personal growth.

1. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment – Eckhart Tolle

Teaches us that true happiness comes from living in the present moment

Published in the late 1990s, The Power of Now remains a best-seller with its central message about living in the present. While this is not the only book on the subject, it probably does a better job than any other of making the case for mindfulness. After reading Tolle’s book, you will have a better understanding of how living in the present can boost happiness and emotional intelligence and remove pain and anxiety. 

Even Tolle’s detractors have been forced to acknowledge the positive impact his book has had on millions of readers. In the words of one critic, “In the midst of all the psychobabble to do with happiness being based on getting what you want, Tolle sounds a clear note stating that happiness comes from a state of consciousness and a connection with being present to the wonder of life.”

2. Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

Teaches us that motivation comes from finding meaning in our lives

Part memoir, part psychology primer, this book was once ranked in the top 10 most influential books in a survey conducted by The Library of Congress. In Part One, Frankl analyzes his own experience as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He concludes, controversially, that prisoners who maintained a positive attitude amid the horrors were more likely to survive. 

Part Two introduces us to Frankl’s concept of logotherapy, which teaches that the primary motivational force of any person is to find meaning in life. According to Frankl, we can discover meaning in three sources: (1) through work or deeds; (2) through an experience with something or encounter with someone; or (3) by choosing our attitude in the face of suffering.

3. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Teaches us to listen to our hearts, watch for omens, and follow our dreams

The only novel on our list, The Alchemist many people credit it with having changed their lives. It therefore deserves its place in our list of best personal development books. The Alchemist has sold around 150 million copies in dozens of languages since it was first published in 1988, making it one of the top three selling novels of all time alongside The Lord of the Rings and the first book in the Harry Potter series. 

Coelho’s masterpiece tells the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who journeys to the pyramids of Egypt after experiencing a recurring dream about finding treasure there. The story of Santiago’s journey teaches us – in the way only a great story can – about the importance of listening to our hearts and following our dreams.

4. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead – Brené Brown

Teaches us to make ourselves vulnerable and face down our fears

It’s not often a book becomes a bestseller by saying something completely counterintuitive, but Brené Brown achieves this here. Based on a lifetime of research, this professor of social work argues that vulnerability equals courage – and that making ourselves vulnerable can transform our lives.

Drawing on her copious amount of research, Brown explains how vulnerability is at the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, and of positive emotions like love, joy, and creativity. She writes: “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”

5. The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? – Seth Godin

Teaches us to aim high - and to be brave, creative, and unpredictable in our work

Seth Godin has written dozens of motivational books, and this one is his best. Anyone familiar with Greek mythology will know the story of Icarus, the boy with wings who ignores his father’s warning to not fly too close to the sun – and meets his doom. But we forget that Icarus’ father also w