The first Self Help book

On the days we all experience at one time or another, when one hundred and one things have to be attended to immediately, if not sooner, try keeping the following words in mind:

“The shortest way to do many things is to do only one thing at once.”

Written by Samuel Smiles, a doctor, writer and social reformer. He was born in Haddington (my hometown), Scotland in 1812. His book, Self-Help, was published in 1859 and was a best seller book, selling a 1/4 million copies, to the British public.

Haddington, Scotland

In the book, he proposes knowledge as one of the highest human enjoyments and education as the somewhat erratic road along which knowledge is acquired. Where education was not provided, a man had a duty to educate himself.

Samuel Smiles

Self-Help is, among other things, a primer for the poor in self-education and upward mobility: even those at the bottom of the social ladder should be able to improve themselves through hard graft and perseverance. Published privately at Smiles’s own expense, Self-Help was an unexpected sensation, and Smiles became something of a guru in education and business. His thoughts about social mobility struck a chord with the business class, effectively introducing the notions of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. The deserving poor were the grafters, and what they deserved was a fair hearing. The undeserving poor were those who didn’t seem to want to work, and what they needed was a withdrawal of all state or charity support until they were forced to fend for themselves.

More than a century later, Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanted to give Self-Help as a gift to every schoolchild in Britain. 


3 thoughts on “The first Self Help book

  1. That is utterly fascinating. I was brought up in Scotland, studies industrial psychology at college and have never heard of Samuel Smiles. Mind you, if Margaret Thatcher had suggested it as reading material, that would have put me off…😊

    Liked by 2 people

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