Customer Reviews: Self Help; with illustrations of Conduct and Perseverance
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on September 15, 2004
The following review is based on the Oxford World's Classics edition, edited bby Peter W. Sinnema.

'Self-Help' was published in 1859 in England, and became the instant bestseller, with 20,000 copied sold within the year after publication, making Samuel Smiles a household name. It is hard to categorize this book into any genre, but basically 'Self-Help' is a statement on the virtues of hard working, or in Smiles's favorite word, 'perseverance,' amply illustrated by many examples of biographical records collected by Smiles.

The chapter names would show the contents -- 'Self-Help: National and Individual'; 'Leaders of Industry: Inventors and Producers'; 'Three Great Potters'; 'Application and Perseverance'; 'Helps and Opportunities'; 'Workers in Art'; 'Industry and the Peerage'; 'Energy and Courage'; 'Men on Business'; 'Money: It's Use and Abuse'; 'Self-Culture: Facilities and Difficulties'; 'Example: Models'; 'Character: The True Gentleman.'

Each chapter tells you the examples of hard work and its eventual triumph, and with many biographical episodes, Smiles argues the importance of being earnest, no matter where the supposed readers belong to the social ladder of England. For example, in the Chapter 'Three Great Potters' you can see the life of three potters -- Palissy, Bottgher, and Wedgwood -- and how they. in spite of the numerous obstacles rushing to them, succeeded in their art, with which their names were recorded in the history.

Like this, Smiles' book has a pattern -- it states its point first, championing the virtue of hard work, then he supports his statement with mini-biographies about many people, which include that of mechanics, philanthropists, scientist, musicians, soldiers, politicians, merchants, and many others. But as this is written in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, many pages are devoted to the inventors of new machines, or their privation, suffering, and final victory.

Often his styles are preachy, and Smiles didn't include many remarkable women who should have been included (if he does, those women's roles are often as men's 'help-mates'), and it has been pointed out since the publication that the cases Smiles cites as examples are all successful ones. But as it was written long time ago, we should take the book as it is now.

Oxford editon included concise introduction by Peter W. Sinnema, and helpful notes and glossary of the names the book deals with.

This is not a so-called 'how-to' book (if you want to read that way, of course you can), but a good proof as to how Victorian working class and lower-middle class thought about being 'viruous' and 'respectable.' If you want to see the glimpse of Victorian ideas among ordinary people, and how such ideas greatly influenced the writers like Dickens who created Mr. Bounderby in 'Hard Times,' you should read this book.
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on November 14, 2011
By Darrell Stoddard,

Because of this book the Japanese learned to be servants instead of masters. "Self Help" Totally Changed History of Japan. STRANGE BUT TRUE! The now almost unknown book in English 'Self Help' published in England in 1859 and then translated into the Japanese language, dramatically changed the history of Japan (and even the history of the world) as much as 'Mein Kompf' changed Germany or the "Communist Manifesto' changed the history of Russia or China.

How could this be? Self help was a series of lectures given by a physician named Samuel Smiles to a group of boys in England who came out of the mines, mills, and factories that wanted an education. They met together in an abandoned cholera hospital to try and educate each other. Those who knew a little taught those who knew less. They called themselves the 'mutual improvement youths'.

Smiles accepted an invitation to "talk to them a bit" and told them the stories of the men that gave England the Industrial Revolution. The lectures then became the book 'Self Help'. Smiles said the stories were "almost gospels" because they embodied the principle of service. The highest and best you could be was to to become a servant by inventing something for the betterment of mankind.

Admiral Perry opened the doors of the Japan in a steamship that the Japanese never knew existed. He then built for the Japanese to see, a model locomotive railroad with tracks. Then Perry installed and demonstrated a telegraph line. The Japanese saw technology they never knew existed and wanted to catch up with a world that was in the midst of an industrial revolution. Using as a guide to do this, they translated the book 'Self Help' into the Japanese language.

A missionary to Japan told me there were nine million copies of 'Self Help' translated into Japanese. I have no way of confirming these numbers but it was enough to completely saturate the nation. 'Self help' became the pattern for the industrial development of Japan with the overriding principle of, "He that is greatest among you shall be your servant". From the book 'Self Help' Japan became a whole nation of servants. You see an expression of the belief (that every person should be a servant) in the bowing the Japanese do when greeting someone or saying goodbye, wherein each person bows again and again trying to go lower than the other person, as if to say, "I am lower than you. I am your servant".

Student executives for a major Japanese corporation have to go to the companies employees and clean their toilets. Because of 'Self Help' the guiding principle of Japanese corporations is TOP DOWN SERVICE. This made Japan the second most productive nation on earth. Now the book is available free of charge from for you to transform your life, the life of your company, or the life of your nation.

Footnote regarding SERVICE:
Top down service (or service freely given) makes men free and it also makes men and nations prosperous. To create wealth, leaders must be servants instead of masters. In contrast, BOTTOM UP COMPULSORY SERVICE MAKES MEN SLAVES.

There was "bottom up compulsory service" in Communist China under Communism and the people were slaves. Since the Cultural Revolution, we have witnessed the effects of 'Self Help' and service in Modern China with the introduction of the same principles that made Japan prosperous.

The miracle of modern China repeats the story of a nation moving from poverty and slavery to wealth and prosperity based on WHO SERVES WHO. Fifty years ago in China under a Communist government of slavery with "bottom up compulsory service", there were thirty million people starving to death.

Today (because of the miracle of service) China has become one of the most powerful nations on earth. There is an abundance of food and almost no one is starving. What made the difference? One simple act: China gave the land in the collective farms back to the peasants. This made the peasants free to realize the fruits of their own labor or "self help".


Planned economies have never been able to produce enough food to feed their own people. It took 'Self Help' and people free to realize the fruits of their own labor to produce steamships, farming machinery, automobiles, trucks, airplanes, televisions, computers and Ipods. Freedom (not laws, not governments or government control) has given us such inventions and the standard of living we now have.

Top down service not only creates wealth and prosperity, but it also creates love (in those who render the service for those to whom the service is given). Through service, freely given, we can even love our enemies. See my review of the motion picture 'Truce in the Forest'.

See all of my Reviews. I write only about books, events, or motion pictures that have changed the course of history or unforgettable books or motion pictures that will totally change peoples lives.

Darrell Stoddard, Founder - Pain Research Institute and
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on December 13, 2007
I have stepped over the title while reading "Why Toyota Became #1" and have got a German version from 1900. It has much insight in it that is still valid today and was a major part of Toyota's starting point to the journey where one in business is looking at.

Focus on your core strengths and eliminate waste, keep doing that constantly and you will be successful.

Easy to read and the stories are very much transferable to the present (even though some of them are a couple of hundreds of years old).
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VINE VOICEon July 9, 2012
There are a litany of books available on personal development but few can lay claim to be one of the originals. The works of Sam Smiles are often attributed as the inspiration for many later works on the subject as well as plenty of successful individuals; and for good reason. Smiles is a very talented writer and proved to offer insights of a timeless quality.

Self Help provides a fantastic overview of the importance of developing yourself, not just for your own needs, but for the betterment of society. Smiles focuses on the core attributes such as attention, persistence, imagination, and patience. He also deals in depth with character, thrift, and humility. Although these topics have been handled countless times by many successful authors, few have done as much justice to them nor have many matched Smiles' ability to express why these attributes are so important.

Smiles manner of writing is eloquent and flowing. He provides an incredible amount of examples to support his points. Although he acknowledges the equal importance of studying those who failed as well as those who succeeded, he justifies a focus on the latter merely by matter of interest and intrigue. The book is an impressive collection of stories about those who lifted themselves from small beginnings to great successes using the principals outlined in the book.

Although there is no secret recipe for success, Smiles work is a testament to the importance of maintaining the right attitude in various areas to at least greatly increase the probability of success. Without question, if all you do is read this book to gain the some of the knowledge Smiles has to offer, you will be a better person for having read the book. Beyond that, the sky is the limit.
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on June 28, 2016
 “Human character is moulded by a thousand subtle influences; by example and precept; by life and literature; by friends and neighbours; by the world we live in as well as by the spirits of our forefathers, whose legacy of good words and deeds we inherit. But great, unquestionably, though these influences are acknowledged to be, it is nevertheless equally clear that men must necessarily be the active agents of their own well-being and well-doing; and that, however much the wise and the good may owe to others, they themselves must in the very nature of things be their own best helpers.”

~ Samuel Smiles from Self-Help

Self-Help by Samuel Smiles.

I hadn’t heard of this book until I was watching a Big Think video featuring Tal Ben-Shahar. (Highly recommend those, btw. Google “Big Think + Tal Ben-Shahar” or click here). In the interview “In Defense of Self-Help,” Tal discusses the modern self-help movement and the fact that, unfortunately, a great deal of the books these days share the latest quick-fix solutions to life’s challenges rather than teaching us how to develop our character.

Big Think asked Tal what he considers classics in self-help and he mentioned this book.

So, I immediately got it and read it over the weekend and here we are.

I’m thrilled I read it. It’s packed with mini-biographies of many of history’s greatest scientists, artists, business leaders, generals and political leaders plus Big Ideas encouraging us to develop character, perseverance, diligence, patience and other noble virtues.

I’m excited to share a handful of my favorite Big Ideas:

1. Diligent, Patient Industry - Is where it’s at.
2. Indefatigable Industry - Is also where it’s at.
3. Comfort & Happiness - True necessities.
4. Time Well Spent - Use it or lose it.
5. Moving Ourselves. - Be the change, yo.

More goodness— including PhilosophersNotes on 300+ books in our ​*OPTIMIZE*​ membership program. Find out more at brianjohnson . me.
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on May 18, 2014
Samuel Smiles was the icon of "self help" proponents and a non-fiction rags-to-riches story-teller who set the standard for all such later to come. At a time when socialist thought was at its infancy, Smiles showed how many of the greatest innovators and wealthy entrepreneurs had risen from the lowest rungs of society and that frugality, hard work, abstinence, optimism and perseverance were the route out of poverty. He was one of the most popular politicians turned authors in Victoria's England until towards the end of the century socialist sentiment began to prevail and his point of view fell out of favor with the masses until his decline. A must-read for all interested in the conservative ideas that shaped the Victorian era in England.
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on December 11, 2012
This book profiles the great character exercised by many people, from inventors to military leaders. They persist despite great obstacles. As Covey points out in 7 Habits, older leadership books are about character rather than technique. This is a great example. It was an inspiration to Taichi Ohno of Toyota.
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on October 28, 2013
This is a fun book both historically and personally. Its basic message is that we are largely responsible for the quality of our own lives. He does recognize that the larger society affects our available resources, and the quality of our living (e.g. personal safety etc), but, of course, this is Victorian England, so many of the issues that affect us were of less importance then. But the basic issue of personal responsibility for the reaction to what happens in larger society is unchanged. A fun book!
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on April 7, 2014
I have the condensed version of 'Self Help' released by I.E.A. in 2009 as a free e-book [43 pages]. It is a worthy read, a bit old [from 1866], but it still has some grand ideas. It will take you on a tour of various famous names who achieved success.

A few excerpts: The object of the book briefly is to re-inculcate these old-fashioned but wholesome lessons which perhaps cannot be too often urged, that youth must work in order to enjoy, that nothing creditable can be accomplished without application and diligence, that the student must not be daunted by difficulties, but conquer them by patience and perseverance, and that, above all, he must seek elevation of character, without which capacity is worthless and worldly success is naught. ... The battle of life is, in most cases, fought up‐hill; and to win it without a struggle is perhaps to win it without honour. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved. The school of difficulty is the best school of moral discipline, for nations as for individuals. ... ‘Civility’, said Lady Montague, ‘costs nothing and buys everything.’ The cheapest of all things is kindness, its exercise requiring the least possible trouble and self‐sacrifice. ... The true gentleman values his character, not so much of it only as can be seen of others, but as he sees it himself. ... True courage and gentleness go hand in hand. The brave man is generous and forbearing, never unforgiving and cruel. ... Glory and honour to the gentle and the brave!
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on May 30, 2012
This is an excellent book, written in 1859. I was delighted at its relevance to today. The practical suggestions of how we should behave would make the world a finer place. I have many of Samuel Smiles' books and find each inspiring.
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