Self-help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America

Self-help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America

by Steven Watts
     
 

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An illuminating biography of the man who taught Americans “how to win friends and influence people”
 
Before Stephen Covey, Oprah Winfrey, and Malcolm Gladwell there was Dale Carnegie. His book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, became a best seller worldwide, and Life magazine named him one of “the…  See more details below

Overview

An illuminating biography of the man who taught Americans “how to win friends and influence people”
 
Before Stephen Covey, Oprah Winfrey, and Malcolm Gladwell there was Dale Carnegie. His book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, became a best seller worldwide, and Life magazine named him one of “the most important Americans of the twentieth century.” This is the first full-scale biography of this influential figure.
 
Dale Carnegie was born in rural Missouri, his father a poor farmer, his mother a successful preacher. To make ends meet he tried his hand at various sales jobs, and his failure to convince his customers to buy what he had to offer eventually became the fuel behind his future glory. Carnegie quickly figured out that something was amiss in American education and in the ways businesspeople related to each other. What he discovered was as simple as it was profound: Understanding people’s needs and desires is paramount in any successful enterprise. Carnegie conceived his book to help people learn to relate to one another and enrich their lives through effective communication. His success was extraordinary, so hungry was 1920s America for a little psychological insight that was easy to apply to everyday affairs.
 
Self-help Messiah tells the story of Carnegie’s personal journey and how it gave rise to the movement of self-help and personal reinvention.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
11/01/2013
Here Watts (history, Univ. of Missouri; The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life) has written the first full-scale biography of Dale Carnegie (1888–1955), the author of the self-help title How To Win Friends and Influence People, one of the best sellers of the 20th century and the predecessor of such books as Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Watts draws comparisons among Carnegie's life, his public speaking activities, and his book. He describes his subject's early years in the Midwest growing up in a farming family, his first encounters with public speaking in college, his work as a traveling salesman before moving to New York to begin a full-time career as a public speaker and author, and, finally, the development of his famous book. Watts shows how Carnegie had a mixed impact on American culture; he showed people how better to consider the emotions of others but only for the purpose of improving their own situations. However, his influence can still be felt in 21st-century America through the works of authors such as Oprah Winfrey and Joel Osteen as well as those by researchers who address relationships among people, including Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence. VERDICT This volume will appeal to those who enjoy reading biographies, people who are interested in the history of the self-help movement in America, and students of the cultural history of the United States immediately before and after World War II.—Nathan Rupp, Yale Univ. Medical Lib., New Haven, CT
Publishers Weekly
★ 08/19/2013
The man whose bestselling How to Win Friends and Influence People defined 20th-century American normalcy was a deeply subversive figure, according to this penetrating biography. Historian Watts (The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century) follows Carnegie as he abandons his family’s rural poverty and rock-ribbed Protestantism to become a salesman, actor, theater impresario, Lost Generation novelist, and educator who developed his public-speaking courses into a prescription for psychological renovation and a template for later self-help therapies. Along the way, the author argues, Carnegie embodied and promoted a revolutionary shift from a Victorian code of stern morality, hard work, and self-denial to a modern ethos that locates success in a pleasing personality, a canny stroking of other people’s egos, and the pursuit of self-actualization—with implications both liberating and sinister. (A new biography of mass murderer Charles Manson notes his use of manipulative ploys gleaned from a Dale Carnegie course.) Watts situates Carnegie’s story in a rich account of the dawning age of consumerism, mass entertainment, and a new business culture centered on salesmanship and smoothly meshing corporate bureaucracy, rather than rugged individualism. Watts’s lucid prose and shrewd analysis gives us an absorbing portrait of Carnegie and the America he both reflected and shaped. Photos. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"An insightful and comprehensive new biography." —The Economist

"[A] penetrating biography...Watts’s lucid prose and shrewd analysis gives us an absorbing portrait of Carnegie and the America he both reflected and shaped." —Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)

“Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Hugh Hefner, and now Dale Carnegie. Steven Watts is the Plutarch of American modernity.” —Robert Westbrook, author of John Dewey and American Democracy

Self-Help Messiah is carefully researched and vigorously written, a pleasure to read and ponder. Don't miss it!” —Jackson Lears, author of Rebirth of a Nation: The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920

“Steven Watts’s Self-Help Messiah is a fantastic page turner about the complicated pop guru of the American Positive Thinking Movement. Dale Carnegie was a master marketeer and common sense philosopher. This first rate biography does the legend justice. Highly recommended.” —Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite 

"Compelling...Watts captures a momentous period of change in America and makes a forceful case for Carnegie's significance in it." —Barnes & Noble Revicews

[Steven Watts's] descriptions...are poignant.  Watts shows how particularly attuned Carnegie was to the psychological needs of Americans beaten down by the Great Depression, who needed to hear that positive thinking would garner positive results." —NPR, Fresh Air

"A fascinating portrait of the father of self-help and incisive analysis of the mercurial era that produced him." —Kirkus Reviews

"Watts...is an astute analyst of his subject’s life and times." —Washington Post

"Watts captures a momentous period of change in America and makes a forceful case for Carnegie's significance in it." —The Christian Science Monitor

“A…fine new biography” —Harper’s

“[Watts] paints a fascinating picture of a man who ‘struggled to accommodate his yearning for affluence with a genuine respect for moral virtues’ and whose story ‘is, in essence, the story of America itself in a dynamic era of change.’” —City Journal

"[Self-Help Messiah] should be required reading for anyone concerned by the ongoing drift from what had been a republic of individual citizens downward into a class-defined social-nationalist state that would have appalled Kafka and Orwell...[Watts] does a masterful job of weaving in Carnegie’s impact on the lives of individuals being tossed by the waves of industrialization, urbanization and mass media that dominated the last century and this." —Washington Times

"[Watts] weaves a very compelling and readable story about the human spirit and the psychological needs of a whole generation who were desperate to believe positive thinking and self-development would create a new and brighter future." —Waterloo Region Record

Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-15
Watts (Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream, 2008, etc.) recounts the life and times of motivational guru Dale Carnegie (1888–1955). The author goes beyond simple biography to explore the sea-change in American thought heralded by the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), examining the social, technological and economic upheaval of the early 20th century that shifted emphasis from the idea of "character" to "personality," a more individual-centered focus made possible by unprecedented opportunities for prosperity. Carnegie--born Carnagey--the shrewd author may have sought to align himself in the public mind with successful industrialist Andrew, no relation--grew up in poverty on a farm in Missouri, baffled by the failure of his parents' devotion to Protestant and Victorian ideals of hard work, self-denial and moral rectitude to reap the rewards of material success. Carnegie undertook a number of professions--successfully, in the case of selling meat products, less so in the fields of journalism, acting and fiction writing--before finding great success as a public speaker preaching the gospel of personal reinvention, positive thinking and the importance of cultivating relationship skills. His classic manual on the subject was an instant, massive hit, a revolutionary distillation of Carnegie's principals that continues to sell in significant numbers today and essentially inaugurated the still thriving genre of self-help. Watts portrays Carnegie not as a wildly original thinker or electrifying guru figure but rather as an easygoing, avuncular, self-deprecating (he long maintained a file entitled "Damned Fool Things I Have Done") man, a brilliant synthesizer of ideas from psychology, philosophy, advertising and his own experience. He was an intuitive savant who grasped the nature of his changing times and crafted a message that resonated with a mass culture struggling to adapt. A fascinating portrait of the father of self-help and incisive analysis of the mercurial era that produced him.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590515037
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
10/29/2013
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
544
File size:
7 MB

Read an Excerpt

   On a cold January evening in 1936, a great horde descended on the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. Three thousand people crammed into the grand ballroom and the balcony encircling it, while hundreds more stood shivering on the sidewalk outside, unable to find even standing room as the hotel staff frantically wedged the doors shut and hoped the fire marshal would not appear. The throng was responding to a series of full-page ads in the New York Sun that promised “Increase
Your Income,” “Learn to Speak Effectively,” “Prepare for Leadership.” 
   Yet the crowd did not spring from the ranks of the working class or the desperately unemployed who were struggling to survive in the dark days of the Great Depression. It came from a more prosperous stratum, but one equally anxious about sliding into failure—entrepreneurs, businessmen, shopkeepers, salesmen, middle managers, white-collar executives, professional men. As the audience listened attentively for the next hour, fifteen figures paraded before the single microphone on stage and gave three-minute testimonials. Understanding the principles of human relations, the speakers proclaimed, had pointed them toward success… 
   After these endorsements, a short, trim man with steel-rimmed glasses, a ramrod posture, and a sincere, soothing voice with a slight Midwestern twang, took the stage. Dale Carnegie, creator of the selfimprovement course being praised, admitted that he was gratified by the large audience. But, he added quickly, “I have no doubt as to why you are here. You are not here because you are interested in me. You are here because you are interested in yourself and the solution to your problems.” He assured the crowd that each listener could learn the techniques that had improved so many lives. Each could understand how to be a good listener, make people like you instantly, develop an enthusiastic attitude, handle difficult personal situations, and win others to your way of thinking. Each could be successful. Every student taking his course, he declared in conclusion, “begins to get self-confidence. After all, why shouldn’t they—and why shouldn’t you?”

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Meet the Author

Steven Watts has published a number of biographies on popular figures: The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life, Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream, and The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century, which was chosen as one of five finalists for the 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Award in biography. He teaches history at the University of Missouri.

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