Book Review: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1964)

I inherited this book from my grandmother and grandfather indirectly. So I didn’t pay anything for it, and the book is worth more than that.

It’s a set of lessons and steps to playing well with others. Unlike other self-help tomes, this one’s particularly literate. Carnegie draws on Benjamin Franklin, William James, William Shakespeare, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and other learned sources to make his points. He wrote this book originally in 1936, and it would testify to how far we’ve fallen as a culture if Dr. Phil only quotes luminaries such as Oprah in his books. After all, Carnegie must have expected his audience would know who William James was.

At the best of times, this book resembles all self-help books in presenting the philosophy of pragmatism, particularly in dealing with other people. Sometimes it reads like an Elements of Style for courtesy, but at its worst it strikes me as a sort of Becoming Peter Keating. After all, Carnegie would have you win friends and influence people by being pretty yang, by putting other people first and by not contradicting others directly.

I’ve seen too much of this behaviour from used car salesmen and marketing professionals to swallow the hook, but it’s convinced me to try to temper my natural surly nature. For example, I try to keep my net Carnegie Karma positive by not saying harshly critical things about people more than I compliment people. However, some days I still net positive through accounting gimmicks, such as telling another driver that his exceptional amorous ability undoubtedly traces to practice with his matriarch, but I’m working on it.

The book sold millions of copies in an earlier, more civil age, so perhaps there is something in it.

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