By the time this ad appeared in the Book Review on August 14, 1927, the idea of reading books for self-improvement was not new. As early as 1859, Scottish reformer Samuel Smiles advocated in Self-Help that “a man’s best education is what he gives himself.” By 1917, Charles E. Butler, of the Brentano bookstore, told The Times that “self-improvement was the key word of the day.” And in 1919, E. Haldiman-Julius began publishing his series of “Little Blue Books,” cheap pocket-sized editions of classics and new books that, as one of his Book Review ads in 1924 boasted, “have more to teach the country than any 10 universities.” combined”.
But although Julius Haldemann promised to bring the worlds of philosophy, poetry, literature, and science to the general public, he did not guarantee that his little blue books would help readers impress with their punctuality. This would fall to the classic Pocket Bookstore, which sold its 12-volume collection sharply abridged — “not much. Just enough of each to give the reader a knowledge and understanding of great men of literature” — next to a portrait of a serious young businessman sitting side by side with Attractive hairdresser. “He was glad that he had told her he had read the noteworthy classics. Glad he could discuss with her the masterpieces of Hawthorne, Carlisle, Kipling, Poe.”
Self-help books only increased in popularity, prompted, at least in part, by the success of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. Shortly thereafter, The Times published a story about the head of Christ Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Attacking the advice of the current ‘self-improvement’ literature as ‘stupid and illogical,’ the paper reported, ‘the Reverend Dr.
Tina Jordan is deputy editor of the Book Review and co-author of The New York Times Book Review: 125 Years of Literary History.
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