art & literature

Here Are The 20 Most Influential Motivational Books of All Time

Biju Parameswaran | Apr 04 2019
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Here’s an overview of some of the greatest motivational books of all time, based on their sales figures and the transformation brought about in the lives of people the world over who imbibed messages these books imparted.

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie (1936)

A pioneer of the self-help genre and no.19 among Time magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential Books, this book is one of the biggest sellers of all time. Carnegie was a teacher of public speaking and it was a course of his that evolved into this book. It offers insights into the fundamental techniques of handling people, the various ways to make them like you, winning over people to your way of thinking, increasing your ability to get things done, the ways to be a leader and change people without arousing resentment; and how to make friends quickly.

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2. Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill (1937)

Napoleon Hill was inspired by businessman-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to write this book which has so far sold over 100 million copies. It also draws from his earlier work, The Law of Success. The book is a result of the author’s quest into what really made some people so successful, why some people manage to remain healthy, happy and financially independent, all at the same time. He interviewed people and arrived at hundreds of answers. These became concise principles which when acted upon, can help one achieve unprecedented success.

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3. The Magic of Thinking Big – David J. Schwartz (1959)

In this book that Forbes described as one of the greatest self-help books, motivational expert David J. Schwartz helps you sell better, manage efficiently, earn more and most importantly find greater happiness and peace of mind. The message of this book is that success is determined not so much by the size of one’s brain as it is by the size of one’s thinking. It gives you the tools to change your life by defeating disbelief and the negative power it creates, making your mind produce positive thoughts, planning a concrete success-building programme, do more and do it better by turning on your creative power and capitalizing on the power of NOW.

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4. The Power of Your Subconscious Mind – Joseph Murphy (1963)

A teacher of the New Thought movement and pioneer of the Law of Attraction, Joseph Murphy wrote many books and pamphlets on the auto-suggestive and metaphysical faculties of the human mind. In this book he shows how the subconscious mind can be a major influence on our daily lives. Once you understand your subconscious mind, you can also control or get rid of the various phobias that you may have, in turn opening a whole new world of positive energy.

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5. Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships – Eric Berne, M.D (1964)

This book asserts that we all play games with each other in our interactions. In the 1950s, Eric Berne synthesized his theory of human gaming and built on work from other researchers to develop Transactional Analysis which is a cognitive behavioural approach to treatment and an effective way of dealing with internal models of self and others. Humans take on the roles of Parent, the Adult and the Child. Confusing one’s role lead to emergence of negative traits. The patterns in which mind games appear is also discussed.

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6. Jonathan Livingston Seagull: A Story – Richard Bach (1970)

Richard Bach originally wrote this fable about seeking a higher purpose in life even in the face of circumstances that are not conducive, as a series of stories for a magazine. After it came out in book form, it stayed at the top of New York Times bestseller list for 38 weeks. The story is about a seagull named Jonathan who, bored by the limitations of his seagull’s life, pushes himself in audacious mid-air feats and experiments to learn everything about flying. His passion to push boundaries lands him in a conflict with his flock, who eventually banish him but he does not give up. The central character is named after John. H. Livingstone, an American aviator and pilot who died at 76 soon after test flying an acrobatic home-built biplane.

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7. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho (1988)

This allegorical novel, originally written in Portuguese and translated to several international languages, is brilliant in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom. It is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. He encounters a wise alchemist who also teaches him to realize his true self. Together they risk a journey through the territory of warring tribes, where the boy demonstrates his oneness with world’s soul. The theme of the book is about finding one’s own destiny. There has been film, theatrical and musical adaptations of the book.

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8. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey (1989)

This business and self-help book was an instant hit and its audio version became the first non-fiction audio-book in U.S. publishing history to sell more than one million copies. It explains to us the importance of character ethics and personality ethics. Covey introduces the concept of paradigm shift and helps the reader understand that different perspectives exist, i.e. that two people can see the same thing and yet differ with each other.The author talks about the values of integrity, courage, a sense of justice and honesty. The book is a discussion about the seven most essential habits that every individual must adapt in order to live a life which is more fulfilling. A later upgrade to this  book is The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness.

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9. Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial - Tony Robbins (1991)

Reading Tony Robbins’s book will help you discover how to crush your obstacles, how to use your personal values to achieve what you desire most and how to use pain and pleasure to shape your destiny. The book shows that by making a few alterations to what you believe, you have the power to take your fate into your hands and get exactly what you want in any area of your life. The subject of identity is discussed, along with topics such as destiny and the necessity to take full advantage of your time. The book says that a new perspective on these fundamental concepts can change your life.

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10. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – John Gray (1992)

Armed with degrees in meditation and psychology, American relationship counsellor John Gray narrates in this book that the common relationship problems between men and women arise from fundamental psychological differences between the sexes. Each sex is acclimated to its own planet's society and customs, but not to those of the other. While men offer solutions to problems that women bring up in conversation, it contradicts with women’s expectation as they are not seeking solutions but mainly want a sounding board.

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The book asserts the need for successful communication between the sexes. You need to motivate the opposite sex to get what you want, avoid arguments and promote fruitful communication, score points with the opposite sex by knowing what impresses them, learn their emotional needs and associated behaviours and discover the key to keeping love alive.


11. Chicken Soup for the Soul – Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen (1993)

Motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen collaborated on the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book, compiling inspirational, true stories they had heard from members of their audience. These are a series of books on inspirational true stories about ordinary people’s lives which became major best-sellers and social phenomena due to their ability to change others' perspective of certain topics. The books have different themes like teens, singles, pet-lovers, married couples, grandparents, expectant mothers, shoppers, teachers, etc. The self-help, consumer goods and media company Chicken Soup for the Soul not only publishes the books but have also branched out into areas like pet food and television programming.

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12. Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson - Mitch Albom (1997)

This memoir of American newspaper sports columnist Mitch Albom is based on his meetings with his sociology professor,  78-year-old Morrie Schwartz who was ailing from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It examines the interactions between the phenomena of the human experience of living and dying. A theme of personal transcendence appears for the characters of the author and Morrie. The latter shows us the value of retaining dignity in the face of death; that love is the most valuable thing we can offer to each other. The novel also examines the role culture plays in the development of happiness within ourselves. It was adapted for TV and directed by Mick Jackson in 1999.

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13.  Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! – Robert T. Kiyosaki (1997)

The book which advocates financial literacy and independence, was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and became a New York Times bestseller. It tells the story of  a boy’s growing up with two dads - his real father and the father of his best friend who is dubbed his rich dad, and the ways in which both men shaped his thoughts about money and investing The book explodes the myth that you need to earn a high income to be rich and explains the difference between working for money and having your money work for you.

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14. Who Moved My Cheese – Dr Spencer Johnson (1998)

American physician Dr. Patrick Spencer Johnson, who is known for a series for children called ValueTales, wrote this book wherein he talks about adapting to change. It is the story of four characters who live in a maze and look for cheese to nourish them and make them happy. Cheese is a metaphor for what you want to have in life and the maze is where you look for what you want, perhaps the organisation you work in, or the family or community you live in. The cheese keeps moving. Johnson co-authored the One Minute Manager series of books with management expert Ken Blanchard.

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15. Who Will Cry When You Die? Life Lessons from the Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – Robin Sharma (1999)

This was Canadian writer Robin Sharma’s third book in The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari series.  Most people feel that life is slipping by so fast that they might never get the chance to live with meaning, happiness and joy. This book has 101 short chapters offering a solution each to life’s most complex problems, ranging from a little-known method for beating stress and worry to a powerful way to enjoy the journey while you create a lasting legacy. It encourages you to live life to the fullest with a purpose and attain peace.

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16. The Secret – Rhonda Byrne (2006)

The Secret was first released as a film in March 2006, and later the same year as a book. The book posits the law of attraction as a primeval law that completes the law of the universe and our lives through the process 'like attracts like’. Byrne cites a 3-step process: ask, believe, and receive. People think and feel, and send a corresponding frequency to the universe that in turn attracts events and circumstances of the same frequency. Hence, if you are always able to think positive and think right, naturally, you will always obtain the best results. Appearance in The Oprah Winfrey Show boosted the book’s sales. Byrne has subsequently released Secret merchandise and several related books.

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17. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Daniel. H. Pink (2009)

Daniel Pink was speechwriter to US Vice President Al Gore. He also hosted the National Geographic Channel social science TV series Crowd Control. The book explains that the secret to high performance and satisfaction-at work is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. The author says that the three elements of true motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose and offers smart and surprising techniques for putting these into action. These were based on studies at Universities like MIT.

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18. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life – Jen Sincero (2013)

The life of Jen Sincero inspires people in that she went from being broke to multi-millionaire. Laziness and arrogance kept her for long in a low-wage, low-happiness state of hopelessness and confusion for several adult years before she became a life coach and bestselling author. Her book helps you understand why you are, how you are, how to love what you cannot change, how to change what you do not love, and how to use The Force to kick some ass. It uses inspiring stories, sage advice, easy exercises, and the occasional swear word to help you identify and change the self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviours that stop you from getting what you want.

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19. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance – Angela Duckworth (2016)

American academic, psychologist and popular science author Angela Duckworth defines grit not as genius but rather a combination of passion & long-term perseverance. The book shows anyone striving to succeed, be it parents, students, educators, athletes, or business people, that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence called ‘grit’. Grit is what goes through your head when you fall down and how that, not talent or luck, makes all the difference.

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20. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life – Mark Manson (2016)

Mark Mason is a self-help author, blogger and entrepreneur whose website markmanson.net, hosts popular blogs written by him that has over 2 million visitors. He writes about topics related to culture, dating & relationships, life choices, and psychology. In this book he argues that struggles are what gives life meaning. According to the author where he has taken science & research evidences to arrive at his theory, thinking constant positive is not doing any good to people. He adds that we are badly influencing people and society by giving unrealistic positive rewards for even basic efforts. The mindless positivity of typical self-help books is neither practical nor helpful for most people is his baseline.  

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