The market nowadays is rife with self-help books, as can be confirmed by having a glance at any bookstore online. There are books that promise to teach you how to become happy. Other books set out to make you successful. You get the drill. Whether it’s about learning good habits, developing a thick skin, improving time management, getting rich, finding the love of your life, improving inner peace, or losing weight, there is a self-help book on a shelf somewhere waiting for you to pick it up.
Do you want to hear the best part? It has a 4+ star rating, so that means it must be good. Bonus points if the book is a New York Times Best Seller, which makes it even more irresistible.
By now, it should have become apparent that I have some contempt for self-help books. In the sea of such books, the vast majority are just fluff with little essence.
The criteria with which I judge books essentially boils down to this: is there more to gain by reading the whole book compared to reading just a few pages?
Take a fiction book, for example. You have to read the book cover to cover to learn the whole story — unless the author did a terrible job. Next we have a book that teaches you something, like a programming language, or a math topic, for instance. Each chapter introduces something new which you didn’t know about. If you skipped pages, chances are you’d be skipping over an insight or new things you’d otherwise learn.
Enter self-help books. Usually the first few pages or so are crafted in a way that makes you believe this book is just what you needed. After that — if you’re lucky — the first paragraph of each chapter will contain some valuable advice, followed by pure fluff to fill the rest of the chapter.
For example, you’ll often see titles like “7 Ways To Sleep Better At Night”. Each way to improve your sleep has its own dedicated chapter, maybe giving a handful of examples of people whose sleep was improved by following the advice presented in the chapter. Oftentimes those examples are lacking in substance — there could be one semi-convincing anecdote, but that’s it.
One could almost always summarize self-help books using a few bullet points. To elaborate, you could write a paragraph for each bullet point, and what you end up with is a self-contained blog post. That’s it. No need to write a whole book.