Passage of the Day: G.K. Chesterton on Self-Help Books

There has appeared in our time a particular class of books and articles which I sincerely and solemnly think may be called the silliest ever known among men… these things are about nothing; they are about what is called Success. On every bookstall, in every magazine, you may find works telling people how to succeed. They are books showing men how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey… I really think that the people who buy these books (if any people do buy them) have a moral, if not a legal, right to ask for their money back…

If you want to succeed at whist, either be a good whist-player, or play with marked cards. You may want a book about jumping; you may want a book about whist; you may want a book about cheating at whist. But you cannot want a book about Success… You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or that games are won by winners…

Or suppose that in the course of his intellectual rambles the philosopher of Success dropped upon our other case, that of playing cards, his bracing advice would run–“In playing cards it is very necessary to avoid the mistake (commonly made by maudlin humanitarians and Free Traders) of permitting your opponent to win the game…

Turning over a popular magazine, I find a queer and amusing example. There is an article called “The Instinct that Makes People Rich.” It is decorated in front with a formidable portrait of Lord Rothschild. There are many definite methods, honest and dishonest, which make people rich; the only “instinct” I know of which does it is that instinct which theological Christianity crudely describes as “the sin of avarice.” That, however, is beside the present point.

-From All Things Considered by G.K. Chesterton

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