Collecting self-help books may seem paradoxical to some. As one skeptical Bibliophile commented, “No thank you – I read real books.” However, these books’ enduring allure and profound impact cannot be dismissed. Dating back to ancient texts on spirituality such as the Bible, Bhavadgita, Tao Te Ching, and the works of Greek and Roman philosophers, the wisdom encapsulated within the pages of these texts has been cherished and passed down through generations, enhancing their desirability as collectibles.
Below are ten valuable books you want to add to your collection this year.
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (2nd Century)
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, left behind his personal notebooks known as “Meditations.” These writings delve into Stoic Philosophy, offering guidance on mastering one’s thoughts and emotions and relinquishing control over external forces. While the only original manuscript is safeguarded at the Vatican Library, collectors can find beautifully crafted editions from Easton Press, Franklin Library, Claredon Press, Oxford, The Folio Society, and Peter Pauper Press. The recommended translation is by Gregory Hayes. Claredon Press, Oxford released a 2-volume scholarly edition in 1968 with the Greek and English texts opposite each other in the first volume and detailed commentary on the Greek text in the second.
Autobiography (1790) Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, a man of prodigious accomplishments, documented his learned wisdom in his memoirs. Serving as a valuable personal development text, it imparts insights on record-keeping, cultivating positive habits, effective planning, and continuous self-growth. The actual first edition was published in France as Memoires in 1791. The first British edition appeared in 1793, and the first American in 1794. Franklin wrote four parts to his Autobiography, which were combined in different aspects over the years. In 1818, Franklin’s grandson William Temple Franklin edited Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Benjamin Franklin which included his Autobiography along with over thirty other Franklin pieces published by Henry Colburn in London. The famous Lakeside Press edition was first published during Christmas 1903.
Self-Reliance (1841) Ralph Waldo Emerson
First published in his 1841 collection, Essays: First Series, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” points to the importance of being true to yourself and finding happiness and peace in discovering and following personal values. Roycroft Press printed a limited hand-press edition of 100 copies, which was printed and signed by Elbert Hubbard in 1902.
Walden (1854) Thoreau
Extolled as a manual on how to lead a good life, Walden by Henry David Thoreau is considered a self-help book on gaining fulfillment and meaning through personal freedom. A landmark of American literature and transcendentalism, Walden, or Life in the Woods is Thoreau’s quest for spiritual over material: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Self-Help (1859) by Samuel Smiles
Samuel Smiles’ “Self-Help” achieved immediate success upon its 1859 release, becoming a bestseller. This influential work paved the way for later self-help classics and remains a sought-after collectible. Twenty thousand copies of Self-Help were sold within the first year of publication. Initially published by John Murray in London, over two hundred and seventy thousand copies were sold by the end of the 19th Century.
Pushing to the Front by Orison Swett Marden (1894)
As an orphaned teenager, Marden discovered Self-Help by Samuel Smiles, which changed his life. After earning multiple degrees, he went on to be a successful hotel owner. Then in his forties, he published Pushing to the Front, which was an instant success. The self-help classic, subtitled Success under Difficulties, provides guidance and inspiration on achieving greatness despite obstacles.
How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) Dale Carnegie
How to Win Friends and Influence People has sold over 15 million copies. Simon and Schuster published a modest initial print run of just 3,000 copies in 1936, making first editions with dust jackets exceedingly scarce. Even without the dust jacket, first printings run over $10,000 depending on condition. The book went through 17 printings in the first year alone and sold 250,000 copies in the first three months. It is number 8 on the New York Public Library’s Top 10 Checkouts of All Time list, reflecting its enduring impact.
Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book (1949) by Bill Wilson
First published in 1939, The Big Book is the basic textbook for Alcoholics Anonymous, outlining the 12 steps to sobriety. A way of life for many who have regained their life, it is considered one of the most influential books of the 20th Century. There were 4,730 copies in the first printing, which took two years to sell out. The second printing of the first edition was published in March 1941 after a March 1, 1941, article in The Saturday Evening Post, “Alcoholics Anonymous: Freed Slaves of Drink, Now They Free Others,” that gained AA notice. Today, collectors are looking at more than a $50,000 price tag if the first edition is in fine condition with a dust jacket. Those missing the jacket can be bought for significantly less. There were sixteen printings of the 1st edition of the Big Book. The second edition was printed in 1955. The most recent edition is the fourth. Overall, the book has sold over 30 million copies.
Think and Grow Rich (1937) by Napoleon Hill
Inspired by Andrew Carnegie, Napoleon Hill wrote Think and Grow Rich during the Great Depression, publishing the book through the Ralston Society in 1937. Many personal development coaches today cite this book as a must-read to inspire personal success. A first edition of this best-selling book with a dust jacket can fetch upwards of $20,000.
The Art of Loving (1956) by Erich Fromm
Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm’s third book, The Art of Loving, was a groundbreaking international bestseller showing millions of readers how to achieve rich, productive lives by developing their capacities for love. The first edition, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers in 1956, with a price-stamped dust jacket of $2.75, sells for a few thousand dollars today.
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Amy C. Manikowski is a writer living in Asheville, NC.