A review of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

I'm not a big fan of self-help books. They tend to make everything seem solvable in a jiffy (if you make 14 easy payments of $9.95). These books usually dramatize a human's faults and then provide complex solutions or elaborate emotion hyping schemes. They give you the ideas for success instead of, well, actually succeeding. 

However, I turned off my internal bias sensor when I came across this book. I had borrowed this book from a friend (who borrowed it from a friend, etc.) approximately two months ago. This is right at the time I was on the cusp of quitting my old job. I flipped through the pages and tried to give it a read initially. Then, as more time freed up from my now non-existent job, I took a deep dive and finished the book in a two-day sweep.

My first takeaways: this is a fascinating, simple, and repetitive book. Part of its allure is that it has very practical advice. The language that is used evokes clarity and finely-tuned advice. The entire book is a running dialogue, a lecture if you will, which is where the book's roots come from. It has a tempered pace of story after story from the great heroes of the 30s of America (it was written in 1936, right before the Second World War) divulging the secrets of their success. Mr. Carnegie takes this advice and interprets it for the reader in a series of principles and concepts to be memorized.

Some of the stories definitely had an old time feel. Mostly, it surprised me with its relevancy to my current life. There was inherent value of timeless advice that could applied to all humans across all generations. Take for instance the principle of Smiling. It inspired the reader to maintain a smile when communicating with others in order to provoke a warm, calming response by another. It was a principle I already applied throughout my life (it was my yearbook quote). But the book clarified smiling and cemented it in my mind as a basic principle to adhere to.

The rest of the book continues in this rhythm of clarifying the obvious (and not so obvious) into a structure. Human mannerisms are codified based on inferred and time-tested teachings as well as stories of great men like Charles Schwab. There is definitely overlap in these principles, a lot of splintering a broad topic into little, related subtopics. Take for instance the topic, Six Ways to Make People Like You. These are the underlying principles, in order:

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. A person's name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person's interests.
  6. Make the other person feel important - and do it sincerely.

In essence, you could summarize the entirety of the principles by invoking the first principle: Become genuinely interested in other people. The rest of the principles are sub-divided from this top-level principle. But I suppose part of the book is working on a person's need for explicit instruction for the obvious. Human nature is presumed to be learned nature. This book is a guide into bringing humans into that natural state of behavior that they were always designated to but simply never told about.

This type of patronizing can often insult the people that read it. Critics can simply dismiss the book as innate human characteristics that we all possess. And to some extent, that is true. There isn't groundbreaking thinking cratered into some innocuous, scientifically-backed sentences. But the driving force of the book isn't introducing something new. Rather, it's about introducing the old in a new, easy to understand format with relatable, admirable stories to help glue it together.

If you are not in a rush to read the book or don't want to dive into 260 pages of short stories, here is my personal summary of the 24 principles within:

  1. Be kind.
  2. Be honest.
  3. Don't complain.
  4. Understand the other person.
  5. Show genuine appreciation.
  6. Be indirect in righting wrongs.

All of the other principles are specific derivatives of the above six principles. They tend to crisscross paths multiple times and reinforce multiple view points. If you want it even simpler, you could bring it to two words: Be kind. And one thing I've learned, if anything in the 20 years I've been consuming oxygen is that, you can never, ever, be too kind! All your business, educational, worldly, and personal relationships come down to those two simple words. Be kind.

Aside from the book's core offering, there is a danger lurking beneath it. Mr. Carnegie failed to address how some people simply don't respond to these basic human principles. It's important that I tell you that some people simply won't respond with your good intentions, despite all you may try. These people must simply be removed from your life via cut off relations, divorce, or court. There is no alternative, however rash it may seem. Cut the problem out of your life. 

It's also important to remember that many of the tactics discussed in the book have an air of fleeting, temporary patches (though this doesn't have to be the case). Some people are looking for quick, artificial fixes with their relationships. I should warn you that your first few applications of these principles on a superficial level maybe rewarding. However, at one point or another, your true identity or purpose will be revealed, leaving you vulnerable. Honestly integrating these principles into your daily life in a gradual level will yield stronger, more reliable results.

Overall, the benefit of reinforcing better human relations through such simple, readily actionable means is what makes this book so appealing. Through its obvious and repetitive nature, there is a simple message that can be appreciated. Every human being innately observes these basic principles but once in a while, it doesn't hurt to be reminded by Mr. Carnegie. Simple, timeless advice or in other words, be kind.

Get the book from Amazon (disclosure: I get a kickback. Thanks!).

Ashraf Ali