History’s Greatest Self Help Books

Before The 4-Hour Work Week, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck, and everyone’s personal favourite, The Secret, history has been supplying us with how-to’s and life guides for millennia. The below list is a series of literary classics I consider to be essential self help reads for every man and woman.

The Art Of War – Sun TzuThe Art Of War – Sun Tzu Self Help

You might think that unless you’re conquering the Chinese lowlands of 500 BC, Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War might not be the self help book for you. But, you’d be wrong. Although this 13-chapter book was a staple of Eastern warfare for many centuries, people all around the world have taken to applying its lessons in non-military circumstances. Much of the work is advice on waging war outside the battlefield and outwitting your opponent. This is a must-read for the entrepreneur, lawyer, and business leader types.

The Prince – Niccolò Machiavelli

The Prince – Niccolò Machiavelli Self Help

During its release in the 16th century, the Italian-based Catholic Church actively disabled the distribution of The Prince due to its seemingly unwholesome values. A political self help necessity today, Machiavelli’s work is the leading example of truth and reason over emotions and feelings. The small book was written as an instruction guide to young regional princes who wished to maintain their power over their domains. To refer to something as ‘Machiavellian’ today might suggest connotations of a lust for power or brute unfeeling. However, Machiavelli’s guide is one of reason, and through understanding consequence and action, readers fully grasp the work and can actively translate its lessons into their daily lives.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius Self Help

A slightly more positive and wholesome literary creation than The Art Of War and The Prince, Meditations is the collection of thoughts and reflections of the great Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. The text focuses on the Greco-Roman philosophy of stoicism, emphasising the importance of courage, wisdom, justice, and temperance above all else. 2,000 years later, the wisdom of Aurelius runs true throughout all Western society and from the depths of history, this book is considered to be a cornerstone of modern philosophy; an essential self help read for all those who need a tad more patience and thankfulness in their lives.

RELATED: History’s Finest: The Legacy of Marcus Aurelius


Jay is a writer and content producer for The Versatile Gent.

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