Written in 1859, this is one of the classics of self-development. Smiles focuses on character development, hard work and perseverance rather than the get-it-quick-fluff found in so much of modern self-dev. In the Note, we’ll explore a bunch of Big Ideas including the power of diligence and how to make happiness a habit!

Such is true wisdom and humility; for the more a man really knows, the less conceited he will be.
Samuel Smiles

“Human character is moulded by a thousand subtle influences; by example and precept; by life and literature; by friends and neighbours; by the world we live in as well as by the spirits of our forefathers, whose legacy of good words and deeds we inherit. But great, unquestionably, though these influences are acknowledged to be, it is nevertheless equally clear that men must necessarily be the active agents of their own well-being and well-doing; and that, however much the wise and the good may owe to others, they themselves must in the very nature of things be their own best helpers.”

~ Samuel Smiles from Self-Help

Self-Help by Samuel Smiles.

I hadn’t heard of this book until I was watching a Big Think video featuring Tal Ben-Shahar. (Highly recommend those, btw. Google “Big Think + Tal Ben-Shahar” or click here). In the interview “In Defense of Self-Help,” Tal discusses the modern self-help movement and the fact that, unfortunately, a great deal of the books these days share the latest quick-fix solutions to life’s challenges rather than teaching us how to develop our character.

Big Think asked Tal what he considers classics in self-help and he mentioned this book (along with Covey’s 7 Habits and Seligman’s Learned Optimism—check out Notes on both of those!).

So, I immediately got it and read it over the weekend and here we are.

I’m thrilled I read it. It’s packed with mini-biographies of many of history’s greatest scientists, artists, business leaders, generals and political leaders plus Big Ideas encouraging us to develop character, perseverance, diligence, patience and other noble virtues.

My kinda book. :)

I’m excited to share a handful of my favorite Big Ideas so let’s jump in!

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About the author


Samuel Smiles

Scottish author and government reformer