The Self-Help Craze

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the New Thought movement spawned a self-help craze that was especially evident in the 1920s. Writing at the close of the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Trine "set forth the general philosophy and formula" of New Thought in his In Tune With the Infinite, or, Fullness of Peace, Power, and Plenty, published in 1897 (Starker, 21). Primarily a religious movement, New Thought emphasized the unique relationship between God and man. That is, New Thought proponents taught that, in order to "achieve the heart's desire," one must "use the mind properly to communicate one's wishes to God" (Starker, 21).

Author of Pushing to the Front, Peace, Power, and Plenty, Every Man a King, and Success Fundamentals, New Thought writer Orison Swett Marden instructed his readers "to practice relentless optimism and soundly reject all negative thoughts" (Starker, 22). According to Marden in Success Fundamentals, "[g]iving God His opportunity in us simply means that we follow the plan which He outined in our nature; that we do the thing and play the part in life's drama to which He assigned us" (Marden, 154). Published in 1920, Success Fundamentals teaches men--presumably businessmen--how to be successful and ethical. "[E]very time you think you are getting the better of your employer," claims Marden, "you are really getting the better of yourself" (Marden, 105). That is, "[t]he Golden Rule is the only rule of conduct that will bring true success in salesmanship or in any other business" (Marden, 293).

Go to a list of Marden's inspirational books.

Marden was also the editor of Success magazine. Popular in the 1920s, the magazine's articles embraced New Thought principles. In "How We Limit Ourselves" Marden cites "fixing limitations upon ourselves" as "one of the cardinal sins of mankind" (Marden, 44). He also maintains that "the law of prosperity, of abundance is just as definite as the law of gravitation, just as unerring as the principles of mathematics" (Marden, 44).

Go to a larger image of the March 1922 issue of Success magazine.

A second movement that took form in the early twentieth century was the effort to integrate psychology and theology. A "champion of liberal Protestant theology," Harry Emerson Fosdick embraced psychological topics in his sermons and devoted much of his time to counseling. Fosdick's writing deals with the "self" and its many "wishes, needs, fears, social roles, and conflicts" (Starker, 55). Like the New Thought writers, Fosdick also addressed the ethics of business. "The very purpose of business," claimed Fosdick in The Meaning of Service, "is perverted when service which should be first is put last or is lost sight of altogether" (Fosdick, 178). Furthermore, "he who takes in earnest Jesus Christ's rightful mastery of all man's life" will endeavor "to bring our industrial life under the sway of cooperative methods" (Fosdick, 185). Christianity and business could coexist, but only if men recognized the omnipotence of the former.

A final trend in the self-help market involved the "image" of the church. Most famous for The Man Nobody Knows, Bruce Barton was also the author of a number of inspirational books that prompted men to achieve personal growth. In More Power to You, Barton implores his readers to ask themselves how much they are willing to sell for money. He then advises them to "[g]et money, but stop once in a while to figure out what it is costing" (Barton, 28). More so than Trine, Marden, or Fosdick, Barton attempts in his writing to exalt the position of business in society. "Business," asserts Barton, ""is the greatest ally and promoter of honesty" (Barton, 59). "The time is past," continues Barton, "when the young man who goes into business needs to feel that he is making a selfish choice--a choice that cuts him off from service to his fellow men" (Barton, 60).

Go to reviews of Bruce Barton's The Man Nobody Knows and The Book Nobody Knows.

Go to an advertisement for The Man Nobody Knows and The Book Nobody Knows.