Every year self-help books tumble off the presses, some to see a brief season as a best-seller, some to disappear without a trace. But the daddy of them all, Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People," lives on 50 years after it first appeared.
The book has sold 16 million copies to date. In 1985, American Heritage Magazine listed it as one of 10 books that have shaped the American character, alongside such books as Henry David Thoreau's "Walden."
"How to Win Friends" has been translated to more than 30 languages. More than 3 million people worldwide have taken the Carnegie courses on topics such as employee relations, business management and, of course, public speaking. Past students include Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca.
Carnegie was born in Maryville, Mo., but considered the town of Belton, Mo., his home. He attended Warrensburg State Teachers College in Missouri and after a brief selling career, went to New York City. There, in 1912 at the 125th Street YMCA, he began teaching public speaking to business people.
"The skill of speaking in public is the one most people come for and the most difficult. Fear of public speaking ranks greater than fear of dying, people tell us. It's the fear of embarrassing themselves, of looking bad," said Oliver Crom, president of Dale Carnegie & Associates Inc.
The Dale Carnegie Institute, headquartered in Garden City, N.Y., now offers eight seminars and courses to people in more than 60 countries.
"The top places for us are Germany, France, Great Britain and Japan. In Latin America, it's Ecuador, then Mexico," Crom said.
He said the greatest population percentage of Carnegie graduates is in Iceland, where 5% to 10% of the people have taken the course.
The students of Carnegie's first U.S. classes provided the research for what became "How to Win Friends."
"He read and researched the principles of great philosophers and religious leaders such as Confucius, Buddha, Christ, Moses and Plato," Crom said.
"He looked for basic principles that might be used to live better lives and asked people in his classes to try them and tell him how they worked."
Simon and Schuster published the first copies of the book in 1936, selling them for $1.98 each. The first paperback edition appeared in 1940.
The book was revised in 1981 to modernize it. A section that referred to women mainly as housewives was deleted, pronouns were "desexed" and examples were updated--now the name of Stevie Wonder is used instead of Eddie Cantor's.
The book contains principles such as "be a good listener," "smile," "try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view." Those principles, Crom believes, are a large part of the reason for the success of the books and the courses.
"They're basic but not simplistic," Crom said. "Most of them have been told to us by parents, employees and teachers, but we're still in the learning process. Even though we know the principles, we still need to practice."
Crom said he thinks the continued success of the book and the courses is partly due to its positive attitude and reinforcement.
Concentrate on the Positive
"As we begin to get older, we get more negative reinforcement. When we're children, learning to walk, we're cheered and told how wonderful little Susie is. When we get older, people tell us what we are doing is wrong. So we concentrate on the positive, reinforce this and show people they can do it," he said.
Crom said Carnegie began expanding his courses shortly after World War II. The Dale Carnegie Institute now offers eight subjects including an executive image program, a management seminar and a customer relations course.
For $750, students attend classes one day or night a week for 14 weeks and are shown how to communicate, relate and listen better.
The courses are adapted when taught overseas.
"For instance," he said, "in France we'd speak of (Charles) de Gaulle rather than Churchill as an example.
"In Japan, a person doesn't go by his or her first name except in the Dale Carnegie course. The lecturer announces that this is an American course and the reason for using first names is to know each other better, but that outside the classroom, they will go back to Japanese courtesies."
The appeal of the book and the courses crosses all boundaries and walks of life.
"This isn't only for business people," Crom said. "It's for doctors, farmers, engineers--anyone who wants to improve themselves. We try to work to help people to be more successful in their family, community and business lives."