My rating: 3 of 5 stars
How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) by Dale Carnegie, who has been dead since 1955, demonstrates and expounds on certain anachronistic social skills that resemble more often than not conscious manipulation and forced social engineering than it does proper and formal social etiquette, while the book often displays quite frequently an elitist attitude to solving problems by considering people to be fish in a game you wish to win.
“I often went fishing up in Maine during the summer,” writes Dale. “Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or a grasshopper in front of the fish and said: ‘Wouldn’t you like to have that?’ Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?” (p 32)
The conscious manipulation of others is a central theme of this book, and even suggests specifics when trying to “persuade” someone to your path. Here Dale explains why “Appreciation” works far better than “Flattery” because many wealthy elites are disconnected from reality and they have a hard time discerning which is which:
“Of course flattery seldom works with discerning people [which means: intelligent people who know and are aware of the elitist’s tricks]. It is shallow, selfish and insincere. It ought to fail and it usually does. True, some people are so hungry, so thirsty, for appreciation that they will swallow [like a fish, Dale?] anything, just as a starving man will eat grass and fishworms…
“In the long run, flattery will do you more harm than good. Flattery is counterfeit, and like counterfeit money, it will eventually get you into trouble if you pass it to someone else.
“The difference between appreciation and flattery? That is simple. One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other universally condemned” (pgs 28-29).
One can immediately tell Dale is not from a region of the United States, or the world, which is raised with a moral fiber or moral education or common sense to see through to the hearts of people’s true intentions. It is actually as though Dale is attempting to instruct the rich and others who share an elitist viewpoint in lessons on how to be good, decent people.
Here’s one quote Dale takes from Thomas Carlyle: “A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men” (p 14).
Note the word “little.” Also note the heavy masculine tone with the words “man” and “he” and “men” and shows no regard for women (this is a strong example of this book being dated: it was originally published in 1936 and republished with few modifications in 1981).
A man or woman, however, should treat “all people” equally and fairly, and a more modern version of the quote should read thus,
“A good person shows greatness by the way he or she treats all human beings.”
Dale, also, likes to remind readers which family he belongs to, and he does so quite frequently throughout the book and it comes off as pretentious and unnecessary:
“What was the reason for Andrew Carnegie’s success?
“He was called the Steel King; yet he himself knew little about the manufacture of steel. He had hundreds of people working for him who knew far more about steel than he did [and that’s a good thing, Dale?]. But he knew how to handle people, and this is what made him rich” (p 77).
Slave owners and Pharaohs also knew how to “handle people” which also made them extremely rich, but that didn’t make them experts on the best methods to live an upright and moral life.
Despite all the pages in this book filled with wonderful advice, the book fails over and over again in the areas of moral certitude. Go figure.
Here’s Dale writing again about the great Carnegie name (spelled “Carnagey” until c. 1922):
“This policy of remembering and honoring names of his friends and business associates was one of the secrets of Andrew Carnegie’s leadership” (p 79).
So, Dale, you are saying Andrew Carnegie was a great leader because he had to work to remember the names of his friends? Sounds like a real, stand-up sort of guy—if he can remember names, that is.
Bordering on the absurdist found in a seneschal, Dale isn’t completely aware of his own folly at being raised without a good sense of morality, and he attempts to understand himself by providing example after example based on his own life experiences, and by doing so he goes against his own advice of being considerate about the other person (here it would be the reader) and seeking the “eager want” (p 46) of another human being.
After reading a letter mailed to him by a national advertising agency, what follows are Dale’s personal comments and complaints (again going against his own advice of avoiding complaints and criticism, which can be found on page 17 and in the section titled “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People”):
“If you had as much sense as a half-witted hummingbird, you would realize that I am interested in how big I am—not how big you are. All this talk about your enormous success makes me feel small and unimportant… You desire! You desire! You unmitigated ass. I’m not interested in what you desire… Let me tell you once and for all that I am interested in what I desire—and you haven’t said a word about that yet in this absurd letter of yours… ‘Preferred list.’ You have your nerve! You make me feel insignificant by your big talk about your company—and then you ask me to put you on a ‘preferred’ list, and you don’t even say ‘please’ when you ask it” (p 39).
Immediately one can get a clear sense of how unhinged Dale is, how shallow his personality, and how disconnected he is with being a decent human being, because decent human beings do not flip out and reveal such extreme selfishness, arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, narcissism, egocentricity, and vanity after reading a one-page letter from a national advertising agency.
Even if a sympathetic critic wishes to side with Dale and explain that Dale is providing an example to illustrate his point, one cannot forget that this example illustrates Dale’s personal cognitive habits as he expresses his own reasoning. Dale, instead, as he gives advice and then provides examples, is actually unknowingly revealing his own cultural shortcomings and his cognitive dissonance to the very material he is writing about.
How to Win Friends and Influence People could easily be renamed to How to Kiss Ass and Cheat People for those who are aware of the trivial, shallow conniving persona the book offers readers to develop through conscious manipulation of others.
When did being a good person become so hard? When did people stop having a moral compass? Treating others in a manner which attempts to get you the maximum reward is going about social interactions and public relations the wrong way. How about starting with a good heart to help others with no thought of what you shall receive in return. How about helping others equally instead of only helping those who you believe shall help you the most later on.
Even so, Dale has collected dozens of amazing tips from experts, philosophers, and leaders throughout history in how to deal with negotiations (which is often used in negotiation courses in American universities), arguments, ambition, leadership, success, and the like. The tips and suggestions alone often do not come from Dale but from historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Ford, and Confucius—and this is why the book can be a valuable read, if read carefully and thoughtfully against the understanding presented herein.
Below you can find a comprehensive list of the top 30 tips from this book. Feel free to use what you like and integrate the tips into your daily life as you see fit. After all, you know better than anyone what you need in order to achieve the kind of success you want.
1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain (p 17)
2. Give honest and sincere appreciation (p 31)
3. Arouse in the other person an eager want (p 50)
4. Become genuinely interested in other people (p 65)
5. Smile (p 74)
6. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language (p 83)
7. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves (p 93)
8. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests (p 98)
9. Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely (p 111)
10. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it (p 122)
11. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “You’re wrong” (p 134)
12. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically (p 142)
13. Begin in a friendly way (p 151)
14. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately (p 157)
15. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking (p 163)
16. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers (p 169)
17. Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view (p 175)
18. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires (p 184)
19. Appeal to the nobler motives (p 190)
20. Dramatize your ideas (p 195)
21. Throw down a challenge (p 199)
22. Begin with praise and honest appreciation (p 210)
23. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly (p 214)
24. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person (p 219)
25. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders (p 222)
26. Let the other person save face (p 226)
27. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement (p 232)
28. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to (p 237)
29. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct (p 242)
30. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest (p 247)
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a member of the Hemingway Society, Club Med, and the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America: A Look Back (2020); and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; A Time to Forget in East Berlin; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
You can follow the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 400,000+ followers