Fifteen Positive-Thinking Books That Could Change Your Life
By Mitch Horowitz
Positive thinking is the most widely embraced philosophy in America. As I explore in my current book, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life, the gospel of positivity grew out of mystical subcultures in America starting in the mid-nineteenth century and went on to become closest thing we have to a national creed.
At the heart of positive thinking is the principle that thoughts are causative – or as Edgar Cayce put it: "Mind is the builder."
For any who are curious about what the "power of positive thinking" really prescribes, here are some of the key works of New Thought, or positive-thinking, spirituality.
- The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale (1952) – The Protestant minister’s book made “positive thinking” into a household term. Peale’s innovation was to recast positive-thinking philosophy into language that proved acceptable to the church-going public.
- Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (1937) – The journalist Hill created an enduring – and surprisingly deep – spiritual program to success. In particular, Hill explored the existence of a “master mind” – an analogue to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Over-soul” – that could be used for persuasion, power, and insight. The most influential and enduring book of its kind.
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936) – Carnegie produced one of the shrewdest works ever written on human relations. His book provided a blueprint for how to accomplish things inside of workplaces and large organizations. Carnegie’s basic counsel is: agreeable people win. He deftly saw through the human foibles that create friction and keep things from getting done.
- The Science of Mind by Ernest Holmes (1937 revision) – The first forty pages of this voluminous work laid out the mind-power philosophy of this thoughtful, learned mystic. Holmes was a broad thinker whose work reflected a wide variety of influences, from Emerson to Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy.
- The Mental Cure by Warren Felt Evans (1869) – This pioneering work by the Swedenborgian minister and colleague of mental-healer Phineas Quimby laid the early groundwork for affirmative-thought philosophy. While it is little read today, the book displays a surprisingly modern tone. Evans gave early expression to the essentials of positive thought, including the use of affirmations, visualizations, and healing prayer.
- The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles (1910) – This concise manifesto combined the New Thought movement’s prosperity gospel with its early social ideals. Wattles, a Quaker minister and socialist activist, was not interested in “getting rich” as an end to itself, but in fostering a socially just economy characterized by mass abundance.
Dale Carnegie, Mary Baker Eddy and Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz (1960) – The cosmetic surgeon Maltz devised a ground-breaking secular re-sounding of mind-power principles. His bestseller reframed positive thinking as a process of psychological reconditioning rather than a summoning of metaphysical agencies. Maltz set the stage for success gurus such as Tony Robbins.
- Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, first series (1841) –These are America’s great self-affirming spiritual manifestos, such as “Spiritual Laws,” “Compensation,” “Self-Reliance,” and “The Over-soul.” Also see Emerson’s essays “Nature” (1936) and “Success” (1870). The Yankee mystic set the tone for the self-directed spiritual search in the Western world and his influence has never been surpassed.
- Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results by William James (1898) – The philosopher James is often credited with legitimizing mind-power metaphysics in his classic Varieties of Religious Experience (1902); but in this much shorter work he powerfully argued for a practical spirituality, which could be measured in the conduct and happiness of daily life.
- As a Man Thinketh by James Allen (1903) – This brief, brilliant meditation framed mind-power principles in a sober, ethical manner. Allen avoided sensationalism and spread the idea of mental manifestation to people of many different religious backgrounds and beliefs.
- Science and Health by Mary Baker Eddy (1875, multiple updates and editions) – This is not a positive-thinking book in any conventional sense, but much of the literature mentioned here would have gone unwritten without its influence. The spiritual healer’s highly original metaphysics and language touched nearly every figure in the mind-power world for fifty years.
- Alcoholics Anonymous (1939) – Written chiefly by A.A. cofounder Bill Wilson, this book distilled the ideas of figures ranging from Carl Jung and William James, to Mary Baker Eddy and James Allen, into the famous twelve steps to recovery. This is arguably the most practical book ever written for people in crisis.
- The Power of Awareness by Neville Goddard (1952) – Any book by Neville (he preferred the singular name) is an extraordinary journey into his core philosophy that the human imagination is God. Neville was one of the most radical New Thought voices – and may yet prove to be the most enduring.
- The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science by Thomas Troward (1909 revised edition) – Troward, a British judge, attempted to work out a persuasive and sturdy philosophical proof for the powers of the mind. In my view, he does not fully succeed (he leaves too many dangling questions) but his effort represents one of the few ambitious attempts to create a foundational reasoning behind positive thinking.
- The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale (1956) – This spoken-word lecture distills the positive-thinking philosophy into an engaging 30-minute summation. A dignified and well-read man, Nightingale helped launch today’s field of business motivation.