NR Digital

Before Oprah

by Florence King
Self-Help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America, by Steven Watts (Other Press, 592 pp., $29.95)

We have been together a long time, Gentle Reader, so you will not be surprised by my reaction to this enormous biography of the menacing extrovert who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People. I feel as if I have been drowned in a half-full glass. I also feel as if I have read it not just once but over and over, because both subject and biographer are repeating rifles who between them have pushed the page count up by about 200 more than necessary. Coping with both of them in the same book is like being caught between two hiccuppers.

Dale Carnegie, who never met a point he did not hammer home, filled his writing and speeches with constant references to the care and feeding of the mark he called “the other fellow” (“Let the other fellow think it’s his idea. . . . Never argue with the other fellow. . . . Keep repeating the other fellow’s name because it’s music to his ears”), all the while commanding his worshipful followers to find their individuality because “it was yours!”: “Yours! YOURS! Dig. Dig. Dig. It is there. Never doubt it.”

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