5 Self-Help Books That Got Very Popular Being Very Wrong
In an ideal universe, trained educators and/or leading experts in their field would exclusively write self-help books. Unfortunately, in our universe, self-help books are written by sad sacks of shit for much sadder sacks of shit who buy them as last-minute gifts for the world's saddest sacks of shit. Let's discuss a few of them!
Kevin Trudeau's Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You To Know About Is Borderline-Criminal Insanity
Kevin Trudeau won't let The Man keep him down. Despite spending two years in a federal prison for impersonating a physician in order to commit credit-card fraud, becoming the only person ever banned by the Federal Trade Commission from selling products on television, and getting kicked out of multiple states for running a pyramid scheme, Trudeau is always able to bounce back. Of course, as of press time, he is back in jail serving another ten years. But surely he'll rebound soon! Possibly in author form.
The Shiv Stabbing Treatments They Don't Want You To Hear About!
See, Kevin decided that a few years of impersonating a physician was basically the same as decades of medical training, so he wrote a medical advice book called Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You To Know About. It's about secret magical cures suppressed by the medical industry, those greedy bastards. But while pharmaceutical companies might do questionable things for money, Kevin certainly does questionable things for money.
For only $10 per month (or a generous $500 lifetime membership), you can subscribe to Kevin's website and get some hot, hot tips on beating cancer. Luckily, we've managed to smuggle some of these carefully guarded tips through his impenetrable paywall. For instance, here's how you can prevent skin cancer ... by avoiding sunscreen:
"Sun block, which is overrated, is a loser. The sun is unfairly attacked by the fake news! Sad!"
You might be thinking, "Duh. Go outside without sunblock to prevent skin cancer. A child knows that. What about my full-blown AIDS?" You're in luck, AIDS victim, because that shit doesn't even exist.
"AIDS was invented by the Chinese to make sex less appealing. THIS IS MCCARTHYISM!"
"Drugs are sad losers invented by the Chinese to give AIDS to the sun! BAD (OR SICK)!!!"
You're starting to get the idea. This is a man who overheard two separate conversations -- one about naturopathic medicine, and one about government cover-ups -- then mashed them together in his pudding brain, and now believes everyone is lying to everybody, except for a few very specific, very crazy idiots who share his views. Clearly, only a lunatic or a legally elected United States president would think this way, so readers saw through Trudeau's absurd lies and only bought his books hundreds of thousands of times.
The 48 Laws Of Power Is A Field Guide For Assholes
Who comes to mind when you think of powerful historical figures? Genghis Khan? Joseph Stalin? Conan the Barbarian? Conan the Destroyer? The awkward, pasty author of The 48 Laws Of Power?
"Law #32: index-finger rings."
That's Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws Of Power, a book guaranteed to turn you from an aspiring douchebag into a full-blown men's rights blogger. It's an extensive practical guide on how to win tiny victories in a social game that only you will be playing. Think of it like masturbation, only it's less sexual, more lonely, and you can only do it in public (where it still makes everyone uncomfortable.)
It all began when Greene observed that today's powerful elite had some traits in common with history's biggest baldest asses. Possibly. If you're stupid.
For instance, Vlad the Impaler would exert dominance over rivals by going to shake their hand and then yanking on their arm while holding onto them for way too long. We obviously made that up, because that would be a fucking ridiculous, wildly insecure "power" move that no functional human being would ever try. But it is exactly the type of thing Robert Greene made up in his book The 48 Laws Of Power.
"Law #24: Don't hire a cover artist."
Based on little to no research, Greene wrote down the "laws" all historical tough guys must have lived by. It instantly became the go-to handbook for overbearing fucks. It's beloved by bullies and aspiring rapists, but it's especially popular in the rap community. 50 Cent and Busta Rhymes both love it, and Mr. Cent even co-authored a book with Greene called The 50th Law. It serves the double purpose of being a 50 Cent biography, as well as a dictionary of "street terms" for hustlers. Because nothing is more street than looking up how to properly call someone a bitch in the present perfect tense.
The book is also big with prisoners, probably because of the book's celebration of amorality. The laws are so ruthlessly amoral, in fact, that Greene himself doesn't even follow them. But he's fine with helping other people act like evil dictators for $13.99 plus tax.
Yes, only $13.99. This is how liberty dies ... for the price of a Rubber Batduck.
And even aside from the cold malevolence of suggesting readers gain power by "posing as a friend, work as a spy," half the laws seem to contradict each other. For example, Greene suggests that you "Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless (Law 30)", but also "Never Appear Too Perfect (Law 46)." He tells you, "In Victory, Learn When To Stop (Law 47)," but at the same time, "Crush Your Enemy Totally (Law 15)." On its worst day, the book is an idiot's idea of how to cheat society, and on its best day it's a list of excuses you can try to use to live with yourself, on the off chance you're self-aware enough to realize you're a total shithead.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Exploit Others, Be Born Well-Off! That's All You Got To Do!
Do you want to get paid for sitting around doing nothing, but hate the hassle of staging workplace forklift accidents? Then The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss is for you!
Ferriss went from being an overworked sports nutrition salesman to a successful author, writing for only the most respectable and upstanding websites. Step one to this plan is writing a book ... and hoping no one notices it's stupid until after they buy it. But Ferriss also gives other valuable tips, like how you should outsource jobs to cheap foreigners. It's a complicated system, wherein if someone hires you to do something, you keep most of the money and hire less American people to do it.
"If it works for fruit pickers and dishwashers, it can work for open-heart surgeons."
A lot of the book is spent debunking folksy wisdom with different folksy wisdom. For instance, Ferriss writes "People are fond of using the 'It's not what you know, it's who you know' adage as an excuse for inaction, as if all successful people are born with powerful friends. Nonsense." Ferriss does not tolerate vague adages from people who say things that are only sometimes right, given certain situations! In fact, the people who use adages as an excuse for inaction absolutely molest turtles. If we're wrong, then defend yourself, people who use adages as an excuse for inaction!
The main problem with the book is the author didn't seem to arrive at any of this folksy wisdom through industriousness or success. Remember two paragraphs ago, when we mentioned the sports nutrition company he worked for? They sold a thing called BrainQuicken, a hilariously useless snake-oil product that did nothing except separate the gullible from their money. And remember last paragraph when Ferriss talked about powerful friends, and how they're nonsense? Well, Ferriss comes from a wealthy family and went to Princeton. So maybe he's right that you don't need to know anyone to find success, but he made his fortune by being born into money and selling nothing to the stupid.
"Contains 100 percent of your daily recommended dose of bullshit."
After a few years of selling placebos to shitheads, Ferriss took a trip to Europe. It was there, on his three-week vacation, that he decided he had learned enough about the struggle for success to write a book about it. It began with a brilliant set of rules. The rules included insights like "cut back on email" and "don't read newspapers and magazines." Basically, they were just a list of things Ferriss didn't like doing, and rules you could only really follow if you were the boss anyway. Obviously, if you're building a business, ignoring your email is strange advice some of the time, and terrible advice most of the time. Which should be the tagline for this moronic book.
But assuming your rich parents helped you get your snake-oil startup off the ground, this is all fine advice, right? Maybe, but he wouldn't know. Ferriss doesn't even come close to working only four hours a week. He is always blogging and self-promoting, and since he sold his awful BrainQuicken company, all his new income is generated directly from this desperate self-promotion. What he's really saying is that you can work only four hours a week, but you need to spend the rest of your week doing things to make money. So good luck, future millionaires!
The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets For Capturing The Heart Of Mr. Right Is Mostly About Preserving The Male Ego
The year 1995 brought us the O.J. Simpson murder case, the Unabomber, and the saddest guidebook that will ever be written: The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets For Capturing The Heart Of Mr. Right. Nearly two million lonely ladies bought the book, but some of those sales must have come from panicked men wondering which of their mysterious secrets had been revealed to women.
The book (and its countless sequels) all revolved around what women should do to coddle the fragile male ego. It's not bad advice to "keep your date's insecurities in mind" or whatever, but The Rules seems to think men will break down and cry at the slightest deviation from gender roles. It gives tips like "you must never offer to pay," and "remain silently supportive when he can't remember where he parked." Seriously, here's an actual sample from the book:
Wait, you'd go on a second date with a man who lost his car for an hour? Have some self-respect, girl.
There's a lot of advice like this -- to shut up and smile while your date is an idiot, and to build your life and personality around his thin skin. It may also help the relationship if you scream when you see his penis, each time fleeing from it like a terrified child meeting Godzilla.
"It! Was! So! Big!" you should tell paramedics, through panicked breaths, before finally fainting from "over-stimulated genitalia."
The book doesn't just give great dating advice. It also gives great sex advice ... in that you shouldn't talk about it. And you KNOW the book's two female authors are experts on men, because they tell you how much men hate horny women. It was one of the best-kept male secrets until this was published:
"No really. If you don't let him bite your neck, he will literally transform into a tiger. AIIEE!"
Of course, the sure-fire way to tell if a man is into you or not is by the gift he gets you for your birthday. Did he get you jewelry? Then congratulations. He wants you to quietly smile while he searches for his car for the rest of your lives. Did he get you something practical, like a pen or a book? Sorry, that's code for how he has no romantic interest in you. Or not. There are billions of men and the authors of this book haven't quite fucked all of them. So, like all dating advice books, this one is uncanny in its accuracy ... right up until it totally isn't.
"He ... H-he took the time to buy something I needed for a hobby I enjoy! What does it mean, Doctor!?"
Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man: Relationship Advice From A Twice-Divorced, Sexist Cheater
Steve Harvey has been a rich man and also a poor man. He has been homeless and he has also asked contestants to name the most popular terms for "fart" on Family Feud. He has been an unapologetic, sexist asshole, and also felt qualified to write a book telling women how to behave in relationships.
The book Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man is an absurdly misogynistic collection of advice for ladies from a guy whose main source of female information is hearing Cedric the Entertainer describe booty smells.
"Onions and peanut butter? Oh, you need to MARRY that girl, Cedric."
And yet somehow it has sold over two million copies, reached #1 on The New York Times Non-Fiction Best-Seller List, and was made into a major motion picture featuring Turtle from Entourage.
Yes, they got Turtle!
All of this from a man currently in his third marriage, who has been publicly accused of serial infidelity. When Steve Harvey kisses his wife hello, six pounds of other women's pubic hair falls out of his moustache. For his wife's birthday, he gave her three kinds of hepatitis and both herpes.
"Ha ha ha, you're a fucking asshole! Ha ha ha, FUCK YOU, STEVE HARVEY!"
Steve's book, as you might expect, treats women like they're a pile of sexual currency. You see, all relationships are essentially transactional, and women should date based on their own value. When Steve Harvey says "think like a man," he mostly means "think like a man buying pussy from an escort service." Women need to realize that sex -- or, as he and Fred Durst, and only he and Fred Durst call it, "the cookie " -- is a thing men need. Well, we'll let him explain how men think:
"And stick it up your, yeah!"
They are powerful words from a brilliant mind, and like all great metaphors, it can be stretched in every direction. Does it mean Steve Harvey will sleep with different races of women? Yeah, sure. And does it mean he eats white women? Yes, probably. And does it mean that when the very stupid are paid to list what kinds of cookies they want to fuck, our world is so forsaken it no longer matters who lives or dies? Yes, of course: We are now living in a perpetual madness where meaning is forgotten.
Steve Harvey feels very, very strongly that a woman should be paid, as if carrying a vagina was highly skilled labor. He says, "KNOW THIS: It is your right to expect that a man will pay for your dinner, your movie ticket, your club entry fee, or whatever else he has to pay for in exchange for your time." It's a dating tip that's both a little bit true, and a little bit like turning sex into a business transaction. He's not exactly telling you to sell your birth canal's entrance, he's just pointing out there is a market value for it, and with some classic money-laundering tricks, you totally could.
Harvey also has a section on how men have a protective instinct towards women. In his case, that means that when his wife is SCUBA diving, he hires a security guard to dive with her, because he can't swim.
His greatest weakness aside from cue-card reading.
"I have a security guy who can swim," he says. "So he puts on the snorkeling gear and when she goes down, I tell him, 'You swim over and just keep an eye on my wife.'"
It's ... look, not all of the book is insane advice on how women should treat their vaginas like relationship currency. Some of it is just insane in general.
Steve Harvey is a flailing dumbass of a comedy writer. Whether or not he's funny on stage may be debatable, but without his physical timing and practiced expressions, his little musings barely qualify as observational humor. He tells women, "You're an investigator -- can't nobody find stuff out like a woman. Y'all put the police to shame, make the little investigative tricks they show on CSI and Law & Order: SVU look like counting lessons on Sesame Street."
With a hilariously huge purple suit and the right bug-eyed expression, that might get a laugh from a drunk crowd. But written down, it sounds like a teenage boy learning to speak English from TV.
Are all of his brain cells allocated for mustache growth?
He delivers a lot of his thoughts via these pointless analogies. Steve builds elaborate parallels between sex and other activities that only manage to lower the reader's understanding of each. For instance, "A man fishes for two reasons: He's either sport fishing or fishing to eat, which means he's either going to try to catch the biggest fish he can, take a picture of it, admire it with his buddies and toss it back to sea, or he's going to take that fish on home, scale it, fillet it, toss it in some cornmeal, fry it up, and put it on his plate. This, I think, is a great analogy for how men seek out women."
So wait, is that to help fishermen understand fucking, or sex addicts understand fish? A-are we supposed to be tossing women in cornmeal? We haven't been doing that.
Steve Harvey is more careless with his words than he is with the emotional needs of his string of cheated-on wives. He actually blames that cheating on the women themselves. "Men can cheat because there are so many women willing to give themselves to a man who doesn't belong to them."
So, who should women give themselves to? The answer may surprise you: It's four men.
We'll let Steve explain: "I've said over and over again jokingly that the only way a woman can truly be completely satisfied is to get herself four different men -- an old one, an ugly one, a Mandingo, and a gay guy. Now the four of them combined? They got you covered."
Mandingo! Part man, part dingo. We assume that's what that means. We're too terrified to look it up.
Jordan Breeding has a blog, a band, and reads self-help books about how to become a radioactive spider. It hasn't worked yet. Nathan Kamal lives in Oregon and writes there. He co-founded Asymmetry Fiction for all your fiction needs.
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