The readers of GoodReads and Amazon have spoken, on the best fiction books of 2020 so far and now about the top 20 best self-help books. I’ve built on a Goodreads list of top self-help books with Amazon’s rankings of those same books, counting down from #20 to #1. Here’s everything you need to know about each one, including:

  • combined Amazon and GoodReads review scores (on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best)
  • premise summaries
  • best book deals
  • best book quotes
  • relevant hashtags
  • top tips or book club questions

Best Self-Help Books

The countdown begins with…

#20 The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle (7.74)

This book is all about–as it says–living in the present moment. It explores what usually prevents us from doing so–our minds, with all their racing thoughts, worries, and to-do lists–and why we should try to break through that. Enlightenment is the benefit of living in the now, according to Tolle.

Best Deal

$5.48 on BetterWorldBooks.com

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

If you follow #thepowerofnow on Twitter, you’ll get a bunch of good quotes to live by, good daily boosts.

Top Tip

Tolle essentially says that the more you identify yourself with your thought patterns–your wants, needs, desires, etc–the more you’ll feel your emotions. If you can get to a point where you can distance yourself somewhat from your emotions, you can “watch” them and how they affect your body. “You can then allow the emotion to be there without being controlled by it,” he says.

#19: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (7.87)

One of the few memoirs in the bunch, this book follows author Elizabeth Gilbert’s trek to self-discovery through the mire of despair, the fog of loneliness, and the bramble of not knowing what she was supposed to do in life. She found herself by visiting three places where she could examine one aspect of her own nature set against the backdrop of a culture that has traditionally done that one thing very well: Rome, which did the art of pleasure well, India, which helped her plug into her devoted side, and Bali, where she studied the art of balance. An absorbing read.

Best Deal

$3.98 with free shipping on BetterWorldBooks.com.

Best Quote

From @Accountspayable on Twitter

Hashtags and Such

Obviously, #eatpraylove and #elizabethgilbert will give you more motivating quotes from the book.

Top Tip

From Instagram:

#18: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves

Since I read (i.e., devoured) It’s Not Always Depression by Hilary Jacobs Hendel, I’ve really plugged into the idea that we tend to not realize how much emotions control our lives and the extent to which most of us go to avoid feeling the really hard ones. This book helps you measure how well you handle your emotions by giving you a way to assess your “emotional quotient” or emotional intelligence (EI). Since, as Wikipedia says,

studies have shown that people with high EI have greater mental healthjob performance, and leadership skills (although no causal relationships have been shown and such findings are likely to be attributable to general intelligence and specific personality traits rather than emotional intelligence as a construct)

understanding your emotional intelligence or EQ could help you improve your life in those areas, which is also part of what the book aims to do.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Ranking

8.24

Best Deal

$4.89 on ThriftBooks.com

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

If you search #emotionalintelligence on Twitter, you may find some helpful advice here and there, but if you follow #emotionalintelligence2.0, you’ll get more specific advice, not only from the book but from Dr. Bradberry’s subsequent talks, articles, etc.

Top Tip

#17 Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, M.D.

This is the allegorical story of two mice–Sniff and Scurry–and two “Littlepeople”–Hem and Haw–and their different reactions to change. It’s a light but meaningful look at what works and what doesn’t work when having to adapt to change, which is an inevitable part of everyone’s real life.

Combined Amazon and Goodreads Ranking

8.41

Best Deal

$3.98 with free shipping from BetterWorldBooks.com

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Following #whomovedmycheese on Twitter and #spencerjohnsonmd on Instagram will fortify your change-handling capabilities.

Top Tip

#16: Getting Things Done by David Allen

This was recommended to me by a former boss, not because I was having a hard time managing my time but because I wanted to manage it better so I could pack more “doing” in. Ironically, part of this book’s premise is that you have to learn to relax and let go in order to have a clear enough mind to be organized and truly productive.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Rating:

8.49

Best Deal

Best Quote, Hashtag, and Tip

Following #davidallen, @davidallen, or even #gettingthingsdone on Twitter or Instagram won’t get you anything but random people and their random boasts about…(wait for it) getting things done. And following #davidallenquote on Twitter will get you only one inspirational quote, but it’s a good one:

#15 The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

One wouldn’t expect to find a fiction book on a list of top 20 self-help books, but tens of thousands of people, both on Amazon and GoodReads, put it there. In fact, it’s got 2,074,357 ratings on GoodReads alone, averaging 3.87 out of 5 stars. It’s somewhat of an allegory of a shepherd boy who leaves his home in the mountains to seek treasure under the Great Pyramids. He meets various people along the way–among them an alchemist–who help him refine what he’s looking for, so that his journey to find worldly goods turns into a “discovery of the treasure found within.”

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Ranking

8.57

Best Deal

Even thrift book sellers have a hard time keeping this one in stock. Your best bet/least expensive option to buy the book is through an Amazon third-party seller, for about $9.32.

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Following #thealchemist on Twitter will get you mostly a few inspiring quotes about following your dreams, with a few random tweets thrown in. Following it on Instagram, on the other hand, gets you a bunch of random, even weird, posts, with a few shout-outs to Paulo Coelho thrown in.

Book Club Questions

ReadingGroupGuides.com (another awesome book site) provides a good list here.

#14 The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

While not giving away what The Secret actually is, I will say that it reminded me of The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson. That book is about thinking outside the “box” of our familiar circumstances to actually strive towards our dreams. The Secret is meaningful, I think, as a general source of motivation, not as self-help per se.

Combined Amazon and Goodreads Ranking

8.66

Best Deal on The Secret

Between Amazon, Thrift Books, and Better World Books, the best deal is through the third-party Amazon seller Goodwill of Silicon Valley: $1.70 + $3.99 shipping for a good-condition used copy.

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Following @thesecret on Twitter gets you hourly motivational quotes. Following #thesecret on Instagram gets you random things, mostly motivational, some from the book, most not.

Better than that, though, is following this question thread on Quora, which provides a summary of the book and several reviews all in one place.

#13 The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

The first edition of this book was published in 1978 and it has since been reprinted multiple time and spent 10 years on the New York Times bestseller list! I think the thing that makes this book unique from others on this list is that its focus is on relationships.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Ranking

8.76

Best Deal on The Road Less Traveled

A new paperback copy of the most recent edition (there are 29!) is $11.99 on Amazon. You can get a first edition on ThriftBooks.com for $3.99, but there’ll be a few dollars worth of shipping to add to that. The best deal, then, is on BetterWorldBooks.com, where you can get a used, not-as-recent edition for $3.98 with free shipping.

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Search the title of the book on Quora, or, better yet, “what is the most powerful tip you’ve gained from a selfhelp book” for some very interesting and helpful advice, not only from The Road Less Traveled but from other books like it as well.

#12 The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

This is literally an expansion of the last lecture Dr. Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, gave before he died of terminal cancer. I got this because one of my friends on GoodReads said things like:

“I got this via audio book, and started listening to it while cleaning house. All I’ll say is that I ended up hunched over the sink, sobbing. Do yourself a favor. Read this book. You’ll feel more human afterwards.” –Beth

It gives advice on focusing on what really matters, in a particularly sensitive and emotional way. Not new advice necessarily, but well put.

Combined Amazon and Goodreads Ranking

8.77

Best Deal on The Last Lecture

Between Amazon, Thrift Books, and Better World Books, Amazon has the best price through a third-party seller–Good Books Will Follow–for $5.09.

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Following #lastlecture on Twitter will get you all kinds of last-lecture advice from various professors. It will also, however, provide you with a link to a video of Dr. Pausch’s last lecture (here), in case you don’t want to read the book.

And I can imagine that these book club questions about The Last Lecture from Reading Group Guide would come in handy at a book club get-together where you want to get to know your fellow book aficionados better.

#11: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

This is one of those books–again, more motivational than “self-help”–that I’ve been told everyone should read at least once. The latest version isn’t actually written by Hill, who published the first version in 1937. It’s written by a man named Arthur R. Pell, Ph.D., a follower of Hill, who has gathered the stories of contemporary millionaires and billionaires to find common threads in the ways they achieved their wealth.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Ranking

8.78

Best Deal on Think and Grow Rich

Amazon offers the best deals on this book: $3.27 for a Kindle copy and $4.20 for a paperback.

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Obviously, #thinkandgrowrich is a good one to follow on both Twitter and Instagram, as is @NapoleonHillFdn on Twitter.

Searching “think and grow rich” on Quora will yield you various summaries of and perspectives on the book, as well as other tips.

#10: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Personally, I’m surprised this book only made it to the #10 slot. In my mind, it should be numero uno, but the crowds have spoken. After you read a few self-help or motivational books, you begin to realize that alot of them offer the same advice, just couched in different terms. The seven habits listed and described by Covey are unique and expressed in a very approachable tone that makes it feel like he’s standing next to you giving you a sideways hug and saying, “You want to be happier? I want you to be happier too. Develop these habits and you will be.”

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Ranking

8.82

Best Deal on Seven Habits

BetterWorldBooks.com has the best price, at $4.48 with free shipping.

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Follow #sevenhabits on Twitter for a lot of helpful quotes, highlights, and happy thoughts.

Also, I love this list of book club questions from LitLovers.com. Really gets you thinking, y’know?

#9: The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.

Goodreads describes this book best:

He’ll tell you that happiness is the purpose of life, and that “the very motion of our life is towards happiness.” How to get there has always been the question. [The Dalai Lama] has tried to answer it before, but he’s never had the help of a psychiatrist to get the message across in a context we can easily understand. Through conversations, stories, and meditations, the Dalai Lama shows us how to defeat day-to-day anxiety, insecurity, anger, and discouragement. Together with Dr. Cutler, he explores many facets of everyday life, including relationships, loss, and the pursuit of wealth, to illustrate how to ride through life’s obstacles on a deep and abiding source of inner peace. 

Combined Amazon and Goodreads Ranking

8.86

Best Deal on The Art of Happiness

Since the lowest price you can get this book for on Amazon, ThriftBooks.com, or BetterWorldBooks.com is more than $9, I advise looking on eBay. You can get a used hardcover for $3.88 with free economy shipping.

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Following #artofhappiness on any social media platform gets you some cool pictures of art and thoughts about happiness, but not much to do with the book or author themselves. Following @Dalailama, however, gets you a lot of solid truths from His Holiness The Dalai Lama himself.

#8 The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

According to Don Miguel Ruiz, the four “agreements” are:

  • Be Impeccable With Your Word
  • Don’t Take Anything Personally
  • Don’t Make Assumptions
  • Always Do Your Best

Good advice, and worth exploring, especially in the interesting context of ancient Toltec wisdom. The Toltec were an ancient culture whose controversial ruins reside in present-day Mexico.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Rankings

8.86

Best Deal on The Four Agreements

$5.64 with free shipping on eBay

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Following #fouragreements on Twitter will get you explanations of and highlights from the Four Agreeements.

Searching for “four agreements” on Quora will get you a lot of interesting context for the book, as well as many more reviews.

#7: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

I think the reason this book has stayed at the top of bestseller list for decades is because

  1. a lot of people really want to win friends and influence people
  2. its core advice is really about defining success in terms of your relationships with other people. Not that it isn’t about becoming successful financially, but I think people realize that, no matter how much we’d like to pretend that our relationships with others don’t have any effect on our happiness or self-perception or that what other people say doesn’t matter, they do and it does. And if that’s the case, it’s better to understand how to have better relationships.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Rankings

8.90

Best Deal on How to Win Friends and Influence People

You can get it for 99 cents on Kindle!

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Following #howtowinfriendsandinfluencepeople on Instagram will provide you with some helpful tips.

#6: Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Of the more-than-three-quarters-of-a-million people who rated or reviewed this book on Goodreads, only 1 percent didn’t like it, claiming it was “saccharine.” The rest found great value in the lesson of appreciating life in all its many facets because you never know when it’s going to end, and the eloquent way in which this story was told.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Rating

8.91

Best Deal on Tuesdays with Morrie

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

LitLovers.com provides a nice summary of the book, along with an author bio, book club questions, and book reviews.

#5: As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

Although the wording of this book may feel ponderous to some and the title a bit sexist, since it was written more than a century ago, the basic truth Allen expresses within its pages still holds true: a person is as he or she thinketh. In other words, we each are more in control of our own lives than we think. While I don’t know about control, I do know that enjoying and succeeding in life has more to do with attitude and emotional agility than it does with reality.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Ranking

8.99

Best Deal on As a Man Thinketh

You can get an awesome deal on the 2018 reprint of the 1913 edition: $2.35 through Amazon.

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Search “as a man thinketh” on Quora for some nice summaries and explanations of certain murkier passages.

#4: The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

This is kind of a personality test for relationships. The premise is that there are only five distinct “love languages,” or ways that each person best perceives love from another person, and learning what your spouse or partner’s love language is and “speaking” it to them is what you need to do to make that relationship succeed. While I don’t necessarily agree that all it takes is to speak your loved one’s language, I definitely think the love languages Chapman identifies are spot on. And obviously, by it’s Amazon and GoodReads rankings, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Score

9.05

Best Deal On Five Love Languages

$3.98 with free shipping from BetterWorldBooks.com!

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

I love the fact that, if you follow #fivelovelanguages on Twitter, you get a bunch of funny memes about the love languages of certain kinds of people. This one was my favorite:

#3 Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Having lived a fairly cloistered life since the beginning of the pandemic, I can only imagine what Anne Frank endured during her two years hiding from the Nazis. While it’s curious to me that this book, with its depictions of the horrors of the Holocaust, should be voted as a top motivational and self-help book, when I think of it in the same light as I view Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, with its depictions of resilience, courage, and sensitivity, I totally understand.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Score

9.05

Best Deal on Diary of a Young Girl

Ninety-nine cents on Kindle!

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Best place to follow #diaryofayounggirl? You guessed it: Twitter.

#2: Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl

I think it’s telling that the second-most popular motivational/self-help book is based on the theory that no one can avoid suffering. The title of the book is Man’s Search for Meaning, not Man’s Search for Happiness or Man’s Search for Money.  Frankl, a psychiatrist who helped post-WWII Nazi death camp survivors, argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. Like Frailty, Suffering, and Vice, a book I mentioned here and discussed in depth here, Frankl’s conviction is that the primary human drive is not pleasure but the pursuit of what we find meaningful. I wholeheartedly agree.

Combined Amazon & GoodReads Ranking:

9.06

Best Deal on Man’s Search for Meaning

The audiobook is free on Audible with a Prime membership!

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

Need a good kick in the pants? Follow@vfiamerica.

Reading Discussion Guide for Man’s Search for Meaning

LitLovers.com provides not only discussion questions, but also an author bio, collection of reviews, and more.

Now, are you ready for it? The number-one motivational/self-help book? It’s probably one you already have on your bookshelf. You may even have read it to your kids. It’s…(drum roll please)…

#1: Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

No lie: with a score of 9.25, this was the highest-scoring book on the list, voted on by tens of thousands of people. Chances are you’ve read it; why do you think this children’s book is the most-loved inspirational book? Could it be its charm? Its lyrical, rhythmic reminder that we all have inherent worth and that we just need to remember that to truly achieve our potential (something we can barely even imagine)? Its simple, uncomplicated tone? All of the above? If you haven’t read this book, something that takes ten minutes tops, you need to.

Combined Amazon and GoodReads Score

9.25

Best Deal

Best Quote

Hashtags and Such

I recommend following the official Dr. Seuss account on Pinterest, which will give you all sorts of inspirational quotes and craft ideas to go along with the book.

So there you go! Go forth and read and let me know what you think!

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