Local author and professor Steven Watts be giving a talk at the Columbia Public Library this Thursday about his book “Self-Help Messiah.” The book documents the life and times of Dale Carnegie, author of “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and the dynamic era in which he rose to fame. Here is an interview with the author for a sneak preview of the event.
DBRL: What inspired you to write this book?
SW: Over the last 20 years or so I have been writing biographies of major figures in the shaping of modern American culture, a group that included Walt Disney, Henry Ford and Hugh Hefner. In particular, I have been interested in exploring how a mainstream modern creed of consumerism, personality and self-fulfillment replaced an older Victorian standard of producerism, character and self-control. After completing the Hefner book, I was looking for a new subject when Dale Carnegie rose to the surface. I had taught about him for many years in a couple of my classes at MU, focusing on his popular advice literature in the twentieth century, and his ideas always had formulated vigorous debate, as some students loved him and others hated him. When I looked at the literature, I was surprised to see that no one had written a full-scale biography of this crucial figure in modern American life. So he seemed like a natural choice for my next project.
DBRL: As a library employee, I see “How to Win Friends and Influence People” circulate regularly, which surprises me considering that the book was written almost 80 years ago. Why do you think the book has stayed relevant for so long?