Starting this book felt like I opened a door mid-conversation almost a century ago. Behind it were two gentleman sitting in a preserved gentleman’s lounge or office. I could almost smell the old leather furniture and the faint scent of cigars and I could see the wood paneling vividly as the two men leaned in to confer about titans of industry. And this is the problem with The Mental Dynamite series.
When I got my copy from the publisher*, I wasn’t sure I was going to read it. After the first book, The Path to Personal Power, and my not great reaction to it, I wasn’t sure I wanted to trudge through the racist, misogynist, heterosexist past. It’s not like they went out of their way to be these things and I’m not excusing them, but it’s rough to read.
But then I remembered how much Hill contributed to the self-help genre and was like as an author of historical importance for such a successful (and constantly growing) genre it was worth pushing through. Seriously, name a type of self-help book and I’m sure Hill has touched on it in these first two books of the series.
From habit building (oh hey, The Power of Habit) to willpower (oh hey, The Willpower Instinct) and organization (oh hey, Smarter Faster Better) to advertising (oh hey, Nudge), he seriously touches on all types. I’m not sure if someone has called him the grandfather of all modern self-help books, I feel like I’ve read that somewhere, but if they haven’t they should.
For the major critiques of the books and even the strengths you can see my review of the first book here since this reads as the next chapters in a really long and thorough book. We see the same style of writing, the same lists of titans of industries and the same weird staged conversation between Hill and Andrew Carnegie.
What this book had that the last one didn’t was a sort of omniscient view of what is happening in the US now. Not only was there this creepy sentence observation,
“Remember, you are living in an age when the distribution of propaganda has become a highly skilled profession. The most dangerous forms of propaganda are those whose sources of origin or whose purpose are not recognizable. In fact, if either the source or the purpose are obvious, the attempt to influence is not propaganda; it is plain advertising.” (115)
I mean one of the largest stories is, and has been for the last year plus at this point, is Russian interference in elections around the world through subterfuge and whether or not the Trump (and now the Brexit Leave campaign) used ill begotten data as well. [50/50 on this one, I think the excess data they got access to outside of the original test takers data is ill begotten, but for those that took the test fair dues.] He went so far as to describe the professional politicians and how that in itself is a career choice and not something one can just go into.
Hill expands his prescience throughout the book to talk about the major discoveries and innovations that would come to define the late 20th and early 21st centuries from better automation of industry to technology and medical advancements. And this is what made the book interesting enough (barely) to keep me reading.
Recommendation: If you’re interested in the history of American industrialism or the self-help genre this is definitely a must read, if you’re not interested in those specifics, only look at the pages with lists on them because they are sound and you don’t get bogged down in the writing and the weirdly formal call and response interviews between Hill and Carnegie. As a final note, I want to reiterate that I feel like more could be done by the publisher or the foundation to better place this in a historical context. Green does a decent job in the introduction, but I feel like it’s glossed over and an analysis at the end of the book would be super beneficial.
*I received a copy of How to Own Your Own Mind from the publisher in return for my honest opinion. No goods or cash were received.
Opening Line: “A philosopher said, ‘The imagination is the workshop of man wherein is fashioned the pattern of all his achievements.'”
Closing Line: “You will then own your own mind and be ready to take necessary action to achieve your goal.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.