Personal Development (Self-Help) Book Reviews

Personal Development Book Reviews


There is an extraordinary number of self-help and personal development books written each year to help you lead a better life and be a better you. Some are pragmatic and how-to, others wise and insightful, and still others uplifting and inspiring. And many aren’t worth reading.

My relationship with self-help or personal development books is fraught. When I read them, flashes of insight light up my brain, my path comes into focus, and I commit myself to change my life—but within a week of closing the book, all its wise words vanish from my skull, and I am as I was before I pulled the book off the shelf. (This is, of course, why you want to work with a coach; you need someone to hold you accountable for making the changes you claim to want in your life.)

Since becoming a coach, I read self-help books as a matter of my professional development—to incorporate the pragmatism, wisdom, and inspiration of others into my coaching. It’s also a matter of survival. When clients discover books that change their lives—and show up to their coaching sessions enthusiastic, transformed, and raring to go, I need to read them, so they don’t leave me behind as they race toward the horizon.

In any case, I read a lot of books, I take copious notes, I bring what I learn to my coaching, and since my clients push me (relentlessly), I integrate what I learn into my own life.

I have decided to write reviews of the books I read to introduce folks to good books, warn them away from poor ones, and to give them a sense of what’s going on in the personal development world.

Four extraordinary self-help books

Let me start by flagging four books that I think are exceptional. They are the ones that I recommend most frequently to my clients. As I am writing this, I haven’t yet written reviews of these books—but check back periodically, as I will. Until then, let me give a brief introduction to each:

Play to Win: Choosing Growth Over Fear in Work and Life. 
Larry Wilson and Hersch Wilson

Wilson & Wilson dig into the key reason why we stop ourselves. It is fear that stops us, but fear of things that can’t hurt us—fear of things that we tend to make up. They then give a hardnosed pragmatic way to work through our fear. Put their practices into your life, and you will do things you didn’t think possible of yourself.

Getting Real: Ten Truth Skills You Need to Live an Authentic Life.
Susan Campbell.

Campbell provides a clear path to authenticity and intimacy, with many examples of how to powerfully communicate our feelings, concerns, and needs. The lessons in Getting Real are critical to our ability to live with others; so important that, with some clients, I have worked through it chapter by chapter.

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time. 
Susan Scott.

I recommend this book to people who are intent on becoming better leaders and managers. How do you talk to people who see the world differently than you do? How do you hold people accountable so that they remain engaged and not feeling criticized and diminished? How do you inspire your team? Fiercely, as it turns out (Review).

The Last Word on Power: Executive Re-Invention for Leaders Who Must Make the Impossible Happen.
Tracy Goss.

This is a tough book—it is conceptual, it uses (appropriately) jargon that will take an effort to understand, and it points you in directions that appear alien. Grapple with it, because the path that Goss blazes is the path to power—to be able to do things that you thought were impossible. It would take an extraordinary person who could incorporate Goss’s methodology productively on their own—it’s just too foreign, but with a coach, it can be life-changing (Review).