How to Know if a Self-Help Book is Legit or Full of Shit, in 5 Easy Steps

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“Shiiiiiiit… That’s a LOT of self-help books.”

When you go looking for books that will help you build confidence or improve some aspect of your life, you’ll find both good and bad news upon visiting Amazon’s Self-Help section.

The good news? There are more than 500,000 titles to choose from.

The bad news? There are more than 500,000 titles to choose from!!

Separating the sound, rational and well-founded self-improvement advice from the unhelpful platitudes and baseless feel-goodery can be a tall (and time-consuming) task—and one I’ve wasted countless hours on.

Fortunately, along the way I’ve developed a few helpful shortcuts you can use to determine a book’s worth before clicking “add to cart.”

Book Review Quiet By Susan Cain

1. The Rating System

Look Beyond the Stars

how-to-choose-self-help-books-ratingBy no means is the Amazon star score a perfectly objective or unbiased rating system, but crowdsourcing is an undeniably effective way to determine a book’s value – particularly for self-help books, which often promise you a result of some kind.

When evaluating a book’s rating, look not just at the number of stars, but at the number of people who have left a rating. As a general rule, the more reviews a book has, the more you can trust that the rating is accurate.

Pro Tip

Cross reference a book’s rating on Amazon with its rating on Books that score high on both sites are more likely to deliver on their promises. (If the book isn’t scored on Goodreads, try to find it on Barnes & Noble’s website, or international Amazon sites like or, all of which have their own, separate ratings.)

2. Google the Author’s Name

This step may not sound revolutionary, but it often gets skipped. The book’s jacket is obviously going to sing the praises of the author, as is their personal website, but watching their TED Talk or reading their Wikipedia page can quickly inform you about who they are and where their biases may lie.

Context is Key

how-to-choose-self-help-books-GoogleA perfect example is Stephen Covey, author of the hugely influential 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and its various sequels and spin-offs. Reading the Wikipedia page for the book revealed a small but important detail about the author: “It has been surmised that Covey, himself a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), discovered how to communicate Mormon truths to non-Mormons by simply changing the vocabulary…”

While I haven’t researched the issue in great detail myself, becoming aware of it allowed me to approach the book with an appropriately critical eye. In this particular case, I used the tip and figured that the 220,000 ratings and 4-star review it received on Goodreads couldn’t all be attributed to Mormons, so the book probably had value for many people.

I decided to go ahead and buy it, but thanks to this quick bit of research, I was able read the book with a more discerning eye. In the end I’m glad I did, because I found that it passed muster and provided great value for people of all ideological stripes.

3. Assess the Endorsers

how-to-choose-self-help-books-reviewsTake this one with a grain of salt.

Endorsements are often arranged by the book’s publisher and generally count for much less than the more objective crowd-sourced reviews, as noted above. But while they may not feel as strongly about a book as their endorsement would have you believe, most authors or public figures make a point of lending their names only to books they support.

So if you already recognize and trust the names of the people who have endorsed the book, it’s generally a good sign – particularly if you know those people to be discerning researchers themselves.

4. Wash the Book Against Your Own Instincts

how-to-choose-self-help-books-magnifyThis method is admittedly more intuitive than objective, but no less important. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re an intelligent and perceptive person (you had the good sense to read this blog, after all!) and you should trust your own discernment here.

Do the book’s promised outcomes resonate with you? Many self-help books promise the moon, but ask yourself: Do its claims align with what you already know about the topic? Does it sound realistic for you to achieve that result by reading one book (or following the steps it recommends)? What does your gut tell you?

5. When in Doubt, Stick to Recommendations from Trusted Sources

how-to-choose-self-help-books-friendsFor all the benefits of crowdsourcing and online research, sometimes the old ways are still the best.

Ask your friends, post a question about which books are best on Facebook or Twitter, or take suggestions from trusted bloggers to prevent yourself from getting overwhelmed by the myriad self-help titles on the market.

To help you get started, I’ve put together quick summaries of some of The Best Self-Help Books for Young Men, all of which will help you build real, deep and authentic self-confidence.

And if you’re looking for deeper analysis, check out my full (and ever-growing) list of Book Reviews to discover even more awesome titles.

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About Dave Bowden

Dave Bowden

Founder, Irreverent Gent
Author, Man in Command and Stop Doubting, Start Dating
Writer, Really Wordy Author Bios

Dave Bowden is a style blogger, menswear expert and best-selling author (in Canada—but still!) whose advice on how to look good and live well has been featured in New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Men's Health and more.

When not obsessing over style and self-improvement, he can usually be found spending time with his wonderful wife and two amazing sons, indulging in a hoppy craft beer, or sobbing over the woeful state of Toronto's sports teams.

Check out Dave's Style Story to find out how a chance encounter with his friend's step-dad taught him the value of looking good and living well (don't worry—it's less creepy than it sounds!), or email him at [email protected] if you want to get in touch.

6 thoughts on “How to Know if a Self-Help Book is Legit or Full of Shit, in 5 Easy Steps”

  1. Dave, almost done reading Ready to Roar and I just wanted to let you know it is DEFINITELY legit. Great job on the book, it was a really helpful, practical and enjoyable read. Congrats!

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