Book Review: Two Books from the Thirties

Ah, intellectual hubris.   You’re about to get a smack-down.

I’ve just finished reading the two last books on my second pile of “to-reads”.   I picked the list from a few lists from other folks, just sifting through my interests and their recommendations.   The third pile will show up whenever Amazon decides to deliver books again, they’re muttering about the beginning of May.

The first book I picked to read made my list under mild protest.   It’s on **everyone’s** “must-read” list.   I figured it would be quick, light, and I’d get through it, perhaps with some insight for my sometimes socially awkward self.

Dale Carnegie, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” – pub 1936.  I had a friend tell me he thought it was trite.   No, it’s not trite.   You can’t call the origin of all the business advice you’ve ever received trite – it’s the original!  I ended up taking pages of notes from this book.  I *am* socially awkward and clumsy.   I need the help.    Did I read things I already know?  Of course!   Most of this book has made its way into standard “how to be a good employee” advice over the course of nearly a century.   But I read things I didn’t know – and I heard the advice in my bones in a way that it hadn’t come through in the copies.   It’s well written, if light (think Chicken Soup for the Soul level of writing, or Reader’s Digest), and it makes good points, points to take seriously.

The second book I figured, “This guy is a bit outdated, but he *is* the most famous in his field.  He’s got to have some great insights on my subject matter, and I’ve always wanted to read some of his original work”.     “Civilization and Its Discontents” by Sigmund Freud was originally published in German in 1930.

It was awful.   Most of its conclusions were … silly.   I mean, I know Freud was the dude who came up with oral and anal as descriptors of people, but keeping a straight face while the bathroom habits of toddlers are taken seriously as the causes of behaviors in adults is a tad difficult.  This book in particular is his rant against religion as a cause of human behavior.   The work stands up far more interestingly as a piece of history (an example of thinking of that era, something that influenced behavior and popular culture for decades after) than as ageless wisdom.  I mean, people DO still do therapy (unlike phrenology, which I would otherwise liken this to) but it’s come a long, LONG way since Dr. Freud.

And that leads us to a discussion about the divide between intellect and wisdom…. one of these books is wise.  It’s stood the test of almost a century, and its advice is still extremely useful.    The other book is written by one of the great minds of the 20th century (or at least one of the most famous) and it’s so dated as to be absurd.  If I’d written that paragraph at the beginning of this post and told you to guess whether it was Carnegie or Freud… I think you, like me, would guess the other way ’round.

Wisdom lasts.  Even if it’s written in short words in an easy-to-read format.

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