Self-Help is an accessible, inspirational primer for upward social mobility and self-education for the working and lower middle classes. It was originally published privately at Smiles’ expense. It has since become a bestseller and a cult business and education classic. Smiles’s thoughts on social mobility struck a chord with the business elite. It’s a secular hagiography which transforms biography into inspirational material.
Self-Help is often referred to as the bible of mid-Victorian liberalism. The book paved the way for the emergence of the self-help movement and earned Smiles a place in the pantheon of British literature. Interestingly, Smiles’s book was also a major influence on the work of the inspirational writer Orison Swett Marden. Marden had read Smiles Self-Help in his teens and was inspired to write Pushing to the Front (1894), which became one of the most influential and successful books of all time.