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In both this volume and in 50 Success Classics, Butler-Bowdon has selected and then provided a rigorous examination of carefully selected works which have had, for decades, a profound impact on those who read them and then applied the principles which their respective authors affirm. In this instance, inspiration and guidance to transform one's life. There are several reasons why I hold this volume in such high regard. Here are three.
First, Butler-Bowdon has assembled excerpts and focused on key points from a wide variety of works which include (with authors listed in alphabetical order, as in the book), Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, Robert Bly's Iron John, Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers' The Power of Myth, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler's The Art of Happiness, Wayne Dyer's Real Magic, Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance, Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, Abraham Maslow's Motivation and Personality, Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul, Joseph Murphy's The Power of Your Subconscious Mind, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and Henry David Thoreau's Walden. Obviously, some of this material would also be appropriate for inclusion in 50 Success Classics.
Second, I appreciate the fact that Butler-Bowdon also enables his readers to focus on specific themes of greatest interest to them by suggesting combinations of selections as follows:
The Power of Thought: Change your thoughts, change your life
Following Your Dream: Achievement and goal setting
Secrets of Happiness: Doing what you love, doing what works
The Bigger Picture: Keeping it in perspective
Soul and Mystery: Appreciating your depth
Making a Difference: Transforming yourself, transforming the world
The diversity of Butler-Bowdon's primary sources is indeed impressive even when grouped according to a common theme.
Third and finally, he makes clever use of a number of reader-friendly devices throughout his narrative, such as "In a nutshell," "Final comments," and a brief bio of the author at the conclusion of each selection. I also appreciate the inclusion of brief quotations wherever they are most relevant.
In the Introduction, Butler-Bowdon observes that a self-help book "can be your best friend and champion, expressing a faith in your essential greatness and beauty that is sometimes hard to get from another person. Because of its emphasis on following your star and believing that your thoughts can remake your world, a better name for self-help writing might be the `literature of possibility.' Many people are amazed that the self-help sections in bookstores are so huge. For the rest of us, there is no mystery. Whatever recognizes our right to dream, then shows us how to make the dream a reality, is powerful and valuable."
What he offers is by no means a buffet of motivational "hors d'oeuvres." On the contrary, the content selected is solid and skillfully presented within an appropriate context. I am convinced that many of those who read this book will be encouraged to read (or re-read) many of the primary sources in their entirety. If Butler-Bowdon's efforts accomplish nothing else, that will indeed be sufficient to earn the praise I think he has earned...and justly deserves.
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Lee Say Keng
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50 Self-Help Classics: 50 Inspirational Books to Transform Your Life, From Timeless Sages to Contemporary Gurus
50 Success Classics: Winning Wisdom for Life and Work from 50 Landmark Books
50 Spiritual Classics: Timeless Wisdom from 50 Great Books on Inner Discovery, Enlightenment and Purpose
In the first instance, I have bought these three books in one go because I have been fascinated by what the author had done: He has practised what is known as the highest level of reading. Mortimer Adler, in his classic book, 'How to Read a Book', written in the forties, had called it 'syntopical reading'. It's actually reading a number of books of the same genre, more or less simultaneously & then synthesising the key points.
Secondly, the author, who is a graduate of the London School of Economics, somehow impresses me with his ability to synthesise the big picture of each of the books that made up the entire collection. For apparently a left-brain thinker i.e. economist by training, this has been a very remarkable feat, as his synthesising endeavour has been essentially more of a right-brain activity. Well, I must compliment him for a job well done.
Before my final decision on buying the three books, I have been thrilled by the prospect of reading three books, which in turn will give me access to one hundred & fifty books.
For each book, the author has very artfully as well as skillfully selected fifty books to made up one collection. I may not agree with his selection, but I must admit that I can't default him at all.
Take the first book, '50 Self Help Classics', with timeless wisdom, as an example. Out of the fifty books he has selected, I have read only seventeen of them. I have those books in my personal library.
For the second book, '50 Success Classics', I have read & still own sixteen of the landmark books on winning wisdom selected by the author.
For the third & final book, '50 Spiritual Classics', covering timeless sages & contemporary gurus, I have read only & still own three of them, namely 'The Tao of Physics', 'The Way of the Peaceful Warrior' & 'Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'.
For those books I have read previously, totaling thirty-six of them (probably stretching over three decades of my life), & upon revisiting them again in the trilogy, which actually took me one whole weekend to complete, starting on Friday evening & finishing on Sunday night, I must say that the seemingly marathon reading experience has been very refreshing & uplifting. It has also given me the opportunity to check & verify whether the author has captured the key ideas or essence of those books. I don't think I can find fault with the author in this respect.
Not only that, in the first book, I am very impressed that the author has cut through the bewildering array of choices to bring the essential ideas, insights, and techniques from the `literature of possibilities'. In works that span the world's religions, cultures, philosophies, & centuries, he summarizes each work's key ideas & finally makes clear how these legendary classics can educate, affirm, & motivate anyone searching for the inspiration to make a meaningful life change.
In the second book, the author is back with his wide-ranging collection of enduring works from pioneering thinkers, philosophers, & powerful leaders, like Napoleon Hill, Stephen Covey, Kenneth Blanchard, Baltasar Gracian & Christopher Maurer; from the inspirational rags to riches stories of such entrepreneurs, like Andrew Carnegie, Warren Buffet & Sam Walton to the leadership lessons of Sir Ernest Shackleton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln & Nelson Mandela, just to name a few.
In the third book, I believe the author has captured the very best in spiritual writing: They include personal diaries & compelling biographies of such diverse figures as Gandhi, Malcolm X, & Black Elk & Eastern philosophers & gurus including Krishnamurti, Yogananda, Chögyam Trungpa & Suzuki; & Western saints & mystics such as St. Francis of Assisi, Herman Hesse & Simone Weil. For each book in this volume, the author offers insightful commentary on how these classics can help spiritual seekers everywhere bring personal beliefs, values & practices squarely into the center of their every day lives.
Reading the three foregoing books has been quite a breeze because the meaning of each work is initially captured 'in a nut shell' at the onset, coupled with a representative quote as well as cross-referencing to similar work. In each work, appropriate sectional headings in bold print make it really easy for the reader to follow the author's train of thoughts over some six pages. There is also a short biographical sketch of the author of the respective work.
I must admit that the third book in the trilogy has been the most challenging for me to read as I normally do not go for such stuff. To put it bluntly, it's not my cup of tea. On the other hand, the curiosity streak in me has been too overwhelming, since I relish the thought that I could read fifty spiritual classics in just one book!
Overall, & for all those books I have not yet read at all (some of which I have not even heard of), I really enjoyed digesting the author's bite-sized summaries (in actuality, they are only the main ideas, context & impact of each title, to give a taste of the literature, so to speak) in the three collections or volumes, even though some of the titles are relatively esoteric for me. The entire reading journey has been enlightening, inspirational & yet humbling in some areas. Best of all, there are useful tools & practical techniques to take away from each collection!
For the first & last book in the trilogy, namely, '50 Self Help Classics' & '50 Spirtual Classics', the author has respectively provide a list of additional 50 books. The titles are certainly enticing! Well, all I can say is this: I wish the author will repeat his syntopical reading exercise covering these books & add two more volumes, that will make a quintulogy, for all the readers out there, including me!
As usual, all my three books are now scribbled with my own hand-written marginal annotations as well as my fancy colour marker symbols. Additionally, there are also colourful sticky notes in between selected pages. My next personal assignment is to transfer all these notations into mindmaps with Mindmanager Pro.
To end my review, I have one last humble comment to make. Out of the one hundred & fifty bite-sized summaries, I still don't quite get it from 'The Bhagavad-Gita' as outlined in the author's '50 Self Help Classics'. I have not read this work before although I have heard about it. [J Y Pillay, former Chairman of Singapore Airlines, who is credited for building the airline to what it is today, A Great Way to Fly, has vouched for this ancient Hindu scripture as an inspiration for his leadership success during an interview.] However, in the same vein, I found that I could relate quickly to Deepak Chopra's 'The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success' but simply not this one! I may have to explore other avenue.
In site of the above minor short-coming, I strongly believe that the three books in the author's trilogy are really an intellectual treasure!