Heal Thyself: A History Of Self-Help

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Robin Ince explores people’s fascination with the self-help shelf. From Socrates to Sam Smiles, Marcus Aurelius to Allen Carr, can this $13 billion industry really make people richer, happier and more productive? And what is it about the 21st century that has made it bigger than ever before?

From the earliest recorded times, philosophers and writers have offered living advice to their readers. Much of ancient Stoic thinking reads a lot like a modern set of rules for a better life. Even Bede's Ecclesiastical History was explicitly written to 'present examples for imitation or avoidance'.

The literary genre of 'Mirrors for Princes' grew up over the middle ages, usually written ostensibly for the benefit of young inexperienced rulers about to take office, but with obvious appeal to those of other walks of life. The most famous example of the genre is of course by Machiavelli - a renaissance self-help book purportedly responsible for the horrors of some of the worst despotism in history.

Subsequently, this mode of writing and publishing spread over into other lifestyle areas such as food and well-being, paralleled by the continued use of the classical consolatio diatribe. Thus further setting the genre into the western European consciousness, Elizabeth I personally wrote an English translation of Boethius's Consolations Of Philosophy.

Presenter/ Robin Ince, Producer/ Alex Mansfield for the BBC 

Publicity contact: BBC Radio 4 Publicity

DateTuesday, 5 August 2014
Time3:30 PM -
4:30 PM