The Art of Self-Improvement
By Anna Katharina Schaffner
A brilliant distillation of the key ideas behind successful self-improvement practices throughout history, showing us how they remain relevant today
Self-help today is a multi-billion-dollar global industry, one often seen as a by-product of neoliberalism and capitalism. Far from being a recent phenomenon, however, the practice of self-improvement has a long and rich history, extending all the way back to ancient China. For millennia, philosophers, sages, and theologians have reflected on the good life and devised strategies on how to achieve it.
Focusing on ten core ideas of self-improvement that run through the world’s advice literature, Anna Katharina Schaffner reveals the ways they have evolved across cultures and historical eras, and why they continue to resonate with us today. Reminding us that there is much to learn from looking at time-honed models, Schaffner also examines the ways that self-improvement practices provide powerful barometers of the values, anxieties, and aspirations that preoccupy us at particular moments in time and expose basic assumptions about our purpose and nature.