"An Iron Will" by Orison Swett Marden

Review by Borodutch

Oh, sweet, sweet self-help books that are over 100 years old. So many things are different, yet so many are akin to today's time. Every time I read something this old, I remember Nietzsche's lengthy graphomania trying to express the most straightforward ideas in the most complicated ways. This book isn't like that — even though some advice did not age well.

The author does not waste any time. "An Iron Will" is 40 pages short and is packed with historical anecdotes and simplistic advice. Here's what the book tries to teach us:

  • Will is crucial to succeeding in life
  • We need to constantly train will (it didn't age well with the willpower research)
  • Always be up to the most challenging task, and don't give up (in reality, you must give up and prioritize)
  • Inaction is worse than rash action (in fact, temporary inaction sometimes is best due to how our brain works)
  • Persistence is vital; keep digging until you get to the gold
  • Luck comes to everyone, be prepared to cease it (in fact, meritocracy is not real in most human institutions)
  • People shouldn't give in to disease; instead, they should will through it (wrong on so many levels, the disease is a disease, and you cannot will yourself around it)
  • If one must go through suffering, then one should do this (in fact, it is always better to avoid suffering, suffering does not make one stronger)
  • If you aren't successful, it's your fault that you don't work 16 hours daily (what?)
  • If you work 50% more efficiently, your bosses will notice it and give you more opportunities (no, they won't)

Overall, for 1901 this book seems about right — no respect for personal boundaries, blaming poor conditions of the less fortunate ones on them, and no work ethics whatsoever.

I'm not sure why I read it. I don't think you should either.