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The father of self-help

He threw off his provincial upbringing to study acting in New York City, and went on the road with a professional touring company. In the years after World War I, he married a divorced "countess" and bummed around Europe, running a traveling exhibition about Lawrence of Arabia, living on an island in Budapest and doing that classic Lost Generation thing: writing a novel about how stultifying things were back home. When that marriage broke up, he returned to the States where, in time, he entered into an affair with a brilliant Jewish woman -- married, but with a husband willing to look the other way, a man he eventually befriended. He always believed he had fathered her daughter.

This bohemian-sounding résumé belongs to a man who, in many eyes, personifies the blandest, most anodyne face of American culture: Dale Carnegie, author of "How to Win Friends and Influence People," one of the best-selling and most influential books of the 20th century, and the father of the modern self-help movement. Born into a struggling Missouri farm family, Carnegie became the head of a thriving company that mounted courses in public speaking across the nation. Contemporary figures as diverse as Lyndon B. Johnson and Jerry Rubin, the founder of the Yippies, as well as such business-world icons as Warren Buffett and Lee Iacocca, credited Dale Carnegie Training courses with launching their careers.

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