John Y. Cole
Director, Center for the Book
in the Library of Congress
In 2012, the Library of Congress sought to stimulate interest in books that have shaped our country through an online exhibition and a display of books that provoked thought and change in American history. "Books That Shaped America," featuring books by American authors, was on display in the Library's Jefferson Building and is available on the Library's website.
Four of the volumes selected for "Books That Shaped America" dealt with aspects of the development of the work ethic in America. They were:
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard Improved (1758) (reprinted as Father Abraham's Speech and The Way to Wealth). As a writer, Franklin was best known for the wit and wisdom he shared with the readers of his popular almanac, Poor Richard, under the pseudonym "Richard Saunders." In 1758, he created a clever preface that repeated a number of his maxims, framed as an event in which Father Abraham advises that those seeking prosperity and virtue should diligently practice frugality, honesty and industry.
William Holmes McGuffey, McGuffey's Newly Revised Eclectic Primer (1836). McGuffey was hired in the 1830s by Truman and Smith, a Cincinnati publishing firm, to write schoolbooks appropriate for children in the expanding nation. Religious instruction is not included in the series, but a strong moral code is encouraged with stories in which hard work and virtue are rewarded and misdeeds and sloth are punished.
Horatio Alger Jr., Mark, the Match Boy (1869). The formulaic juvenile novels of Alger Jr. are best remembered for the rags-to-riches theme they championed. In these stories, poor city boys rose in social status by working hard and being honest.
Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936). This progenitor of all self-help books was inspired, the author acknowledged, by Franklin, who as a young man proclaimed that "God helps them that help themselves" as a way of getting ahead in life. Â
John Y. Cole is the Founding Director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, which was established in 1977 to stimulate public interest in books, reading, literacy and libraries.