Hugh Hefner


“If Hugh Hefner hadn’t existed, the 20th century would have had to create him . . . . In Steven Watts’ exhaustive, illuminating biography Mr. Playboy, Hefner’s ideal for living—marked by his allegiances to Tarzan, Freud, Pepsi-Cola, and jazz—proves to be a kind of gloss on the Protestant Ethic. And yet Mr. Playboy reveals that Hefner essentially inverted that ideal by creating his own ethos, in which hard work also happens in the mind, and its rewards spring from the pursuit of pleasure, not of virtue.” Los Angeles Times

“The book dissects Hefner’s life as an American firebrand who shook up sexual mores after World War II.” USA Today

“Watts presents Hefner’s life as a sort of X-rated Horatio Alger story . . . . This is a fun book. How could it not be?” Associated Press

“Watts carefully details the life of Hugh Hefner and the influence his Playboy magazine has had on American culture. Using unrestricted access to the magazine’s archives, Watts skillfully charts the intersection of Hefner’s professional and personal history.” Publishers Weekly

“A nuanced portrait of Hefner’s life that also serves as a panorama of hip culture from the 1950s onward . . . . Probably the last word on the man behind a million adolescent fantasies.” Kirkus Reviews

“This is a great biography of one of the most important pop-culture figures of the 20th century. It is greatly enriched by access to Hefner and his archives . . . . Forget the nudes and the ‘serious’ articles, this is a beautifully written account of a fascinating entrepreneur.” Sydney Morning Herald

“Watts, a historian prone to interpreting American Dreamers (he has written stellar works on Henry Ford and Walt Disney) is wise to draw a narrow bead on Hef qua Hef, dividing his life into tidy quadrants of postwar influence and iconography: as sexual liberator, avatar of consumerism, pop-culture purveyor, lighting rod for feminist ire. He also succeeds in identifying and exploring raging personal paradoxes—hedonist and workaholic, libertine and romantic, provocateur and traditionalist . . . . There’s plenty to enjoy here, from the factual wealth . . . to the photographs aplenty . . . to the fundamental pleasures of watching a larger-than- life figure scuttle social norms and satisfy his own lavish urges.” The Atlantic

Public lecture on Mr. Playboy

Dale Carnegie


“Watts situates Carnegie’s story in a rich account of the dawning age of consumerism, mass entertainment, and a new business culture centered on salesmanship and smoothly meshing corporate bureaucracy, rather than rugged individualism. Watts’s lucid prose and shrewd analysis gives us an absorbing portrait of Carnegie and the America he both reflected and shaped.” Publisher’s Weekly

“By embedding Carnegie into such broad historical shifts, Mr. Watts tells a story as jaunty as his protagonist.” Wall Street Journal

“As Watts suggests in his new biography, the conventional-wisdom business guru presaged many of the bedrock concepts of the information economy.” Bookforum

“Gives a strong sense of the life’s momentum that propelled How to Win Friends and Influence People so far . . . . The central thesis of Watts’s biography is that How to Win Friends signified a huge change in American life . . . . [as] character gave way to personality, self-control to self-fulfillment, industry and thrift to skill at handling people.” New York Review of Books

“An insightful and comprehensive new biography.” The Economist

“Watts . . . paints a fascinating picture of a man who ‘struggled to accommodate his yearning for affluence with a genuine respect for moral virtues” and whose story is, in essence, ‘the story of America itself in a dynamic era of change.’” The City Journal

“He does a masterful job of weaving in Carnegie’s impact on the lives of individuals being tossed by the waves of industrialization, urbanization, and mass media that dominated the last century and this.” Washington Times

“The Dale Carnegie who emerges from Self-Help Messiah, Steven Watts’s fine new biography, is . . . an apostle of the new gospel . . . . [wherein] the struggle to refine character out of the raw ore of humanity was giving way to the struggle to develop what psychologists were just beginning to call ‘personality.’” Harper’s

“According to Watts, How to Win Friends and Influence People . . . launched a therapeutic industry that leads directly from Carnegie to Oprah, Dr. Phil, and conference hall roomfuls of unhappy people standing on chairs and hollering about their neglectful parents.” Toronto Globe and Mail

“In his engaging and well-researched biography of Dale Carnegie, Steven Watts tells the story of the self-help guru’s roundabout path to becoming one of the most influential voices of the twentieth century.” Chronicle of Higher Education Review

“A fascinating portrait of the father of self-help and an incisive analysis of the mercurial era that produced him.” Kirkus Reviews

For a C-Span interview with Watts on Self-Help Messiah, click on this link:

Public lecture on Self-Help Messiah on C-Span: