Book Summary: Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield

Are you looking for a book summary of Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen? You have come to the right place.

I jotted down a few key insights from Jack Canfield’s book after reading it.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book summary provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

In this Chicken Soup for the Soul book summary, I’m going to cover the following topics:

What is Chicken Soup for the Soul About?

Whether you’re discovering Chicken Soup for the Soul for the first time, or you are a long-time fan, this book will inspire you to be a better person, reach for your highest potential, overcome your challenges, and embrace the world around you. 

Once there was a man who wanted to bring saccharine homilies and a bowl of heartwarming chicken soup into the lives of millions and millions of people. He went to all the publishers and told them about his brilliant idea, but they all said, ‘No, go away and never darken our doors again.’ And, you know, that man felt pretty discouraged and sad. But did he give up? No, sirree. 

He kept on trying and trying and, in the end, it just took one publisher to say ‘Yes’ and he finally achieved his dream. And one day, many years later, he was standing outside a bookstore with tears running down his cheeks. 

Do you know why? Well, they were tears of joy, because he was looking at a whole window full of different Chicken Soup books (and because he had just sold his company for millions and millions of dollars). Isn’t that the loveliest darn thing you ever heard?

Who is The Author of Chicken Soup for the Soul?

Collins has also taught at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, BusinessWeek and Harvard Business Review. He is an author, lecturer and consultant. One of his previous books, Built to Last, was a best seller.

Chicken Soup for the Soul was inspired by an acquaintance who pointed out that his previous book examined only how great companies stay great, not how they can become great in the first place.

Chicken Soup for the Soul Book Summary

Parables and homilies have a long history in religion, where they have been used as a teaching tool by preachers and pastors going back to Jesus and to times before him as well.

When you want to get a point across to a reluctant audience, it always helps to wrap your sermon up in a heartwarming or touching story. The introduction of such stories to self-help and improving literature can be traced back to writers such as Benjamin Frankin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens and Dale Carnegie.

In the early 1990s, Jack Canfield was working as a motivational speaker when he had the idea of publishing a book of the inspirational anecdotes he used in his seminars and roped in his friend Mark Victor Hansen to help turn this idea into reality. The title apparently came about after Canfield was meditating on possible names and saw the image of the ‘hand of God’ writing the words ‘Chicken Soup’ on a blackboard. 

Initially, the two failed to find a publisher, but having collected over twenty thousand ‘promises to buy’ from attendees at their talks, they finally succeeded. The result was a huge publishing phenomenon that would spawn over two hundred sequels. It also led to the creation of a Chicken Soup for the Soul company, which has branched out into many other products (even into pet food….)

The original book is an extremely syrupy read. It compiles short stories and poems from a variety of authors, all of which aim to be uplifting or touching.

Typical tales include the teacher who was so inspiring that every single one of her pupils went on to great success and wealth, the father who, having been given a special ribbon, went home to tell his son he loved him (to which the son replied he had been about to kill himself because he felt unwanted) and a struggling businessman who learned to love his wife and got a great promotion as a result.

As even the above brief recap suggests, a lot of the stories focus on a very narrow demographic: people in affluent, comfortable situations in middle America. 

This flaw is remedied to some degree in later titles in the series, which become increasingly specifically targeted – try Chicken Soup for the African American Woman’s Soul, Chicken Soup for the Christian Teenage Soul and even Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrates Cats and the People Who Love Them. 

At the time of writing, they haven’t quite got around to publishing Chicken Soup for the Borderline Psychotic Beekeeper Soul or Chicken Soup for the Regretful Donald Trump Voter Soul, but one can always hope they will get there in time.

The compilers of the series rely on an army of amateur contributors, which guarantees a wide variety of writing styles and subjects (as well as ensuring that the heartwarming tone remains authentically hokey). 

If you approach any of these books with cynical intent then it is incredibly easy to find fault – many of the stories are barely credible and there is a strong tendency for good behaviour to result in either great riches or turning points in the lives of passing strangers.

However, be warned: even the most sceptical reader runs the risk of finding the occasional story that brings a sudden knot to the throat or a tear to the eye. It may be the cancer survivor who makes up a list of things they want to achieve or the random act of kindness that turns around the life of a homeless guy. 

And it might be something that echoes with your own life or that simply manages to tug at the heartstrings – even though it’s very obvious that this is precisely the effect the author is striving for.

These books can’t be dismissed too churlishly or easily. Millions of readers have enjoyed them and found solace (at the same time as millions of others have thrown them away in rage and exasperation). Each title ‘does what it says on the tin’ and if comforting, warming, chicken soup for the soul is what you truly need, then they will probably deliver.

If you do want to wallow in cynicism in spite of everything, Oran Canfield, son of Jack, has written in his memoir Freefall about his own struggle with drugs and how his father’s public persona clashed with a private life in which he abandoned his wife and child to run off with a masseuse. I’m not sure that particular romantic anecdote ever made it into any of the titles in the series.

Further Reading

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