There have always been how-to and inspirational guides, but it wasn't until about 100 years ago that they began to use the "you can do it" trope right in their titles. The first one I could find, from 1913, was titled simply, You Can (subtitle: "A collection of brief talks on the most important topic in the world — your success"). Since then, more and more books every year have told us what we "can" do. Most of the claims are reasonable, even if they do make it all seem a bit too easy. But these particular titles badly overestimate our abilities.
1. YOU CAN MAKE A STRADIVARIUS VIOLIN. JOSEPH V. REID, 1967.
Well, get to it then. This will save you a lot of money!
2. YOU CAN MASTER LIFE. JAMES GORDON GILKEY, 1938.
Honestly, some people don't know how to show their life who's boss.
3. YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD!: THE CHRISTOPHER APPROACH. JAMES KELLER, 1948.
I guess this didn't work the last time I tried it because I was using the Robert approach.
4. YOU CAN BE HAPPY WITH DENTAL PLATES. MAX M. SCHWARTZ, 1945.
Nope. I don't believe this for a second.
5. YOU CAN TRAIN YOUR CAT. JO AND PAUL LOEB, 1977.
Don't believe this one either. Just look how that cat is staring you down.
6. YOU CAN FIND URANIUM. JOSEPH WEISS, 1948.
And you'd better do it before the other guy finds it first.
7. YOU CAN STOP WORRYING. SAMUEL W. GUTWIRTH, 1957.
Yeah, right. Not with all those idiots out there hunting uranium I can't.
8. YOU CAN SURVIVE THE BOMB. COL. MEL MAWRENCE, 1961.
Oh, then I guess I won't worry after all.
9. YOU CAN BE PHYSICALLY PERFECT, POWERFULLY STRONG. VIC BOFF, 1975.
I will throw that bomb right back in their faces.
10. YOU CAN SPEAK FOR GOD. GEORGE W. SCHROEDER, 1958.
It's about time someone started doing this! Our problems are solved.
11. YOU CAN FIND A FORTUNE. JEANNE HORN, 1966.
Great. I was getting tired of trying to make one myself.
12. YOU CAN TEACH YOUR DOG TO ELIMINATE ON COMMAND. M.L. SMITH, 1985.
This makes for an awesome party trick.
13. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING WITH CREPES. VIRGINIA PASLEY AND JANE GREEN, 1970.
It's true. I used crepes to teach my dog to eliminate on command.
14. YOU CAN KNOW THE FUTURE. WILBUR MOOREHEAD SMITH, 1971.
But that doesn't mean you should. Oh… nothing. Never mind.
15. YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL. ARNOLD M. PATENT, 1991.
But you'll have to give it back when the 90s are over. I know. I've seen the future.
16. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING! JAMES MANGAN, 1934.
Eh, all I really want to do is play golf.
17. YOU CAN PLAY GOLF FOREVER. LOUIS HEXTER, 1979.
More from Mental Floss...
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- A brief history of the Christmas present
- Pope Francis' American problem
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 10 things you need to know today: December 20, 2014
- Vox, derp, and the intellectual stagnation of the left
Subscribe to the Week