Author and reformer. Born in Haddington, the eldest of eleven children, Smiles took his medical degree at the University of Edinburgh. He practised in Haddington, but later moved to Leeds (England) to become an administrator for the expanding railway network.
He is best known for his book Self Help (1859), the essential school prize of Victorian times, which enthused the populous with quotations such as "Heaven helps those who help themselves." He followed this success by Character (1871), Thrift (1875) and Duty (1880). He also wrote several biographies, including the engineers Thomas Telford (1757 - 1834), John Smeaton (1724-92), John Rennie (1761 - 1821) and James Nasmyth (1808-90), together with English railway pioneer George Stephenson (1781 - 1848) and pottery manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) .
He died in London, where he lies buried in the Brompton Cemetery.