Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

Just walk into any bookstore and you’ll see a rather sizable amount of shelf space devoted to the self-help genre. Americans have an insatiable appetite for advancing, improving, or overhauling themselves. And it’s this obsession with self-help books that drove Lamb-Shapiro to dig deeper into the source of our fixation.

Having a father who is a child psychologist and himself an author of over 40 self-help books put Lamb-Shapiro in a unique, somewhat quasi-expert position to explore the topic. Her keen irony and wit makes for an enjoyable and humorous read as she examines a few of the more popular self-help books, recounts her visits to several hype-filled self-help conferences, participates in an exercise of walking on hot coals, and attends a fear-of-flying class in hopes of alleviating her own fear. Lamb-Shapiro’s extensive investigation largely uncovers a self-help culture that has mushroomed into an ever-expanding mega-industry of programs and side products where the eagerness to make money tends to eclipse the desire to genuinely help people. However, she does concede that self-help books in individualized circumstances can provide comfort and support.

There is a slightly sadder and more troubling underlying theme woven throughout the book. Lamb-Shapiro was a very young child when her mother suddenly died. She shares a touching personal journey on the search for understanding and solace in dealing with her grief and loss.

If Promise Land is your kind of thing and you want to be totally amused and entertained, then definitely read Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone by Beth Lisick.

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