PROMISE LAND by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro


A Journey Through America's Euphoric, Soul-Sucking, Emancipating, Hornswoggling, and Irrepressible Self-Help Culture
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The author’s exploration of the world of self-help books and of her own childhood trauma.

Early on in the book, Lamb-Shapiro recounts the time she and her father—a child psychologist and the author of multiple self-help books—attended a seminar for authors of self-help books led by Mark Victor Hansen, one of the authors of the best-selling Chicken Soup for the Soul series. In one sense, this chapter represents the book in a nutshell: an exploration of the culture of self-help, what it means to readers and how (and if) it helps, sorting out the wheat from the chaff. “As Americans,” she writes, “self-help reflects our core beliefs: self-reliance, social mobility, an endless ability to overcome obstacles, a fair and equal pursuit of success, and the inimitable proposition that every single human being wants and deserves a sack of cash.” Though not necessarily jaded, the author examines her subject with at least a wearied, cautious uncertainty. Through her father’s work, she’s been on the author/writer side of the equation long enough to be comfortable with pointing her finger at the snake-oil salesmen of the industry, and she takes a look at the seemingly limitless number of products and follow-up seminars one can choose to spend money on. Similarly, Lamb-Shapiro explores the world of The Rules, the late-1990s book/system for “Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right.” She finds that, more than anything else, self-help has become an elaborate business with the aim of continuing to expand and make money from countless spinoffs and new products. The other narrative thread concerns the author’s childhood trauma: Lamb-Shapiro’s mother committed suicide when she was very young. As the author dissects these and other self-help systems, finding fault fairly, she also finds it seeping into her approach to grieving that loss and learning more about how her mother died.

A brave, personal book in which the author discovers the best of the self-help industry, despite its many flaws.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4391-0019-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2013


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