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Promise Land: A Journey Through America's Euphoric, Soul-Sucking, Emancipating, Hornswoggling, and Irrepressible Self-Help Culture

3.5  ·  Rating Details ·  431 Ratings  ·  112 Reviews
In writing this book I walked on hot coals, met a man making a weight-loss robot, joined a Healing Circle, and faced my debilitating fear of flying. Of all of these things, talking to my father about my mother's death was by far the hardest.

The daughter of a widowed child psychologist and parenting author, Jessica Lamb-Shapiro grew up immersed in the culture of self-help,
ebook, 256 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Simon & Schuster
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Aug 15, 2013 Ami rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is more of a 3.5 star book, really. I loved spending time with the author--she has a great sense of humor and approaches self-help in a way that is similar to how I think of it: not expecting too much, but hey, it can't hurt.

My favorite parts of the book have the author interacting with self-help gurus and the people who follow them. The chapter in which she attends a class taught by the author of The Rules is deeply deeply hilarious, and then deeply deeply depressing (exactly as you'd exp
Rebecca Foster
(The subtitle on my Edelweiss e-galley was a bit more evaluative – if also a bit sillier: A Journey through America’s Euphoric, Soul-Sucking, Emancipating, Hornswoggling, and Irrepressible Self-Help Culture. [Hornswoggling! What an incredible word! Apparently it means cheating or swindling.])

Like Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-sided, this is a cynical journalist’s take with some personal commentary. Lamb-Shapiro has more of a personal stake in things because her father (the kind of man who would pi
Chad Post
Aug 12, 2013 Chad Post rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a really spectacular book. Not only is it a mini-history of the notions of self-help--a history that is both respectful and appropriately witty and skeptical--but it's the story of a daughter coming to terms with her mother's death in a way that's uniquely moving. I know Jessica, so I'm 100% biased when it comes to this book, but shit, it's incredibly readable and endlessly interesting. Her writing voice is so sharp and wonderful (especially in all the asides and footnotes!) that it seem ...more
I wrote this for my work blog, Read @ MPL. Eventually. Additionally, this review/rating is based on an ARC I got from netgalley.

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro is well-versed in the language of self-help. Her father (Lawrence E. Shapiro) is a psychologist, parenting expert, and self-help author. In Promise Land She explores the culture of American self-help, trying to find why self-help has such a strong appeal and how the self-help industry became so huge. She goes to conferences, walks on hot coals, make
Jul 27, 2015 Ainsley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ainsley by: Eric Wallace
Shelves: read-in-2015
First off: this book is funny. Jessica Lamb-Shapiro's writing is smart, self-aware, wry, and slightly aloof, and full of understated personality and subtle snark. It's also incredibly tight--a reflection of the decade she spent writing this unusual memoir.

Promise Land isn't a complete survey of our wacky self-help culture; it truly is the author's own journey. But along the way she showcases nuggets that are historically and culturally fascinating, and tasty footnotes that allude to the questio
Rod Barnes
Interesting book. The author is the daughter of someone who was involved in that culture. I've read a lot of those books over the last 40 yrs. or so. Some were helpful, some seemed like a good idea at the time and later, well...some were pure bullshit. As I've come to feel about religious dogma as well: If it works use it. Take what you need and leave the rest.
Biblio Files
Sep 25, 2013 Biblio Files rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whatever you're expecting from this book, it probably won't be the unusual combination of genres that make up Promise Land. I thought it might be like the very entertaining Helping Me Help Myself by Beth Lisick, an account of her year getting help from celebrity experts in their fields: Richard Simmons, Suze Orman, Julie Morgenstern, and more. Although Helping Me Help Myself is a personal account, you do get to learn a lot about the expensive seminars and personal consultations.

In Promise Land,
Meredith Watts
May 25, 2014 Meredith Watts rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a delightful book. It is by turns an affecting memoir, a historical review of self-help trends over time, and a wry, even-handed, and insightful review of the self-help genre. In discussing "The Secret," and the so-called "law of attraction" she dryly remarks: "In the world of psychology, believing that your mind can control reality is called 'magical thinking.'"

And yet: "We are pattern-seeking creatures, and we want the world to make sense. We readily accept mistruths so that the stori
Jul 30, 2013 Toni rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: self-help, sociology, 2013
I used to be an aficionado of self-help books. Working in a bookstore put all of them at my fingertips and I looked to them to make my life better. Needless to say, they didn't change my life completely, but I have picked up wisdom along the way that I find useful.

Lamb-Shapiro takes on America's "pull yourself up by your bootstrap" culture by exploring some of the most popular books and seminars out there. Having grown up with a child psychologist father meant that she was already well-versed on
Jan 22, 2014 Jafar rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author starts the book by asking us to forget what we think of the self-help genre and be open to the possibility of it being a means for self-betterment and enlightenment, and also be open to the possibility of it being a deceitful enterprise made up by cranks. It's hard not to agree with the second hypothesis when you read her accounts of "The Secret" and "The Rules" and the "Positive Thinking" crowds; the sad and misguided souls who think that the universe owes them everything that they w ...more
Jan 02, 2014 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, 2014
I was excited to win a free copy of this book from the Goodreads giveaway and started it as soon as it arrived. Even though it was listed as a memoir, I thought it was going to be a history and summary of the self-help movement in America. That was a lot of the book and the author does this with humor, but not a mean, sarcastic take on it, but more of a self-deprecating humor. But this is, actually, more of a memoir. It does discuss a few self-help movements and the history, but it's really abou ...more
Dec 30, 2016 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! The author is so genuine I mark this a my new favorite. A passage that I highlighted " no fact in human nature is more characteristic than its willingness to lead be on a chance." And this one reminds me of our current political state however this book was written before the campaign it was written in 2014. "Americans who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, ...more
Feb 15, 2014 Colleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’d give this 3.5 stars really, but it’s probably worth rounding up rather than down. Although the author faces a death in her own family at a couple of points in the book, this was mostly a light and sometimes humorous read. The self-help industry provides a lot of opportunities for smirking, but she actually keeps a balanced tone and approaches the topic with a pretty open mind while still noting where things get ridiculous.
Michael Kitchen
Feb 07, 2014 Michael Kitchen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book doesn't just go on my book shelf, but rather goes on my desk next to Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America" (Metropolitan Books, 2009) and Oliver Burkeman's "The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking" (Faber & Faber, 2013). Thank you for sharing your story and insights Ms. Lamb-Shaprio.
May 22, 2017 Jewel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
mostly entertaining in a way one may find writing by Tina Fey entertaining. little subtle snaps of humor are sprinkled here and there in this book. I listened to an interview with Lamp-Shapiro on Fresh Air and thought Promise Land was going to be more of a critical examination of self culture. yet, like the cover says, this is much more of a memoir. there is some research on the history of self help but the majority of the book is the author's experience interviewing self-help enthusiasts at con ...more
What do you think when you hear the term “self-help”? Do you want it? Do you fear it? Do you look down on those who need it? “All of us would probably like to be slimmer, smarter, richer, more popular, more successful,” notes Jessica Lamb-Shapiro in her book Promise Land (p. 207), in which she examines the self-help industry. Her father, Lawrence E. Shapiro, has written self-help books and raised her in an environment of positive thinking.

While working on the book, the author attended conferenc
Sep 25, 2014 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self Help Culture by Jessica Lamb, offers the reader an honest perspective of the self-help industry, its pros and cons. A personal story is also interwoven of a family tragedy (death of mother) that both father and daughter have never really come to terms with and resolved, until now. The writing style is incredibly honest, even to the point of critiquing some of her father’s psychological techniques as he works as a mental health expert. The book is f ...more
Lamb-Shapiro grew up immersed in the self-help industry. Her father, a child psychologist, wrote self-help books as well as developed self-help toys, games, and apps. In spite of that, she also grew up with the specter of a mother who died when she was very young and was a taboo topic, at least two stepmothers, and a childhood spent moving from place to place at her parents' whim. It's not really surprising that she overcompensated for all that chaos by becoming a bit of a control freak, the kin ...more
So, I loved the first part of this book when the author, Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, recounts growing up the daughter of a self-help book author. Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much is that my own father insisted my sister and I read self-help books (such as Think and Grow Rich, The Magic of Believing, TNT: The Power Within You) that he thought would turn us into successful adults. My sister rebelled and refused to read the books. So, dad turned to bribery. The deal: If I read 10 books (and wrote ...more
Aug 04, 2014 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're not crazy about this book at first, stick with it -- as Dan Savage would say, "it gets better". In particular, there's a beautiful, poignant, heartrending, 5-star memoir of growing up without her mother, who committed suicide when the author was not quite 2. Her worries about dying at the same age as her Mom was, resentment and sadness that her Mom couldn't "hang in there" [a recurring point of reference is that ubiquitous motivational poster of a cat with that message] through her dep ...more
Jan 07, 2016 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I heard Jessica Lamb-Shapiro say she was reading a Andrew Solomon book and she wished that she could be as generous as Solomon was with his readers. I didn't find Lamb-Shapiro stingy; there is an ironic distancing that is her default mode and maybe that's what she's talking about.

I am a consumer of "wellness" books, I am a skeptic of wellness/self-help and, no surprise I was skeptical of this critique of the self-help movement. I admit that I thought, anyone writing their first book should writ
Dec 30, 2014 Daniel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am giving this book four stars, less for the work itself than the journey it began. I have always been a sucker for the hucksters, con men and self styled gurus of the self-help industry. In the last 100 years Dale Carnegie has taught us how to manipulate people, Napoleon Hill has shown us how thinking can make us rich and Norman Vincent Peal, the supreme shyster, has taught us the power of positive thinking.

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro covers the "Law of Attraction", as shown in the 2008 movie, "The
May 03, 2014 Robin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
While the author did take us on a soul searching journey through the world of self help, her cynical approach made it pretty close to impossible for her to benefit from any of her experiences. There is something to be said for drinking the koolaid and finding a way to live a happy life. While there is much commercialism in the self help world, there are good points, too- If taken with a big grain of salt you can certainly improve the quality of your life and those around you. The author certainl ...more
Staci Miller
This book was sent to me for review via the GoodReads First Reads program.

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro is the daughter of a psychiatrist father who focuses on self-help and a mother who committed suicide due to problems with depression. She, understandably, has some isssues. Unfortunately, while billed as a memoir, Promise Land does not delve into any of Jessica's issues. Instead what we get is what reads mostly as a lengthy scholarly essay about the past, present, and future of self-help books written
Received from NetGalley in exchange for a review.

As the daughter of a psychologist, Jessica Lamb-Shapiro knows a thing or two about all the weirdos you meet being in the field (both patients and providers). She, like me, is dubious about the self-help industry and all the books that are out there. After all, as she points out, the person who wrote Grief for Dummies also wrote Middle Earth for Dummies. So Jessica takes a look at the history of self-help books and through personal anecdotes and re
Ryan Mishap
Jan 08, 2014 Ryan Mishap rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having grown up with a psychologist father who published many self-help books,
Shapiro didn't give much thought to them until she started wondering why they were so popular and what people got out of them. Her decade long research not only illuminated the history of the genre in the United States but brought her back to her mother's death when Shapiro was only two and her subsequent relationship with her father.

An enjoyable mix of personal history and anxious, wry personality; of reporting, empa
Dec 06, 2013 Jes rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, 2014
***received this free copy via a Goodreads giveaway.
I found this both a fun and depressing book. My expectations for this book was more that the author would go and explore/try out various self help methods a-la AJ Jacobs. While she does some of that, it really is more the author dealing with her own childhood trauma, her father and his own forays into the the self-help business, and some of her exploring and explaining methods of self-help and the history behind them. This was an engaging read,
Rowan Smith
Nov 27, 2013 Rowan Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was lucky enough to score an advanced reader's copy of this from work. Usually, the free books end up collecting dust but this one I ended up opening on the bus and it pulled me in instantly.

One part memoir, one part journalistic report, one part academic literature review, Jessica Lamb-Shapiro has written an easily readable, entertaining and informative volume. Not only did I literally laugh out loud often while reading it, I found myself moved by many of the sections that focused on her rela
Amy Gonzalez
Jan 19, 2014 Amy Gonzalez rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I suspect that Jessica Lamb-Shapiro really wanted to explore the self-help genre to help delve into her feelings surrounding her mother's death and her relationship with her father. Even though she had to endure and participate in her father's self-help studies, she maintained a cynical distance to it all. She used this cynical voice to make sure readers understand that she never meant to take her journey into "self-help culture" too seriously. However, as other Goodreads reviewers have already ...more
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