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Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture
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Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  471 ratings  ·  121 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,
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Simon Schuster
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Aug 15, 2013 rated it liked it
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
(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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 09, 2014 rated it liked it
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 (takingadayoff)
Sep 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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,
Jul 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, self-help, sociology
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
Meredith Watts
May 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 22, 2014 rated it liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Thomas DeLair
It was funny, the writing was punchy and there were lots of historical facts to help give a broader context of self-help. As someone who is a bit cynical about self help, as it has always seemed a bit narcissistic to me, or at least the people around me that quote and promote SELF-help and SELF-care, are the most self absorbed. The book covers many of the behind-the-scenes aspects of self-help and the emotional levers that marketers use in that industry to turn a profit. "Anyone can write a book ...more
May 22, 2017 rated it liked it
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
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book wasn't even close to what I was expecting: A dissective, distant psychological-analysis of different forms of self-help seeking and where and when it worked and for what social need it did so. What it was was a little weird romp through the author's journey into dipping her toes into a few different groups, books and sessions of self-help in order to make humorous observations and occasionally stark small revelations about her own past.

The author is funny - like socially awkward, happ
Jun 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Slight but funny and informative memoir about the origins of the self help movement and the author's acquaintance with it. Her father is a child psychologist and author of many self help books, none of which made bank. So, he desperately looks for ways to up his game and takes his only daughter, the author, along. The author, whose mother committed suicide before the author was two is on her own search for meaning. Her dad never allowed himself or her to process their grief, instead exhibiting a ...more
Allys Dierker
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this. Lamb-Shapiro’s romp through self-help land is appropriately insightful for a non-academic exploration and is often quite funny. The segments of memoir interspersed with the self-help reveal ambivalence that attends an adulthood marked by difficulty and early tragedy. Her analysis of how self-help fits within but also fails an American sense of control and independence reveals that there’s no easy fix, and promises of such are deeply unsatisfying.
I really liked this book. I think the synopsis that Goodreads has is more sufficient and thorough than any review I could type up. I am giving the book for four stars because I found it interesting and realistic. I liked the author's writing style.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: advice, funny, dnf, giveaway
Meh. Was sent this via a Giveaway, but really couldn't get into it.
Karen Strother
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A joy to read - emotional and funny and heart-wrenching.
Kay Marie
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really loved the authors sense of humour when jumping in head first to all these self help genres. I learned so much! The end of the book got more serious. If I ever met her I would give her a hug!
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very insightful. I loved how Jessica came to terms with her mother's passing while diving into the complex nature of the self help industry.
Esther Dushinsky
Mar 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Quite long winded and a bit repetitive. Not exactly sure what the point is.
Caroline Lee
Nov 18, 2020 rated it liked it
It was alright. Learned some history, but the writing style was stiff. Short read too.
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 18, 2015 rated it liked it
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
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