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Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  302 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
Self-help: To millions of Americans it seems like a godsend. To many others it seems like a joke. But as investigative reporter Steve Salerno reveals in this groundbreaking book, it’s neither—in fact it’s much worse than a joke. Going deep inside the Self-Help and Actualization Movement (fittingly, the words form the acronym SHAM), Salerno offers the first serious exposé o ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published September 26th 2006 by Crown Forum (first published January 1st 2005)
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Nov 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to K by: Yitzchak
“To be honest…I don’t think there’s been any profession that has wreaked more damage on the culture than psychology.” (John Rosemond, quoted in “SHAM”) Ouch.

In this book, Steve Salerno takes on what he calls SHAM – the Self-Help and Actualization Movement. As you can see from his chosen acronym, he’s not a fan. In fact, parts of the book read like an angry diatribe with ad hominem attacks. “Her doctoral dissertation was titled ‘Effects of Insulin on 3-0 Methylglucose Transport in Isolated Rat A
Jun 27, 2014 rated it did not like it
I seldom write reviews, but this book was so disappointing and irritating that it inspired me to draft a review. 'Sham' is a bizarre jumble of legitimate inquiry and feckless fear-mongering. The book explores several legitimate problems with the self-help movement in America. Salerno points out that the techniques offered in the genre literature frequently are unproven, at best, meaning that consumers are paying for a product whose efficacy is dubious. In addition, the author points out the ques ...more
Redshirt Knitting
Feb 04, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
The premise is interesting, and he takes it in some intriguing directions. But his research and level of discussion is every bit as bad as those he purports to be exposing. Conflates correlation with causation on a regular basis, makes sweeping generalizations based on little to no evidence, etc.

Also surprisingly axe-grind-y about feminism, for a book that is not about feminism. Feminism shows up 8 times in the book, and always as the bad guy.

I'm sure Salerno doesn't actually hate women and the
Gisela Hausmann
Aug 23, 2015 rated it liked it
Steve Salerno needs to be commended for gathering such a vast amount of material for this book.

The part I personally like the most was the one about the self-esteem movement in America's schools. As someone, who attended Austria's (discriminating) tier school system at a time when it was considered to be the 8th best school system in the world, and also the mother of two American children, who attended American schools, I have thrown quite a few temper tantrum about the American school system. W
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Rarely does a book get me so worked up I get out of bed and turn my computer on just to get my thoughts out.

Let's start with the star review. I gave it two, although I feel it was much more deserving of one, I added it at the end of the day because he still might of successfully pulled me away from Self-Help books and gurus. It seems only fair.

Salerno in the course of this book jumps from providing evidence to back up his points, to wildly going off on school reform, the breakdown of the nuclear
Jun 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Salerno makes a good argument against almost all of the "self help" movements and especially those who make themselves millionaires promoting nonsense. A lot were obvious, easy targets, but there were a lot of surprises, too. Who would have guessed AA's published numbers could be interpreted as meaning you're better off quitting on your own than joining AA? He also gets into a lot of side topics that aren't so obviously self help, such as "alternative medicine" and the "self-esteem" movement ...more
Susan Shaw
This may be unnecessarily hostile but should be essential reading for anyone who has ever read a self-help book. It's important to realize that self-help publishing is an industry with the same motives for self-perpetuation as any other industry.
Josh Hanagarne
May 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Very good points, not argued that well.
Robb Bridson
Nov 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
This is a book with a title and premise designed to bias me toward liking it. The author did sufficiently repellent enough a job as to make me overall dislike it, in spite of agreeing with a lot if it. I understand the other reviews that say the author makes good points but sucks at arguing them.

Now, a lot could be that this book is ten years old. Many things have changed. Life coaches don't seem to have expanded much. The disease theory is still strong beyond its merits in some areas, but not a
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
Steve Salerno writes a blistering accusatory book about the self-help and actualization movement (ironically nicknamed SHAM) but his arguments sometimes fall flat. I kept thinking, “Yes, but…” as I was reading through this book, and in the interest of full disclosure I am not a fan of the movement, but I have read some of Dr. Laura’s books (Ten Stupid Things…) and Suze Orman’s books as well.

Salerno does follow the money in some instances and hits pay dirt. One example is that of the Hooked on P
Jun 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Katie by: Rich Nathan
I found this book very interesting. The author devotes entire chapters to Dr. Phil and Oprah, two people that I absolutely cannot stand. He points out that many "self-help gurus" are trying to help people with the very thing that plagues them. In Dr. Phil's background, he has an ex-wife on whom he cheated. When she confronted him, he said, "Get over it", one of his famous one-liners. Dr. Laura Schlessinger's harsh stance against extra-marital sex and pornography is highlighted by her past of bre ...more
Sep 10, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: People who enjoy being an audience to someone else's relentless bitching.
Mr. Salerno would have better served his work had he taken a mor humorous tack (like Peter Washington's history of the new age movement in Madame Blavatsky's Baboon). Instead it's a bunch of bitter griping which I got thoroughly tired of 200 pages in and never finished. Having said that, there are some important and illuminating points he makes regarding the self-help movement. If you are interested about the facade and uselessness of said movement and/or would like a counter point to the vomito ...more
I thought this was an interesting book. America has become obsessed with self-help. Most of the books that are out there leave us more confused than when we started. This book gave great insight to some of the ideas that have made us dependant on false hope and false promises. There were some aspects of the book that got a little boring like the chapter on "Put me in Coach". Overall very informant and worth reading.
This was an interesting, if somewhat depressing expose about how the self-help movement has virtually crippled American society. Some of it I completely agreed with, other parts I wasn't sure I did. But it was well researched although perhaps not as impartial as it could be and gave plenty of food for thought
Mar 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A. Maz. Ing. This is the kind of book that confirms everything I've always suspected, and lays it out in a smart, coherent way that has the added effect of making me furious at the world.
Jun 04, 2010 rated it liked it
This is the same review I left on amazon.

There is a lot in this book worthy of merit. In cases where the author has cited real facts, studies and professionals in the field of psychology, he builds a compelling case that the self help movement is flawed at its core. I will admit that I am already biased against self-help and its big name proponents so I was a pretty easy sell on these things.

But where there are strong cases that the self esteem movement has been harmful to children an
Ross Armstrong
Apr 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is an expose of the self help and actualization movement, which forms the acronym SHAM. The author worked for a magazine that published their own self help titles and that the publishers knew the information did not work but the whole idea was to keep people buying. It has become known as the 18 month principle. Every 18 months put out a new self help title. There are chapters on Tony Robbins and Phil McGraw and many others showing that in most cases the so called "experts" really have litt ...more
Marc Brackett
Oct 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It's a real shame this book wasn't a best seller, but then again that would make it just another SHAM book (people reading this to cure themselves of all the SHAM books they've read over the years).

The author made a lot of very good points and provided a good look behind the curtain at the biggest names in the game. There were a few occasions where he might have went a bit far, the notion that none of these books or authors have any value is a bit extreme. A good example of that was his view to
Frederick Bingham
This is a book about the Self-Help and Actualization Movement. It describes such people as Tony Robbins, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, Suze Orman, Tommy Lasorda, John Gray ('Men are from Mars...') and Marianne Williamson. It describes how shallow their advice often is and these people often inflate their resumes. He is especially vicious in skewering Dr. Laura.The book is a little unfocused however. He tears down a number of prominent experts, but does not give us any guidance about how to tell useful fr ...more
Nov 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Steve Salerno nails exactly self-help is complete and utter bull@#$. He does it from the start, when he reports that market study shows the key demographic of self-help book buyers are--wait for it--self-help book buyers. He nails down motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and Stephen Covey. He nails down talk show hosts like Dr.'s Phil and Laura. And he is merciless, laying bare the fraud that is the Self Help and Actualization Movement.
Emmy Gregory
Apr 12, 2018 rated it did not like it
I picked this one up after James Fell (usually a pretty a marvellous chap) recommended it. I was basically on board with this book in the beginning. Yes the thriving self help industry can be a problem. Yes telling people that they can be and do anything without any real kind of plan or hard work on their part is unethical. But then... suddenly a diatribe about "PC culture". Where the hell did that come from? My heart sank. And then: oh, right. This guy is actually just a total prick. How dare f ...more
Feb 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Great look at the self-help and actualization movement (SHAM) and how it does not live up to its lofty promises. It's really interesting how the movement affected not only the people who try these programs, but how its principles negatively affect our education and justice system and ultimately our cultural values. In spite of this, even if the methods the SHAM experts espouse are bunk, I do believe that the human mind is an amazing thing and capable of doing a lot. The placebo effect - unlike s ...more
Annette Abbott
Apr 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Can I just start by saying -- yes, I've done a Tony Robbins firewalk. There. I said it. I know how this works scientifically. In fact, I knew it before I started. Still. I love Tony and his pop spin on NLP. And, well, the firewalk was pretty awesome. Did it change my life? I wouldn't quite go that far but, it's one of those bucket-list items I did and now felt I could check off and move forward.

In addition to liking Robbins, I also am ok with Carnegie. I worked as a -- hmm, what do you call it?
Feb 02, 2017 rated it liked it
I think this is an important topic. We have all these media darlings like Dr Phil, but is what they're doing helpful or harmful? I learned things I found disturbing like Tony Robbins selling diet supplements, now hawking someone else's might make some sense to me, but branding something, has me wonder what qualifies him to produce such a product? And, with Dr. Phil, his whole style is it helpful or harmful? There are lots of hints at the authors world view throughout the book. The authors seems ...more
Aug 22, 2016 rated it did not like it
Nope. Sorry. After 165 pages of yelling WHAT NO YOU ARE SO STUPID at this guy, I can't put myself though it anymore. The final straw was realizing I'd been skimming the last chapter all about the fall of the nuclear family in America, with pretty much no connection back to the thesis. Stupid tangents on "values" like this one made up maybe 30% of what I read, with the other 70 being mini-biographies on the "gurus." One chapter on many of their questionable characters would have been more than en ...more
Shea Mastison
Dec 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
I sincerely wanted to like this book; but the criticisms were surprisingly half-hearted and Salerno never really seems to fully come to grips with the fact that many of the criticisms he makes of the "self help actualization movement" (SHAM) could be applied equally to psychiatry as a whole. There's a surprising reliance upon authority that underlies this book, and it really detracts from what could have been a very powerful criticism of the SHAM culture.

Thematic problems aside, I feel like may
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
Interesting premise and a good argument against the many hacks and quacks who spout nonsense and use the self-help movement for monetary gain instead of any interest in actually helping others. However, he goes to cringe-worthy lengths to make his point while positing conclusions which have no relation to the evidence he presents.

I would have enjoyed it more if there had been a hint of humor while relating the anecdotal evidence he uses to make his point, or if he had stuck with a more unbiased
May 16, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Andy by: Skeptic's Guide to the Universe
A pretty good overview of the misleading and even dangerous implications of America's culture of self-help covering the two basic movements (victimization and empowerment). Although it is presumably difficult to cover in great detail this controversy in all its aspects, Salerno does a pretty reasonable job considering he wrote about not just one of the manifestations, but all of the important ones from Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Phil, and Tony Robbins, to Alcoholics Anonymous, the self-esteem movement i ...more
Mutassem Al Sharji
As much as I was intrigued to read the book and listen to the authors arguments, I was disappointed by the his flawed arguments. He has some good points on how the self-help industry could bring more harm than good in certain instances but again a lot of his arguments contain logical fallacies and he tries so hard to convince you with his points using impressive data and thought-provoking references but they just don't form a logical conclusion.
I wish if he had formed more solid conclusions that
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
While I don't agree with all of the author's arguments and ideas (he's wayyyyyy too anti-feminist for my liking), I have rated this book so highly because it was incredibly thought provoking and interesting. Often, as much as I'd like to, I have a hard time finishing nonfiction books, but with this one, it was not the case at all. I would look forward to my subway commute home so I could read it.
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Self-help makes you feel worse. Yes, it is supposed too. 1 1 Dec 29, 2016 01:15PM  
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“But, in fact, the self-help movement still divides, roughly, into two camps. There is Empowerment—broadly speaking, the idea that you are fully responsible for all you do, good and bad. And, in contrast, there is Victimization, which sells the idea that you are not responsible for what you do (at least not the bad things). Victimization and Empowerment represent the yin and the yang of the self-help movement.” 1 likes
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