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Self Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life 1st Edition

13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195337266
ISBN-10: 0195337263
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The huge success of self-help, according to McGee, rests on the fact that its practitioners seamlessly combine two conflicting goals, financial or outward success and religious or inner transcendence, claiming that you can eat your cake and have it, too. In a tone less caustic and more sociological than Steve Salerno's in SHAM (Reviews, May 30), McGee, a sociologist and cultural critic at NYU, carefully demonstrates the fallacious underpinnings of this mindset, drawing from a deep well of quintessentially American resources ranging from Cotton Mather to Emerson and Max Weber. Self-help overemphasizes the individual's agency at the expense of the necessary reliance on or assistance of a network of others, and it can be sexist, too, says McGee. Women's rise in the workplace has revealed the "fault lines" in the image of the self-made man, who really depends on a wife to sustain his efforts. To McGee, it's such mendacity that lies at the core of the self-help project, for we cannot make ourselves. Fortunately, her gracefully written account is tinged with sympathy for the harried souls for whom "self-improvement is suggested as the only reliable insurance against economic insecurity" at a time when companies do not properly look after their workers. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Can reading Self-Help, Inc. make you rich, successful and perpetually happy? No, but it'll entertain you and make you a whole lot smarter about American popular culture and the economic forces that shape it."--Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bait and Switch and Nickel and Dimed

"Elegantly written, brilliantly argued, and very important--a must read."--Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of The Time Bind and The Commercialization of Intimate Life

"McGee writes clearly and thoughtfully.... She moves seamlessly from high theory to pop psychobabble, using the former to illustrate the powers of the latter. Overall, she offers a compelling argument for resisting the self-improvement genre's worldview. what comes through most clearly to me is a Marxist critique of consumer capitalism--like Raymond Williams for the 21st century."--Wendy Simonds, American Journal of Sociology

"McGee has revealed the self-help industry as an obsessional treadmill far more than a path to a better life....Self-Help, Inc. offers a revealing look at the profound dissatisfactions that loiter beneath the topography of our consumer culture."--Stuart Ewen, author of PR!: A Social History of Spin


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195337263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195337266
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.7 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #767,489 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The best part of the book comes at the very beginning, when author McGee takes us through a history of self-help. Coaches and gurus often associate "spirituality" with "prosperity." I must admit I've wondered myself about parallels with early Calvinism and I was intriguted by McGee's thorough review.

I also like the premise of the book. Why has self-help become so popular -- not just in the US, but world-wide? But I had some concerns about the way the question was answered.

First, self-help is a very broad genre. If you think about it, any how-to book can be considered self-help, even "how to plant a greener lawn" or "how to de-clutter your home." So why not have books like "How to cope with difficult people" or "How to find a job you want.

Second, McGee chose an archeological method to evaluate self-help. She chose a collection of texts and analyzed the contents. This method makes sense if say, you turn up a collection of documents on a dig. It's the way many scholars evaluate documents associated with the founding of world religions.

But, as religious scholarship demonstrates, these methods can lead to distorted interpretations. Many scholars emphasize that contemporary readers of the current Bible would have recognized stories as myths and legends, not as absolute truth. \

Since many readers of self-help are alive and accessible, why not ask them how they read and apply self-help to their lives? I believe many readers of self-help read selectively and skeptically. I think readers embark on affirmations and create treasure maps in a playful sense of fun. I don't think most readers study these books with the author's intensity.

And I think most readers (and certainly publishers) recognize the importance of packaging.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Gabrielle Lichterman on October 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book isn't the one you turn to when you want an extreme makeover. It's the book you turn to when you want to figure out why you want an extreme makeover to begin with.

Self-Help, Inc. sets out to examine how and why the current self-help culture was created and what its impact is on individuals and society -- and it boldly hits its target dead center.

Dense with facts, history and insight, Self-Help, Inc. examines the movement of self improvement. How did the idea of making oneself better not only start, but become en vogue? What is its impact on the individual, society and the workplace? How does the idea and history of self-improvement differ between men and women (which, as a woman, I found incredibly fascinating)? Where has self-help culture come and where is it going? And what is the long-term advantages and disadvantages of living in a society that puts such a high value on a nearly impossible to achieve "extreme makeover"? Micki McGee, Ph.D., uses her sociology expertise and many years as an NYU professor to answer these questions and more. And she does so with eloquence and intelligence, making this a truly fascinating and illuminating read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Martha J. Williams on July 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Wow, this book rocked my world and greatly inflenced my own work as an dance/theater/art maker. McGee wizely points to the underlying currents of personal darkness that result not from our relationships, our schools, our government, but rather from our hyper-competitive economy. This book made me question the fundamental paradigm that runs my own life/how I cope with life and left me in a challenged yet honest and hopeful place.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Elliott Ingersoll on February 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Love this book! It addresses the mysterious question of who does all the grunt work in the lives of so-called "self-made men (people)?" McGee says it is the "belabored self" who is busy raising kids, doing laundry, and cleaning bathrooms. With a sociologist's eye for larger social dynamics, McGee deconstructs the self-help industry as a tool of oppression to maintain the status quo (and does this well).

Lose your job? Don't complain or be a "victim" but "buck-up" and talk nonsense about how it is the greatest thing that ever happened to you! Lose your marriage? Don't wallow in self-pity but think positive! Feel hopeless? Don't worry the "universe" has a plan for you if you can just focus on abundance. This is a splendid critique of one of the most vapid American phenomena- the idea that you "invent" yourself. People like Tom Peters should be clubbed unconscious with this book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Eva Sophia on August 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A warning to those who are at risk of losing themselves in self-help.... which in balance is a complement to living well ... but in excess is just as bad as any other addiction. Self-help is a form of refuge for those who are seeking family, have an orphan complex, or who don't know the difference between living and escapism in psuedo-life. There are moments when one needs to be intensive in their healing but eventually one must come back to the world and be in life. It is no different than people who escape by hobbies, religion, work, etc. Help yourself with a dose of self-help but don't binge on it either. A very telling account of the state of affairs in human culture - the therapist replaces the priest and self-help movements take over the church. Lost souls still congregate.

Self-help also has its dark side: a culture of balme, unlimited thinking promoted to embark in action without concern for the consequence on others, a magical thinking that allows one to coast, and of course ... the relentless use of double speak in self-help circles. Many self-help circles cross the line whereby they give permission to go after what one desires even if it may mean some unhappy consequences for innocent people. Do not throw out your sense of common sense - ever! And these self-help mastros are very convincing. A piece of advice: follow the money... that's the guidance that help break the scandal of Watergate. FOLLOW THE MONEY.... and choose a self-help course because you really want to do it and it is an adjunct to your life, not a replacement. See lesson from the est movement ... and never allow your own independant thoughts to be replaced by another with an agenda, often monetary.
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