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.)
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"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."--American Journal of Sociology
"But credit for coming up with real insight into the self-help juggernaut more properly belongs to Micki McGee, a faculty fellow at New York University and the author of Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life
.... "McGee's grasp of the philosophical underpinnings... is formidable."--Salon
"Sociologist and cultural critic McGee offers a nuanced examination of the socioeconomic roots and attractions of self-help.... She argues, elegantly and persuasively, that self-help's individualistic approach and its false assumption of autonomy disregard the systemic social inequities that cause individual discontent and do not acknowledge social solutions that might actually help.... scholarly in tone but accessible to interested general readers. Recommended for public and undergraduate collections."--Library Journal
"From Cotton Mather to Stephen Covey, America has been the land of self help. But why, Micki McGee asks, do we see a two-fold increase in self-help books in the last quarter century? Partly, she argues, because women now stand beside men in the hazardous new economy, and like them need help navigating it. Such books propose that we create out of a miscellany of jobs our own career punch-lines, that we reinvent ourselves when market demand turns quixotically elsewhere. Where, she asks, is a vision of a better way to do this thing called life? Elegantly written, brilliantly argued, and very important, a must read."--Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of The Time Bind
and The Commercialization of Intimate Life
"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.... 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."--Publishers Weekly
"Wander through virtually any bookstore across the country and you will be swamped by the self-help section, edging its way closer and closer to the heart of the shop. Micki McGee helps us to track this phenomenon, from its ancestral roots in an unsure immigrant culture to its beating heart in a risky neoliberal one. Wonderfully researched, superbly written, well-organised--this is simply a stand-out of contemporary cultural studies."--Toby Miller, author of The Well-Tempered Self
"From its beginnings, the 'tale of before and after' has been a central myth of American life. For many, the opportunity of self-improvement is regarded as a national birthright. In her penetrating exploration of this enduring cultural tradition--particularly as it has unfolded in recent decades--Micki McGee has revealed the self-help industry as an obsessional treadmill far more than a path to a better life. In an innovative way, 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