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Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless Paperback – 26 Sep 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 273 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (CA); Reprint edition (26 Sept. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400054109
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400054107
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 87,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Rowan Manahan on 28 Feb. 2011
Format: Paperback
I was given Salerno's book by a friend who thought I might enjoy it. I didn't really enjoy it - it made me too uncomfortable, it made me think too much. In a nutshell, Salerno's thesis is not just that self-help is a slightly pathetic addiction; it's that it has built itself up into a global movement that is socially malign. What is more useful - sitting there, squeezing your eyes shut WISHING that things were better ("There's no place like home, there's no place like home") or getting up off your backside and DOING something about it? The SHAM movement would have us believe that if things aren't going well in our lives that just one more book, one more exercise, one more weekend seminar will change that - and if we don't do that, clearly our less-than-perfect lives are our own fault.

"Illness cannot exist in a body that has harmonious thoughts," trills Rhonda Byrne, which sounds a lot like "laughter is the best medicine" to me. Cancer then, presumably, has no sense of humour and the HIV virus doesn't take root in chucklers.

This is a very well written, very well thought-out, very IMPORTANT book. We look back and laugh ruefully at the innocence, the naivety of our ancestors. "How could they have been taken in by such obviously self-serving snake oil salesmen?" we think. What Salerno proposes is that out forebears were actually a lot more canny than we give them credit for - the snake oil salesmen of old were few and far between and they only skimmed a few cents here and there. The modern snake oilers are a multi-billion dollar industry and we invite them into our homes every day.

This is not a scholarly or academic work, nor does it pretend to be. This is a work of very clear journalism, written in a strong, simple style.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on 14 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
A long overdue review of the damage caused by the "self" help movement. Why is it called self-help when it's really just the peddling of ideas to make yet more money? This book exposes the myths behind the credibility of the gurus, and the shocking way in which these ludicrous ideas have penetrated our education and legal systems. Buy it. Make everyone you know read it!

We need a UK equivalent though - it's just as big a problem here as in the US.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ms. L. Chalkley on 3 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback
The writer, Steve Salerno, has worked a long time on SHAM. He is a good writer, and has a valid premise that he investigates. He states that in his job they were expected to write new self help books targeting people who have previously bought a self help book. The market for them became massive in America, and he thinks that the people the books have helped are people in the industry rather than those who use them. The reason I didn't give the book a higher rating - I was reading this at the same time as reading another American journalist tackling some of the same issues (Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World and for me he came off as a poorer writer. He seemed to use some of the narrative tricks that he was complaining about and there were all sorts of tiny bits and pieces, quotes from famous people that were used to prop up his arguments, and not knowing who a lot of them were I didn't feel confident that they were being used in context. He used a lot of hyperbole to make his point, which I don't think he needed to do. He couldn't really show that self help books were causing social problems directly - for instance he blamed criminality on them, whereas Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everythinghad an interesting study of the lowering of unwanted pregnancies and criminality rates that seemed more plausible. Self help books are big business and there are lots of issues, and they will feed into and reflect changes in society, but saying they are part of the cause over-egged the pudding.A solid overview of trends, let down by an overly dramatic style for me.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bob Sherunkle VINE VOICE on 5 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback
This book pillories all the types of self-help you would expect to see pilloried, plus a few surprise entries. Salerno develops three main arguments:
-most modern self-help approaches take a standpoint somewhere between victimisation (it's not my fault) and empowerment (if I approach life correctly, I can achieve whatever I want - and I'm entitled to)
-in most cases, an approach based in either of these camps is of very limited value, and sometimes does more harm than good
-surprise, surprise, the only real beneficiaries are those who write the books, run awareness seminars, etc
Salerno does not even concede the possibility of a placebo effect, which must surely apply some of the time.
With somewhat of a sledgehammer approach, he attacks the battalions of SHAM authors for claiming expertise they often palpably lack, and for continually recycling their ideas to sell new books without having to write them. (In fairness, either of these can apply to many authors writing in more prestigious fields). Some authors attract particular censure for pontificating on relationship guidance when the success of their own relationships is patchy.
I became rather punch-drunk with the number of bizarre book titles quoted, but I hadn't previously realised the scale of this industry. As Salerno himself says, his "overriding message", even if you've never read a self-help book or heard a self-help guru speak, is that "the way you live your life has been affected, if not transformed, by SHAM and its canons".
Even long-respected groups come in for their share of criticism.
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