A funny, poignant, and intelligent history of a uniquely American industry, Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Culture also reveals itself to be an intensely personal account of one woman’s reckoning with the great tragedy of her life—her mother’s early death and the years of complicit silence on which she and her father subsequently built their lives.
In the name of research, Lamb-Shapiro took a class on how to find a husband, walked on hot coals, ate breakfast with over a hundred grieving children, attempted to cure herself of a debilitating fear of flying, helped a friend make a vision board and attended a conference how to best write a best-selling self-help book. But the more she delved into the history and practice of self-help, the harder it became to convince herself that her work was purely academic. As she writes, “Of all those things, talking to my father about my mother was by far the hardest.”
At the end of her journey, forced to confront her grief, Lamb-Shapiro realized that sometimes we convince ourselves we know everything about a subject—only to hide the fact that we know nothing at all.