Promise Land by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro

promiselandI picked up Promise Land by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro because I wanted to find out what makes the Self-Help industry tick. Before working at a book store, I had no idea how many people bought Self-Help books. It was our biggest selling category. I had always just assumed people were like me and wanted the latest fiction hits. Boy was I wrong.

Lamb-Shapiro takes the reader on a tour of the Self-Help industry. She comes from a unique perspective as her father writes and sells Self-Help books, and yet she is somewhat skeptical of the industry as a whole. In the course of the book she goes to a conference for Self-Help writers put on by one of the founders of the Chicken Soup franchise, a grief camp for kids who have lost a loved one and a course to overcome her fear of flying. Using these and other examples she delves into the basics and history of the Self-Help industry.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about Promise Land is the humor Lamb-Shapiro brings to the topic. She is able to laugh at herself and the industry in equal proportion. She goes into her journey a skeptic and by the end, though she is still skeptical, she does find value in all the hocus-pocus. More importantly, she convinced me of the value. Whether you are into angels as guiding sources or have a desire to quit smoking, there is probably a Self-Help book out there for you. And on reflection I realized that I too have read (and enjoyed!) some books from this category, namely Gretchen Rubin‘s The Happiness Project and Happier At Home.

Who would like this book? This book is great for a laugh, but also gives insight into an industry I knew little about. Lamb-Shapiro’s look into the history of the Self-Help movement made me realize that many works we now consider to be philosophical classics by the likes of Ralph Waldo Emmerson, were in fact the Self-Help books of their day. It is part memoir, part personal journey, part critical evaluation.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.


  1. How interesting! I like to read the occasional self-help book and have actually developed my own personal criteria for what makes a good book in that genre (relatable anecdotes + actionable, research-supported advice). I’d definitely be interesting in learning more about the publishing of these books work 🙂

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