About Self-Help, Inc.


Why don't self-help books help?

Millions of people turn to self-improvement books when they find that their lives aren’t working out quite as they had intended or imagined.  The market for self-improvement products—books, audiotapes, life-makeover seminars and regimens of all kinds—keeps growing, and there seems to be no end in sight for this trend. In Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life, sociologist and cultural critic Micki McGee asks what this literature can tell us about ourselves at the outset of this new century. 

The answers are surprising: rather than finding that Americans are "narcissistic" or self-involved, as others have claimed, McGee shows that Americans have been relying on self-help culture for advice on how to cope in an increasingly volatile and competitive labor market. For Americans today, working on themselves has become a central requirement of their professional lives.  The ideal that one "be all one can be" has become a demand that one maximize one's self as "human capital." Self-Help, Inc. reveals how makeover culture traps Americans in endless cycles of self-invention and overwork as they struggle to stay ahead of a rapidly restructuring economic order.

At a time when Americans are being asked to embrace a newly invigorated ethos of self-reliance in the form of the “ownership society,” Self-Help, Inc. shows why individual, self-improvement solutions for social problems simply can’t succeed.  And perhaps more importantly, Self-Help, Inc. reveals  what might work instead.