(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As an investigative reporter, Steve Salerno uses his research skills and personal experience to compile an entertaining yet sober look at the “Self-help and Actualization Movement” (SHAM) and the impact the movement is having on American society. The first half of the book is devoted to highlighting some of the major self-help profiteers such as Dr. Phil McGraw, Tony Robbins, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and even Alcoholics Anonymous. Salerno describes the self-help product each promotes, how they got started, their credentials or lack thereof, and how they have profited. Salerno notes that a key ingredient to the success of current self-help gurus is an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) is included as another form of self-help gaining mainstream popularity in spite of any serious research to prove it actually works.

The author notes that despite the personal and monetary investments made by businesses and individuals, lives have not magically improved; Americans have not grown richer, thinner, or more successful. Salerno is quick to note the lack of substantial scientific research to prove that self-help products have any validity. Once a new self-help product is actively marketed either through print publications, media promotions, or the internet, it gains popular acceptance. No one ever stops to question whether it actually works, the credentials of the authors, or even if it might turn out to be harmful. The public assumption becomes, if it is on the internet, or in this case, the Oprah Winfrey Show, it must be okay. Unfortunately, as Salerno points out, the self- help industry has had a tremendous impact on society and can now be found everywhere, including schools, despite any credible evidence that self-help products produce tangible results.

SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless is a highly thought-provoking, critical appraisal of the self-help and actualization industry. It should be read by anyone who has ever read, listened to, or taken a self-help course, and should unquestionably be listed as an Oprah's Book Club selection.