Oracle at the Supermarket
The American Preoccupation with Self-Help Books
AUTHOR: Starker, Steven
PUBLISHER: Transaction Publishers
Also available at Amazon.com
Where do ordinary people turn for wisdom and personal advice? In modern-day America, the search for practical knowledge frequently begins and ends at the local bookstore or supermarket bookrack. The resident oracle is the self-help book, where paperback guidance is at hand on all aspects of life and death. Readers can learn why and how they must diet, exercise, manage stress, reduce pain, find God, enhance orgasm, mourn, achieve excellence, acquire wealth, and generally self-actualize. Often they find step-by-step instructions.
Although self-help books are dispensing medical, psychological, financial, and spiritual advice to millions every year, little is known about them or their authors. The academic community treats the massive self-help literature as "pop culture," a phenomenon to scorn rather than study. Many express passionate opinions about such books, but few have a basis for informed judgment. Steven Starker makes a convincing case that self-help books have come to occupy an important niche in American culture and may no longer responsibly be ignored by health care practitioners or social scientists.
Oracle at the Supermarket examines the self-help book from historical, cultural, and psychological perspectives. It traces the character of self-help works from colonial America to the present day, with an emphasis upon developments in the twentieth century. Topics include the discovery of "mind-cure," the impact of scientific psychology and psychoanalysis upon the self-help literature of the 1920s, and the role of self-help books in the sexual revolution of the twentieth century. The wave of self interested literature in the 1960s and 1970s, and recent outpouring of diet/exercise/success books are examined. Starker explores problems in evaluating published self-help programs, and the ethics of their creation. He includes survey date from lay readers and selected groups of health care practititoners regarding their experiences with self-help books. The book is distinguished by its care in evaluating the relative merits and dangers of self-help literature.
PUBLICATION DATE: 1/1/2002