Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life

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Why doesn't self-help help? Millions of people turn to self-improvement when they find that their lives aren't working out quite as they had imagined. The market for self-improvement products-books, audiotapes, life-makeover seminars and regimens of all kinds-is exploding, and there seems to be no end in sight for this trend. In Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life, cultural critic Micki McGee asks what our seemingly insatiable demand for self-help can tell us about ourselves at the outset of this new century. The answers are surprising. Rather than finding an America that is narcissistic or self-involved, as others have contended, McGee sees a nation relying on self-help culture for advice on how to cope in an increasingly volatile and competitive work world. For Americans today, a central component of working has become working on themselves. Be all one can be, they are told. Build your own personal brand. As women have entered the paid labor force in growing numbers, the Protestant work ethic has been augmented by a Romantic imperative that one create a vision-a script-for one's life. More and more, Americans are compelled to regard themselves in effect as human capital. No longer simply an enterprising or entrepreneurial individual, the new worker is the artist and the artwork, the CEO of Me, Inc., in Tom Peters' memorable phrase, and the central product line. 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. A lucid and fascinating treatment of the modern obsession with work and self-improvement, this book will strike a chord with its diagnosis of the self-help trap and with its suggestions for how we can address the alienating conditions of modern work and family life.