This is one of the most illuminating and unconventional books about self- help that you will ever read. Author Albert Amao Soria eludes either/ or thinking on nearly every page. He rejects
the false and intellectually withering choice of "take it or leave it," which often clouds our political, cultural, and social dialogues.
Rather, Albert examines the question of what really works in self- help, at once rejecting overdone promises that emanate from certain quarters of the field (and he names them), while at the same time eschewing the practice of lumping together all self- help under the overused label of "snake oil," as do many academic and journalistic critics. Rather, Albert writes from three fresh and original points of view:
1) As an author, Albert has personally experimented with the therapeutic philosophies he critiques in this book. This gives him rare insight into the agencies and pitfalls they present. Born into an impoverished urban family in Peru, Albert movingly writes of how his life took an unexpected and fruitful path because he had access to self-help literature as a boy. Specifically, he read works of New Thought, which deals with the question of mind causation.
2) He is deeply sympathetic to the needs and wishes of the individual self- help reader— he does not mock, distance himself from, or place himself above the "motivation junkie," as Barbara Ehrenreich and other critics sometimes term the dedicated seeker. Rather, in understanding the drive and dignity of the therapeutic and spiritual inquirer, Albert can clearly evaluate, as a sociologist and critic, what programs are promising (such as Napoleon Hill's Think & Grow Rich), and what modalities rest on oversold claims and are bound to leave readers dejected and confused.
3) Finally, Albert writes as a dedicated, lifelong spiritual seeker. He is not only deeply serious about conventional self- help philosophies, but is a student and searcher within mystical, metaphysical, and occult lines of thought. I first met him at a summer conference of the Theosophical Society in America, where I was delivering a talk on my first book, Occult America. At the time, Albert was a completing his previous book, Healing Without Medicine, an evaluation of placebo and mind- therapeutic phenomena. As you will see, Albert locates some of the deepest and most effective aspects of self- help practice within the continuum of traditional esoteric thought. This is historically accurate. I've argued that you cannot fully understand today's self- help culture without realizing how it arose, in its earliest iterations, from mystical and occult movements, which today would seem as culturally out of place as magician's robes at a business motivational conference, but the thought lineage is nonetheless there, particularly with regard to the positive- mind movement, and its key contention that thoughts are causative.
You need not share Albert's interests in the esoteric (as I do) in order to profit from his insights. Whatever your intellectual and therapeutic tastes, this book gives you a deepened perspective on the culture of self- help and self- improvement, now an $11 billion yearly industry; a better understanding of what works and what does not; and a new sense of the hopes and needs of self- help readers, who are rarely seen or understood in critical literature.
To evaluate an ethical, spiritual, or therapeutic philosophy, and to grasp its values, weaknesses, and strengths, one must — as Albert does— bring a participatory element to the investigation. William James believed this deeply and lived and worked by this ethic. I attempt to, as well. Albert's role as a critical observer- participant allows him to open windows that many conventional observers are unaware of. His revealing perspective will not only add to your own but may, depending on your outlook, enrich your personal experiments into self- development.
— Mitch Horowitz New York City
Mitch Horowitz is a PEN Award– winning historian whose books include Occult America and One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life. Former vice president and executive editor at TarcherPerigee, his latest book is The Miracle Club: How Thoughts Become Reality.