Byline: AMANDA PLATELL
THERE are some modern myths that defy all experience and logic but in which we need to believe for our collective sanity if nothing else - that Big Brother will end one day, that Tony Blair will eventually leave Downing Street taking his wife with him and that England will win the Ashes.
And high on the list of Things We Must Believe Or Go Mad is that selfhelp books really work.
After all, we buy them in their millions. If they didn't work, we wouldn't buy them, would we?
Owning self-help books in 2005 is what voting for Mrs Thatcher was in the Eighties - millions are doing it but no one is admitting to it.
The Self-Help and Actualisation Movement, or self-help market, has doubled in the U.S. in four years and before we start sniggering at our gullible American cousins, consider that sales of such books in this country on Amazon alone have skyrocketed by 38 per cent.
Yet, if these books written to make us happy, thin, rich, quit smoking, stop drinking, stay married really do work, why are we unhappier, fatter, more in debt, heavier smokers, bigger binge drinkers and with a higher divorce rate than in the history of the modern world?
Because we have been conned into thinking [pounds sterling]6.99 can save our lives, or our sanity or our marriages. We have been seduced by the no-pain, allgain philosophy of modern life. You don't have to work at your problems when self-help is at hand.
The wise ones - that is, those with everything from Jonathan Livingstone Seagull to Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus on their bookshelves - realise we have more chances of discovering a calorie-free millefeuille than changing our lives through a self-help book.
And while it took me hundreds of pounds and 16 years of reading such rubbish to come to this conclusion, American Steve Salerno reached it in 16 months.
HE had what appeared to be a dream job as editor of the books programme associated with Men's Health - the magazine your partner says he's reading for the articles on prostate cancer, not the top tips on six-packs.
Anyway, Men's Health is part of the Rochdale publishing empire which conceives and sells millions of self-help books a year and Mr Salerno was there for 16 months, during which he had 'a bird's eye view of the inner workings of the self-help industry', which turned out to be more full of wild promises and a pathological inability to keep them than Jude Law.
He concluded that the Self-Help and Actualisation Movement, or SHAM to its friends, is, er, a sham. It exploits our weaknesses for profit and it preys on our failures and our stagnation. And it took him 16 months to discover that!
And the industry can't even take itself seriously these days, with new offerings such as Self-Help Stuff That Works or the breathtakingly arrogant The Last Self-Help Book You'll Ever Need, which promises 'groundbreaking research' (which in self-help speak invariably means unsourced personal parables) and ' inspiring true personal stories' (told you! …