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Shelf Help: New Book Reviews in 100 Words or Less

What you need to know about The Proteus Paradox, For the Benefit of Those Who See, and Promise Land.
Promise Land. (Photo: Courtesy of Simon and Schuster)

Promise Land. (Photo: Courtesy of Simon and Schuster)

  • The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us—And How They Don't, Nick Yee (Yale University Press)
    For six years, Nick Yee ran the Daedalus Project, an investigation of online virtual worlds. His findings dispel the stereotype of online gamers as antisocial youth, and he is sharply critical of concepts like “online gaming addiction.” But Yee is no cheerleader for the virtual. Although games like World of Warcraft promise freedom of the imagination and escape from the daily grind, in reality, he argues, they play host to racial and gender prejudice, superstitious groupthink, and economic exploitation. Numbers give those charges added bite. An estimated 20 million people are citizens of virtual worlds; the average user logs in for 20 hours each week.
  • For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches From the World of the Blind, Rosemary Mahoney (Little, Brown and Company)
    Mahoney, a writer renowned for her facility with close observation, documents daily life at two schools for the blind, one in Tibet, the other in India. Along the way she dips into the cultural history of blindness, and asks why so many sighted people—herself included— view the possibility of losing their sight with such terror. The historical interludes are fascinating but often feel incomplete. Mahoney’s gift is her willingness to pay attention to her subjects’ experiences, and to accept something she at first has difficulty believing: that the lives of the blind are as complex and varied as everyone else’s.
  • Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture, Jessica Lamb-Shapiro (Simon and Schuster)
    In a mix of immersion journalism, history, and memoir, the daughter of a self-help author tries to figure out how the genre became such a persistent staple of American culture. More than once, she plays an over-earnest seminar or too-cheesy slogan for laughs—but she also takes seriously the fears and longings on which they capitalize. To those who would write off self-help as pure silliness, she offers a gentle rebuke: “There will undoubtedly come a time in every intelligent, educated adult’s life where they will be helpless and desperate, and this certainty is something we’d all prefer to ignore.”

This post originally appeared in the January/February 2014 issueofPacific Standard as "Shelf Help." For more, consider subscribing to our bimonthly print magazine.