So, without objective evaluations, how do you know what book to buy?
I'll try to answer that question a little later.
Unfortunately, humankind has not yet determined what
information is useful with specific problems and has not yet developed
a way to quickly deliver useful information to a person in need of help.
We surely will soon. Such an information system would not be an
impossible task, no more difficult than going to Mars or mapping the
genes. Suppose, eliminating duplication, there are several million bits
of useful psychological information, such as I have started to collect
here. Also, suppose almost all personal and interpersonal difficulties
could be classified into 1,000 common problem areas, such as
procrastination by high school males, severe self-criticism by 11 to 15-
year-old females, etc., etc. It shouldn't be too difficult to compile in a
computer the most helpful 10-50,000 bits of information for this
specific group of people... or at least an up-to-date reference list of the
25 best books, articles, films and videotapes for each specific problem.
Wonder why that isn't being done? Partly, I think, because we, as a
society, have little appreciation of how complex human thought,
feelings, behavior, and interactions are. Partly, because the current
marketing system doesn't make money by evaluating and collecting
together useful knowledge.
Since I believe human life is so complex, there is no other way
currently to gather together the needed information, except in a book
or, more likely, a series of books (or disks or CD-ROM). You can't put
everything a person needs to know to cope with life into a one-hour
talk show or one computer disk. That is why I am drawing from
hundreds of books and citing hundreds more. It is the best our species
can do for now. We will do much better in the not-too-distant future.
The situation today is very unsatisfactory (see chapter 1). Most
self-help books deal with only one problem (out of hundreds or
thousands of human concerns) using only one theoretical approach.
Most new books (there are 2000+ self-help books published every
year) never get to most bookstores and the few that make it to the
stores stay on the shelves for only a few months. Money is made by
the rapid turnover of books. Several similar books suddenly pop up in
areas editors think will be "hot topics." Rarely is a good self-help book
well advertised for long. Public libraries don't even buy many of these
specialized books. So, it is almost impossible for an ordinary person to
find the information he/she needs when troubles strike. Even I, after
25 years of working in this area, have difficulty finding the best book
available for a specific problem. There is certainly little help locating
books, especially good old books (see Santrock, Minnett & Campbell,
1994; Pardeck & Pardeck, 1994; Katz and Katz, 1985 for help).
Likewise, with TV talk shows, while they are a potentially great
educational tool, you can't get them when you need them! What are
your chances of seeing a show covering a topic you need that day?
Very low! Can you get a videotape of a show shown last year on the
problem you have today? No. The distribution of knowledge to hurting
people is very inefficient. We'd rather make profit than help people.