(NOTE: I provide the Amazon links in this post so you have a starting point to learn more about the linked books, not because I necessarily recommend that you read them. Indeed, I highly recommend staying far, far away from The Magic of Dialogue.)
Those of you who know me will no doubt wonder why I decided to read Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. It really comes down to “know your enemy”–I had heard about the supposed thesis of the book–essentially, taking the convention of “Positive thinking is a powerful tool in your arsenal” (Which isn’t that heretical an idea in and of itself–professional athletes, among others, have stated the benefits of visualizing themselves making the big, game-winning shot/pass/kick.etc) and distorting it into “Positive thinking is the ONLY tool you’ll ever need”–and bought it, having to see this for myself and intending to write a sarcastic, Bad Religion-style song about it.
Then I actually read it.
The short version of my verdict: There is something to be said for changing the way you think about life. Changing the way you think to specifically match what Byrne describes in the book will only lead to misery and nothing getting done.
Essentially, the book ranges from thought-provoking (So long as you think about the change-your-perception concept in a general sense, and don’t try to apply the exact method of “Sit back, relax, and let the good times flow in”) to downright offensive (Hitting this point when it says that the reason people are fat is that they “think ‘fat’ thoughts”. Yes, really.), to at times sounding like the scam some decry it as (At one point, the book claims “[…]it has been scientifically proven that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought[…]” and expects you to just believe it, without actually providing the scientific proof, or even a reference to any sort of study about said proof, in question).
Really, the book, to me, represents an excellent example of The Placebo Effect. Its thesis is really something along the lines of, as I said, “sit back, think positive thoughts, and let the good flow into your life”. But there’s really more to it than that, that isn’t stated, and which I think it dangerous to omit. No, I don’t have a problem with changing one’s perception of life, setting goals, etc. But that’s only one step–you still have to actually do the work associated with achieving whatever new goal it is that you set for yourself in order to make it happen. The book doesn’t mention this at all–indeed, one could argue that the book goes out of its way not to say this, saying effectively “Just do it. Don’t worry about how you’re going to do it, just trust that it will all work out for you in the end.” This line of thought is really very similar to the concept of faith in religion, which I don’t place a lot of, well, faith in. But back to The Placebo Effect–I can see the concept of changing your perception also changing your outlook life, not because anything has actually happened, but merely because you think it has, because you’ve changed your outlook on life. This is a positive thing, I suppose, but it’s not something you can learn only by reading this book.
My personal thoughts on the philosophy of the book aside, from a writing perspective, it suffers the same problem of a book I once had to read for college called The Magic of Dialogue. That is, there is about 20 pages of material, certainly written well enough, but rephrased in slightly different ways using slightly different examples to create a 200-or-so page book. I hated the technique in The Magic of Dialogue; I don’t hate it quite so much here, perhaps because the material itself is slightly stronger (And I’m not reading it under duress).
All in all, the book wasn’t entirely a waste of my reading time, but it did, I think, provide me enough material for that song I mentioned earlier. Given that, I can’t recommend the book as the life-changing tome of wisdom it claims to be–indeed, following it to the letter would, I think, be counter-productive.