The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

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The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

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Category: Home and Family
Rating: 1/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: Even the normal devotees of self-help and devourers of New Ageish pseudo-scientific, pseudo-spiritual advice should keep away from this one: it contains about 4 points of advice on positive thinking repeated in a sequence of tautologies ad nauseam and wrapped in an astonishingly stupid amount of utter balderdash. Calling it pseudo-scientific is an insult to pseudo-science. Most 'scientific-sounding' sentences there are not only not true, they don't even make sense. Keep away.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 160 Date: December 2006
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
ISBN: 978-1847370297

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The Secret has been on Amazon's list of top bestsellers for quite a while now. (It's no 12 at the time of writing). The description suggested a motivational self-help book of some kind and the synopsis referred to physicists, old oral traditions, religions, poetry and philosophy. Intrigued by the consistently high ranking, I included the book in my last order even though I am not normally in a market for this kinds of work.

I won't keep you in suspense. The Secret of The Secret is to think positive thoughts: think that you have what you want to have all the time, visualise it, be grateful for it in advance and feel positive feelings as the thinking itself won't cut it without them. You have two sets of feelings: good feelings and bad feelings. And you know the difference between the two because one makes you feel good and the other makes you feel bad..

There. No need to buy the book. Honestly, there is nothing else there: most of the 160+ pages are filled with continuous, ad nauseam, unbearable repetition of the ideas summarised above. They don't even provide the normal padding of countless inspirational case stories (there are a few, but not that many). It is just a plain, in-your-face, mercenary, repetitive regurgitation of the think good thoughts - feel good feelings - be grateful as if you already had what you want sequence. The main idea of the "law of attraction" (or You Are What You Think) gets applied to money, relationships, health and The World, but nothing new gets said. The last chapter develops the New Age ideas of spirituality and in a way is the most acceptable part of the book.

Overall, the abdication of reason is so absolute that it takes a while to actually believe it can be really happening. I had read the whole thing, hoping that eventually it would be revealed that what we are talking about is more of a metaphor: that what The Secret advises is really positive thinking, affirmations, visualisation of goals; ideas made mainstream by treatment techniques like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: that one's attitude and expectations often result in self-fulfilling prophecies. That fear and lack of self-confidence can block fulfilment. That day-to-day, others sometimes treat us the way we think we deserve to be treated. That generally, we tend to be more happy and more successful if we have positive outlook and believe things are possible.

But it most empathically doesn't limit itself to the above. Instead, The Secret claims that the only thing between you and anything you want is your negative thoughts (or lack of positive ones). The rich are rich because they think of themselves as rich so they keep and attract more money. It obviously has nothing to do with inherited wealth nor with ability, talent, hard work or social connections. Even mass death is the result of people believing that they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time (and then finding themselves thus). The book doesn't devote much to such grim subjects, though - there is perhaps a paragraph about that and it singularly fails to address instances of mass suffering caused not by being in a wrong place at the wrong time (as in a case of a natural disaster for example) but by active, deliberate pursuit of evil ends by other human beings as happened during the Holocaust, Rwandan genocide or Khmer Rouge murders to pick just three random, obvious examples.

On some levels, The Secret is quite funny, in the way somebody with enough cheek to stand in front of you and say the most unimaginable bullshit without blinking an eye can be funny: kind of post-infuriating funny. Amongst the most choice statements included is a claim that according to the Bible, Jesus was a prosperity teacher who lived a more affluent lifestyle that many present day millionaires could conceive of (I am NOT making this one up, it's on page 109). Or that Albert Einstein came from a particularly poor and humble background and the fact that he managed to achieve anything is entirely due to his knowledge of The Secret (in fact, his father was a salesman and later on a co-owner of an engineering company).

But these are, really, minor quibbles. What recurs throughout the book are the most appalling abuses of scientific terminology I have ever seen. I can understand it. Science is one of the great success stories of our age: people tend to believe science and scientists, and statements with a scientific tint to them are thought to be more credible. But the terminology and concepts presented in The Secret go beyond mere misuse and makes very successful strides into the land of pure nonsense. Just random picks: it mentions somebody watching the DVD of The Secret many times in order to absorb the message right into the cells of her body. It constantly refers to the law of attraction which is, apparently, the heart of the Secret and has been known to scientists and artists (there is a nice selection including Socrates, Pythagoras, Newton and Beethoven: anybody is strongly advised to look up the manner of demise of these famous people before judging them as being partial to a mystery of universal happiness). Of course, the law of attraction doesn't exist. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of external forces reacting in any ways to one's thoughts.

Couching the idea in pseudo-scientific terms like emitting this frequency into the Universe doesn't make it any more viable. You cannot emit frequency, by the way and thoughts do not, generally, get emitted anywhere (unless we shout them out really loud or broadcast using machinery). Statements like The feeling of love is the highest frequency you could emit do not make sense at all as factual statements - however appealing they might be in a metaphorical sense. There is no such thing as vibrations of mental forces. Modern physics' proposition that vibrations of so-called super strings is at the basis of all matter (or energy) DOES NOT translate into large-scale stuff like human bodies, brains or even (huge in comparison to strings) atoms. I doubt that my spirit is so big (or small, depending on how you look at it) that it fills the room, but I'm pretty sure that I am not an energy magnet or a transmission tower and I am very sure indeed that I do not electrically energize anything, thank you very much.

Quantum physicists empathically DO NOT tell us that the entire Universe emerged from thought. All diseases are NOT a result of stress. Healthy emotions do not guarantee a healthy body (though they might help recovery). Ageing is not caused by thoughts, and even if you believe you can't catch something you still can if you are exposed to the infectious agent (as countless examples of babies, children and animals suffering from infectious diseases attest). And the oil in Belize was not created by the belief of the team that discovered it.

I could go on for much longer. But I think that by now you, gentle reader, have a pretty good idea of what The Secret is about. Apart from the fact that it's definitely Not My Thing as far as its New Age spirituality goes, it's also trite, mercenary, repetitive and full of mumbo-jumbo that abuses scientific language and human reason in equal parts. In fact, The New Age spirituality (in the last chapter) is just about the only part of the book that is somehow, touchingly, bearable: it has this quality of heady madness that makes one almost wish that it was true - and as a wonderful, poetic metaphor it might be. But it still doesn't mean that not watching the news and thinking positive thoughts of abundance will make the war, famine and inequality disappear. And here we come to the important question: does it matter? After all, most people who read this stuff will use it as any other motivational tool - just as I thought it would be like in the first place, of will cheer themselves up with the idea of One-Mind-One-Friendly-Universe.

But I think it matters. It matters, because it is another embodiment of the persuasive modern idea that it's all in the mind and that the social and material worlds doesn't matter (though if you want this million you will get it by visualising a cheque). That problems most people have are a result of their emotional trauma or negative thoughts or communication breakdowns or lack of parenting and interpersonal skills or something like that. That we should look inward and change our minds, instead of looking outward and trying to change the world: depending on the position, the suggested mechanism of change might include pharmacology (who was it that suggested lacing the water supply with Prozac?), therapy and counselling or New Age Secrets of all kinds. That those who are exploited, killed, robbed, enslaved, exterminated and abused; run over by the metaphorical - and literal - tanks are responsible for their sorry situation, and that the best thing they could do is to start thinking positive thoughts, develop self esteem and start emitting frequencies of love and abundance.

Despite being lazy, politically inactive and a pacifist I am, after that experience, tempted to say, bring on the revolution.

Instead of reading this twaddle, read some John Pilger or Monbiot instead. It will not bring you the abundance that is supposedly your birthright, but it will show how people try (and sometimes succeed) in changing the world for the better. And if you are interested in what the philosophers REALLY had to say about happiness, have a look at The Secrets of Happiness.

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Jill said:

If I could stop laughing for long enough, I'd spit. I HATE this kind of claptrap.

Sue Fairhead said:

I loathe this kind of thing too. And yet... how on EARTH could such rubbish have got to be a best-seller? Maybe the author just thought, positively, that it would be a phenominal success....

Magda said:

The author had the machinery of a major TV station and the authority of Ophrah Winfrey behind her.

But to the main point: I don't deny the effects of attitude, positive thinking, confidence and behaving as if something was our birthright on being succesful. I am sure that it helps enormously! But there is a major qualitative leap between that and saying that if you believe you won't get infected with malaria you won't.

Christine Hiles said:

a friend reccomended this book to me and she said it had changed her life. (I had not noticed the changes I have to say.) She described the contents of the book and I thought 'Nothing new there" but hey if it has changed her life I thought, I will buy it.

So I am writing this to thank you for saving me some money as I agree with your veiws that there is much to much hype about the world being so easily changed by airy fairy thoughts. It will certailnly take a lot of hard work and millions of workers to do it. It will be the things on the end of our arms that will change the world and not will o' the wisp thoughts.

Thanks for an entertaining and informative reveiw.


dave.g.moore said:

Well hey what can I say, I liked it. A lot of reputable people spoke through the dvd version of it. Our minds are very powerful tools if we learned to utilize them, then change is certain. I personally have not read the book but I did watch the dvd. I think differently now and incorporate positivity into my day to day life but I didn't need a book/dvd to teach me this... I just needed some guidance to get me to that state of thought.

Joe said:

Great review. This book was one of the most infuriating pieces of idiocy I've ever read. Apparently humanity has become a race of borderline retards if this is so popular. Given the precarious state of things in the world, it's an especially sad comment that now is when something like this is taking off. Kind of fitting how Darwin is never mentioned as someone who knew about the Secret!!!

Sairah Mirzah said:

Excellent review. Not normally the kind of book I would buy but a friend recommend the book and I was about to go out and buy it as going through some stressful/emotional in regards to a health issue. The review makes it clear that I would have wasted my money and been none the better. I hate self help books that don't actually help in any way. Thank you.

Richard Orebaugh said:

"The Secret" was given to me by a friend who I thought knew and understood the hell I've gone through. When I read this book, I thought "what was she thinking?"

This book is a sickening regurgitation of the mid to late 1980's self-help psychobabble. The law of attraction is really what upset me, to the point of tears. Yeah, I guess I must've had very negative feelings when I was 5 that constantly attracted my father's fist to my face. I must've been even more negative when 3 different men molested me-2 were in the family. This book is an ABSOLUTE SLAM to people who have suffered but survived and sometimes still just trying to get through each day without going crazy.

For example, the people in the Twin Towers must've all been very negative since they "attracted" the terrorists that killed them. I cannot believe Rhonda Byrne is such a shallow and materialistic person. I think she is knowingly one of the biggest "psycho-frauds" out there, perhaps even worse than Julia Brown.

I was thinking very positively thought for awhile...but those "fantasy checks" never showed up in my mailbox.

If Rhonda Byrne really truly believes what she has put together in this book, I can only imagine she has never dealt with any true tragedy in her life or is on a plane of "magical thinking". I think not only her "believers" are to be pitied, but Ms. Byrne as well. I would suggest she look into Buddhism where compassion, not money and material things, is the core of a good life.

Magda replied:

I could only second that!

The "negative thinking brings negative fate" idea always made me think of the Holocaust.

AK said:

Thank you for this helpful review of "The Secret". I particularly appreciate how you stressed the NOTs in your counter-statements. The repetitiveness of the book is dangerous, because by the time you finish it, it's hard not to believe in it (in fact I felt a little hypnotised)!

Three major points I would like to add that I found very irritating:

1. The Secret leaves no space for other beliefs, because it positions itself in the realm of science (only a fool would reject science, right?), not in the realm of religion, belief, ideology. It doesn't leave you any choice, as it says that if you don't believe in it, it doesn't mean that you're exempt from its laws.

2. In effect, The Secret asks you to censor your thoughts. Now, first of all this reminds me of the old German song Die Gedanken sind frei (Thoughts are free) - so if thoughts are not free, then what is? But secondly, how can I control my thoughts (if I am not into meditation)? My thoughts come and go, and they are influenced by external inputs that I have no control over (like films, what people say to me etc.). Some sad/violent scenes from dramas/thrillers are stuck in my head, I keep seeing them in front of my inner eye, but it is not voluntarily. Does that mean those things will happen to me as well?

3. The book makes you feel guilty for having negative thoughts - YOU caused this. Yet at the same time, I have NEVER had as many negative thoughts as during the time I read this book. Because it constantly says, don't have negative thoughts, mustn't have negative thoughts, I found myself having negative thoughts all the time. It's a vicious circle, because you spend more and more time thinking about how you should not be having negative thoughts and obviously imaging your worst fears. Well,thank you very much, Rhonda.

However, the book has some good advice, which - as the reviewer said - can be seen as a positive way of utilising the principle of self fulfilling prophecy. I found that at a job interview visualising my name on the door helped me feel calmer.

Everyman said:

I have never read a single page of the The Secret.

I am actually quite proud of that. The problem is that I don't have to read it because this stupid pseudo-philosophy has spread into my life like a virus. It comes up in conversations all the time. It appears on television. People talk about it at the bus stop. How absolutely ridiculous to think that this one book is the answer to all our of life's problems. Well, here's a secret....I don't want the answer. Call me selfish but I want to enjoy all of life's up and downs, the highs and lows, safe in the knowledge that Rhonda Byrne and her cheesily simple law of attraction have had nothing to do with it. Are we really all going to turn into robots without the freedom to have our own thoughts be they negative, positive, neutral or just plain boring?

Thanks but no thanks Rhonda. Why don't you just admit the real secret behind writing this book. To make MONEY! I hope you are spending it wisely and 'channelling' yourself to a reputable psychotherapist.

Peace out.