Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Reviewing The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

It is clear to see why The Secret is running off the shelves around the world and is giving the Harry Potter books a run for their money. The book is the ink and paper version of the movie, which are products of a big, The Secret business. It has risen to prominence as the author, Rhonda Byrne, has made appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live.

The Secret is a how-to book that promotes success, wealth and attractiveness to the opposite sex. It claims to contain the key to personal excellence in one volume, however, it is a new version of Norman Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and other books in the self-help genre.

The book is beautifully presented, easy to read and is good in parts. Its chief author (there are twenty-nine contributors) is an Australian woman who found wisdom in her darkest moments and she writes with the conviction that sharing this secret is her life’s mission. The book is helpful in the way it promotes the practice of gratitude, the gift of joy, the need to see ‘the cup half-full’ and the call for people to take responsibility for their life.

The Secret garners its support from the ancient holy books and philosophers without becoming religious or advocating one particular faith. It comes with an attractive veneer of spirituality without demanding any formal allegiance.

It is true that life is to be lived fully and enjoyed but this book communicates the view that humankind or the reader is at the centre of it all: “The earth turns on its orbit, the oceans ebb and flow for You. The birds sing for You…. You are the Master of the Universe.” (p.183) The encouragement to be ‘healthy, wealthy and wise’ (and attractive) has its end in ME—my happiness and my success—not a life lived for the service of others or other altruistic reasons.

The book advocates visualizing empty car park spaces and pasting a one hundred thousand dollar bill on your bedroom ceiling to inspire your dreams and focus your life for the day. How much more useful it would be if readers were encouraged to visualize peace in Iraq and plenty in Darfur. The themes of seeking wealth, health and happiness will always keep the cash registers ringing but The Secret fails to address life’s greatest challenge by not presenting a prescription for defeating death.

This book would be located in the Body-Mind-Spirit section of the bookshop and it rightfully presents an integration of human living. But, the truth framework is flawed. The author makes the claim that the reader is divine but provides no support for this assertion: “You are eternal life. You are God manifested in human form, made to perfection.” (p.164)

The book promotes a prosperity doctrine and rewrites the Scriptures to support the ‘everybody can be rich’ thesis. Byrne claims that Jesus was one of a number of prosperity teachers from the pages of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles who were millionaires, one of a number of prophets (this should be spelt ‘profits’) “with more affluent lifestyles than any present-day millionaires could conceive of.” (p.109) Crucified at the age of thirty-three, with no money in his bank account? Despised and rejected? Does that sound like fun? It doesn’t take a Biblical scholar to discern the falsity and absurdity of this statement.

The style of this book is warm and encouraging but it is high voltage and lacks a sense of light and shade. There is a basic structure to the book and a progression but it is mainly a platform for gurus mouthing their formulae.

The Secret is a literary Aladdin’s lamp if that is what you’re after. Read it, don’t rub it and it will bring you everything you want.

Geoff Pound

Rhonda Byrne, The Secret, London: Simon and Schuster, 2006. Available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE for Dh 70.00.

Image: The front cover of The Secret.