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One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life Hardcover – January 7, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307986497
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307986498
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #453,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This is not yet another book purporting to tell you how to harness the power of positive thinking to improve your life. Instead, it’s a history of the positive-thinking movement. Beginning with German physician Franz Mesmer’s popular (but eventually discredited) theories of animal magnetism and moving through tuberculosis survivor Phineas Quimby (who realized the power to heal oneself came from the mind and not from an invisible fluid in the body) to Mary Baker Eddy (a Quimby patient who would go on to found Christian Science), Norman Vincent Peale in the mid-twentieth century, and on to contemporaries Joel Osteen, Tony Robbins, and Mehmet Oz, the author explores the way the idea of positive thinking has shifted and evolved as new hands touched it. Even those who are critical of the positive-thinking movement, or New Thought, as it’s sometimes known—that appellation was coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson—are likely to agree that this is a well-researched, thoughtful, and frequently surprising history of the subject. It’s unlikely to change skeptics’ minds, but that’s not the point anyway: the point is to educate and inform, and the author does that splendidly. --David Pitt


“Mitch Horowitz has written a powerful, perceptive, and enlightening testament to the idea that a single thought can change the world. One Simple Idea is simply a brilliant book." —Deepak Chopra, M.D.
“This wonderfully inspirational book is filled with both practical and philosophical ideas that will help transform even the most fearful and distracted among us.” —Ken Burns
“Serious skeptics, true believers, and seekers of every stripe will want to read Mitch Horowitz’s vibrant, probing, and richly researched account of the impact of the positive-thinking movement on every aspect of American life today. Filled with a cast of remarkable characters and many lively tales, One Simple Idea is a readable, responsible examination of the limits and possibilities of mind-power as a source of constructive transformation.” —Judith Viorst
“Positive thinking has been a major influence in Western culture for at least the past 50 years. Much has been said and written about the pros and cons of this idea, and now Mitch Horowitz has given us a great summary in his very engaging One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life. If you want more positive experiences or to see yourself and others in more positive ways -- or if you are (like me) somewhat skeptical of the excesses of positive thinking -- this book is eye-opening, grounded, and full of practical implications.” —Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness

“I am not exaggerating – and I know about hype. This really is a superb contribution to intellectual history. It helps anyone understand the social context and origins of the American mentality. A really delightful contribution to the study of religion and to social history.” —Raymond A. Moody, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., author of Life After Life

“This work powerfully reviews and recounts the meaningful effect and positive influence that a host of modern thought leaders have made in shaping contemporary life.  Their wisdom needs be followed and practiced by all to produce an effective and progressive civilization.” —Edgar Mitchell, Sc.D, Apollo 14 astronaut  

“This book is a liberation of the human spirit. The words contained in these pages are a mandate to us all to take the reins of our lives and make better choices moment to moment. Mitch explains how our thoughts do have an effect on our experience, and knowing that we can choose to break free from the confines of viewing our life as a set of circumstances that cannot be dealt with in a way that makes us feel at peace in our hearts.” —Barry Zito, pitcher, San Francisco Giants, three-time All Star and Cy Young Award winner

“In One Simple Idea, Mitch Horowitz masterfully weaves together the philosophical, scientific, and spiritual histories of one of the most important self-realizations in human history, that thoughts are things.  The insights of this book will force you to not only reevaluate what you think, but how you think, and how those thoughts can change your life forever.” —James Van Praagh, spiritual medium and author of Talking to Heaven

"A most remarkable history and explanation of that deeply American idea that thought is causative, that thoughts are forces, and that thinking can literally change the world. It can. Mitch Horowitz shows how -- with real heart, with real learning, and with real answers to all of the facile thinking, both pro and con, around this 'one simple idea.'  Easily the best book on the subject we have now." —Jeffrey J. Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religious Studies, Rice University

“New Thought, precariously balanced between psychology and religion, has been neglected (if not despised) by historians of both disciplines. Mitch Horowitz’s new book fills the gap, and shows how much the American century owes to it. From Theosophy to parapsychology, from Mesmerism to Alcoholics Anonymous, from Emerson to Ronald Reagan, New Thought was the bridge. In a course on American religion, or in a study of the healing professions, this book would raise many questions, some laughs, and leave no mind unopened.” —Joscelyn Godwin, Colgate University
"Horowitz offers a spell-binding survey of the evolution and persistence of positive thinking and its shaping of modern America." —Publishers Weekly

“Even those who are critical of the positive-thinking movement…are likely to agree that this is a well-researched, thoughtful, and frequently surprising history of the subject…the point is to educate and inform, and the author does that splendidly." —Booklist

"A historically rich analysis of an idea that is older than many may think.” —Kirkus

“This deftly crafted history will leave readers with a rich understanding of the subject and even some curiosity about its potential application to their own lives” —Library Journal
“A tour de force recap of what is a bedrock philosophy, also known as ‘New Thought’ or even ‘New Age’ in some circles…One Simple Idea is a remarkable book.” —The Washington Times
“Horowitz is a fluid writer...And like Ronald Reagan, he’s unembarrassed about the mystical side of positive thinking. Horowitz ends his book with a chapter titled ‘Does It Work?’ He says it does.” —Businessweek
“Mitch Horowitz charts the long ascension of the mind-power movement…despite the mystical nature of many of its claims, the author contends, there is enough evidence that so-called New Thought philosophy is at least ‘a little bit true’ — and for believers, a little can go a long way.” —Psychology Today

"As entertaining as it is enlightening, One Simple Idea will surely be declared a classic study of the development of the popular American psyche." —San Antonio Express-News
“Thoughtful, well-researched…Horowitz has done his homework; his ‘spiritual history’ of the many facets of what many call ‘positive thinking’ makes a fascinating read.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“A prolific writer on metaphysical and occult themes…Horowitz approaches his subject with a broad-mindedness that is just as sensitive to the movement’s strengths as it is to its weaknesses.” —Tricycle

More About the Author

A nationally known writer, speaker, and publisher in alternative spirituality, MITCH HOROWITZ is the author of "One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life" ('Brilliant' -Deepak Chopra; 'A tour de force' -Washington Times) and "Occult America," winner of the 2010 PEN Oakland/ Josephine Miles Award for literary excellence. He is vice-president and editor-in-chief at Tarcher/Penguin, the division of Penguin books dedicated to metaphysical literature. Mitch frequently writes about and discusses alternative spirituality in the national media, including CBS Sunday Morning, Dateline NBC, NPR's All Things Considered, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, BoingBoing,, and Visit him at; on Twitter @MitchHorowitz; and on Facebook at Mitch.Horowitz.1. He and his wife raise two sons in New York City.

Customer Reviews

This book concerns the history of the positive thinking movement as broadly conceived.
Phyllis S. from Brooklyn NY
In One Simple Idea Mitch Horowitz has written a thorough history and insightful investigation of the philosophy of 'positive thinking'.
Liam James OMalley
It is greatly recommended the reading of this book: “One Simple Idea” can chance the course of your life for the better.
Albert Amao

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book concerns the history of the positive thinking movement as broadly conceived. So you will find material on the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Christian (and Jewish) Science, the law of attraction, Norman Vincent Peale, twelve-step programs, Father Divine, and then some. It is quite a ride. Somehow the author manages to keep the narrative interesting and coherent, and never gets lost in the details. A great many strands are woven together, quite skillfully. We see how one stream of thought influenced another, how one thinker built on the work of people who have gone before. The emphasis is on America--and there are interesting reflections on the impact--good and bad--of positive thinking on American politics. It is fascinating intellectual history.

What I particularly loved about this book is that it a morally serious look at some of the basic principles of New Age philosophy. Mitch Horowitz is clear-eyed about the ethical implications of a concept like the law of attraction. He also is an empiricist--in other words, he is quite open about how much we do not know. He sees the value of the positive thinking movement. This stuff sometimes works. But he is not blind to flaws.

I relate to his approach, and to this book. I've personally seen positive thinking operate in quite wonderful, amazing ways. But when people say, as some new agers do of the law of attraction, "It always works, it works every time,"--I ask, How do they know that it always works? Have they subjected their theories to scientific proof, to rigorous experiments with control groups? (Answer: By and large, no.) Isn't it possible they are blaming--and further victimizing--the unfortunate? Horowitz deals with these questions brilliantly in the concluding chapter of this book.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I admit to being an enthusiastic fan of inspirational and positive thinking books since I was a young boy. This is the first book I have ever read that focused on researching the historical importance of the positive thinking philosophy on American society. I have always enjoyed reading about the history of how ideas were created and developed. Interestingly, I have read most of the books mentioned in this text. There are a great many early writers who contributed to the numerous self-help, inspirational and positive thinking books which have influenced so many Americans. One Simple Idea: How positive thinking reshaped modern life by Mitch Horowitz has done an excellent job of researching this topic.

This 326 page volume is organized into eight chapters covering a wide range of topics. They are as follows: Chapter 1 (To wish upon a star) covers the early pioneers of the self-help field. Chapter 2 (Positive nation) explains how American embraced the positive thinking philosophy. Chapter 3 ("To redeem defeat by new thought) tells how the Christian Science movement influenced the movement. Chapter 4 (From poverty to power) deals with other pioneers in the field. Chapter 5 (Happy Warriors) covers how many religious promoters put their own particular view of positive thinking in an attempt to link it with a belief in a supreme being. Chapter 6 (American Creed)shows how the American ideal of hard work and positive thinking combined to make a perfect match. Chapter 7 (The spirit of success) covers how many pioneers in the field and how they sought out those who were successful and developed the basic principles to follow toward health, wealth and prosperity.

The final chapter (8) is my favorite. Titled Does it work.?
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A reader VINE VOICE on November 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In this book, Mitch Horowitz traces the history of the positive thinking movement, and gives his own opinions as to its effectiveness. The title of the book is a little misleading; it is most definitely not a self-help book in the usual sense, though I did find parts of the book very inspiring.

Horowitz begins this journey with discussion of the life and work of Franz Anton Mesmer. He then traces his line of thought through that of Phineas Quimby, then to the work of Mary Baker Eddy (founder of the Christian Science religion) and her students, many of whom were quite successful; particularly, Emma Curtis Hopkins. I was surprised to learn how influential Christian Science was on so many other thinkers through time, despite the formidable obstacles and opposition that Eddy faced for so long.

Many, many fascinating characters appear in this book. Many of these active New Thought proponents were unknown in their lifetimes and remain so now; yet some of them inspired people like Joseph Campbell, Carlos Castaneda, and Bill W. and Bob S., founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. William James, Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Allen, Andrew Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, Ernest Holmes, Ronald Reagan, and so many other prominent personalities march through these pages. There are also references to Marcus Garvey, Sigmund Freud, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mme. Blavatsky, and lots of equally influential, interesting people.

The wide range of subjects covered includes the emergence of the gospel of prosperity (New Thought was originally more concerned with healing) and the specific origin of the law of attraction. We also learn about some very tough, persistent women who achieved success at a time when so little was open to them.
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