Most helpful critical review
4,731 of 5,293 people found the following review helpful
The Review "They" Don't Want You To Read
on March 6, 2007
Catchy review title? Thought so. Robert Cialdini, renowned psychology researcher and author of Influence: The Power of Persuasion (perhaps the best book ever written on the subject) identifies six basic rules employed by politicians, advertisers and scam artists alike to persuade others. Each of them are employed quite adeptly by Rhonda Byrne in this book.
Cialdini's first principle is SCARCITY; people want what's expensive, exculsive, or otherwise attainable. Byrne's mastery of this principle is clearly shown by the very name of the book: The Secret. We all learned this the first week of kindergarten as we felt the jealousy of watching two classmates, hands cupped over ears, sharing a secret out of earshot.
This message is reinforced throughout the book and its advertising campaign which pitches "The Secret" (whatever it actually is) as jealousy-guarded information hoarded by the happy, wealthy and successful. Whenever someone tries convincing you of something, whether it's a way to make enormous sums of money, to lose weight, etc - be wary of when it's pitched as "the knowledge THEY don't want you to have." Think about it - everything from the "secrets that Wall Street doesn't want you to know" to "uncovered - celebrities' secrets to staying young" are phrased not simply to pique your interest but to make you jealous. Appeals to our emotion are far more powerful than appeals to reason, and Byrne demonstrates mastery of this principle throughout "The Secret."
Cialdini's second principle is LIKING. We like those who like us, and in turn, we do business with them. Positive thinking and emotional intelligence has been linked to strong interpersonal relationships, academic and professional success, and good health, but there is a fine line when positive thinking crosses over to unjustified exuberance. Instead of simply noting the substantial benefits of positive thinking (a well-accepted principle which wouldn't sell books), Byrne crosses the line so blatantly that anyone with a modicum of modesty would find it blasphemous.
AUTHORITY is another Cialdini principle, also in play in "The Secret" in quite subtle ways. Another technique which differentiates this book from just another book of positive thinking is the heavy use of quasiscientific language, which gives the impression that the "law of attraction" is (or will become) an accepted scientific principle, just like the law of gravity or the law of attraction of oppositely-charged particles in chemistry. Many people are both intimidated and confused by the authority of science, a fact exploited by manipulators ranging from Byrne to peddlers of magic weight-loss pills.
Since no respected physicist would ever publish a paper on the universality of the "law of attraction," Byrne indirectly seeks experts in other ways. She attributes the success of people ranging from Einstein to Beethoven to adherence of "The Secret," thereby manufacturing experts. After all, if Einstein and Shakespeare mastered "The Secret," who are YOU to question it?
The last two Cialdini principles are CONSISTENCY and SOCIAL PROOF. The success of this book should leave little doubt it will be followed by more (and more expensive) forms of media peddling "The Secret." The audio recordings, weekend seminars, advertising tie-ins, and other follow-up products certain to follow will exploit these two principles. Once people commit themselves to believing happiness will come from "The Secret," they will attribute future successes, whether a promotion or a great new relationship, to adherence to it. Conversely, setbacks will be even more powerfully in committing people to "The Secret," as people will attribute their failures to not living up to "The Secret" (and buying more of Byrne's books). Consistency dictates it will be less painful to buy more books and immerse one's self further into "The Secret" than to accept the whole premise is a quite ridiculous; while not as pernicious as a domineering cult, "The Secret" promises to charge you handsomely for a positive outlook on life.
Byrne's book is problematic on many levels. On it's face, it's a manipulative marketing tool meant to flatter, confuse and deceive. It's also pseudoscience at its best, the last thing we need to encourage in an increasingly technological world which requires healthy skepticism and critical thought. Most damaging, though, is how the book perverts reality by encouraging people to equate a positive outlook on life with a childish, idiotic narcissism. Ayn Rand must be rolling in her grave hearing about the modern manifestation of her objectivist movement reduced to the intellectual equivalent of canned pork.
If you're interested in "The Secret," I highly encourage you to read the book - yeah, READ the book - if for any other reason so not to be manipulated by its brilliant marketing. Read it with a critical eye, with a copy of Cialdini's book in the other hand. You may not learn the secret of happiness, but you WILL learn a lot about manipulation and influence from a master of the subject in Rhonda Byrne.