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Showing 1-10 of 44 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 105 reviews
on January 21, 2017
“One Simple Idea” is a compelling book that traces Americans fascination with positive thinking and self-help teachings. What began as a mid-1800s alternative spiritual movement called New Thought has transformed into the secular self-help books and seminars of today exemplified by the motivational guru Tony Robbins. Today positive thinking is ecumenical embraced by Christians like Joel Osteen and Norman Vincent Peale (who influenced Donald Trump), and those in alternative spirituality like Deepak Chopra.
Author Mitch Horowitz is no Pollyanna apologist for positive thinking. In this book he soberly assesses what he sees as the movement’s strengths and weaknesses.
The New Thought movement that began in the 1800s had several positive cultural effects, according to Horowitz. First, it was a form of DIY spirituality that empowered individuals to have their own spiritual revelations apart from an established church. It legitimized what we would term today an individual’s spiritual search. Second, the positive thinking movement practiced tolerance, seeing truth in all religions, and was ahead of the curve on racial and gender equality. It was among the first to welcome women ministers and spiritual teachers.
Horowitz also catalogues weaknesses of the movement. These include contemporary mind power advocates who believe that our thinking creates 100 percent of our reality. This leads to blaming the victim when they fall ill or face other life challenges. Meanwhile cynical critics of positive thinking miss tangible scientifically-proven benefits including the mind-body connection, the placebo effect and rewiring the brain through neuroplasticity. While Horowitz is a spiritual believer, he also recognizes that one need not buy into metaphysical explanations to benefit from positive thinking.
The best approach, he writes, echoing pioneer psychologist William James, is to neither accept nor reject such teachings, but to experiment with these mind power techniques in your own life. Accept what works and reject the rest.
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on April 10, 2015
Mr. Horowitz has cemented himself as the most level-headed and detailed occult historian in modern times. He is balanced yet still has a thesis, and somehow combines open-mindedness with rationality in ways that I haven't experienced with occult/self-help/magic/paranormal literature.

For some reason a couple of people gave this book one star because they thought it was a self-help book. So if you are looking for a self-help book, don't get this. This is a history of positive thinking. This book is for serious and educated readers who have patience to read a sometimes laborious yet interesting history of the movement.

One Simple Idea fills a gap in the historical record. I walked away from this book much more informed about the origins and groups, and even American history.

Mitch Horowitz has made numerous appearances on podcasts, Youtube videos, and has written informative articles to bring light to the mainstream media about the harmless truth about the occult and the benefits of positive thinking. He has a great respect for Manly P. Hall and Edgar Cayce, among others. He also believes in the Enneagram. Be sure to check him out online if you are unsure about buying this book.
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on May 5, 2015
Mitch Horowitz has opened up new territory by writing a book that
needed to be written. I found that for me, it gave me more opportunities
than all the self help books have, by freeing up space in the imagination that
had a mountain of trash, I now call Napolean Hill. Thanks Mitch! And thanks George Noory
for putting Mitch on CoastToCoast AM. The book is not a scholarly work as such in that
it is a work of popular history, that makes a good point. A good point is priceless.
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on August 15, 2017
I can’t imagine any contemporary American who hasn’t been exposed to—and probably adhered to—some form of “positive thinking.” It’s a part of our cultural gene pool, reinforced through decades of repetition and refinement. Whether it’s “the power of positive thinking,” “a can-do attitude,” “think and grow rich,” or the “law of attraction,” I suspect all Americans, like me, have considered, tried, and wondered about this train of thought. Are these movements the legitimate heirs of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James or the bastard children of P.T. Barnum? I’ve long suspected a bit of both, and having now read Mitch Horowitz’s One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life (2014), and believe the “a little bit of both” conclusion is a fair characterization and one that doesn’t bother me.

As someone who’s changed his mind about a lot of serious issues and practices, and who’s sampled a variety of schools of thought and action, a mixed intellectual heritage doesn’t bother me. I’ve concluded that no one has a monopoly on the truth; that with perhaps a very few exceptions, no one is entirely wrong; that we don’t understand everything—perhaps most events and processes that govern our world; and that a certain pragmatism (so American) is required. Add to this a personality that is conservative in the sense of skeptical about change and thus slow to change. I also harbor an outlook that anticipates problems and doesn’t trust the future to necessarily prove benign, even though I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in my life. I think that the Buddha (life necessarily involves dissatisfaction) and his western cousins, the Stoics, are correct in many of their fundamental insights. And yet, the positive attitudes and mental energies promoted by the American tradition attract me as well. Thus, when I started Horowitz’s book, I hoped that it would help untangle these ambiguities and apparent contractions. And it turns out, while I didn’t resolve these contractions, I do have a better grasp of what’s going on in the American tradition of positive thinking and my relation to it.

Horowitz addresses the issues by providing a thorough history of the positive thinking movement from its early days. Starting with the import of Mesmerism from France (an early form of hypnosis) in the early 19th century, to early efforts to use the mind and prayer to heal, to Ralph Waldo Emerson, a series of streams converged to bring about a new way of dealing with the world. Especially noteworthy was Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science. For a woman to found a new church that continued to be run by women (primarily) was no small feat. As Horowitz explains, part of the impetus toward spiritual healing was the abysmal state of the medical arts in 19th century America, with its “heroic” efforts that used bleeding, leeches, and poisons to treat patients, and this woeful practice was applied even more to women than to men. If fact, one was more likely to be harmed by a physician than helped. And, at least in some cases, prayer seemed to work. Others followed or came to similar ways of thinking as Eddy, at least in part, about the beneficial uses of “prayer” and “mind” to cure disease. As the U.S. continued to grow and prosper, this “New Thought” movement, or mind metaphysics, grew with it. And in addition to curing illness, it turned its attention to the generation of wealth and the business world.

As we proceed in Horowitz’s account into mid-20th century America, we move from names now largely forgotten to those whom—at least for person my age—will recognize: Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, Earl Nightingale, Oral Roberts, and Alcoholics Anonymous to name some those who remained active into the 1970s and after. Horowitz conveys their insights and weaknesses, including the fact that practitioners could sometimes be glib, Pollyannaish, or ethically obtuse. Horowitz also discusses figures who have escaped our attention from earlier years and who were more fringe in some ways but helped shape their times and the movement.

Horowitz spends some pages addressing the man who most publicly and famously manifested this culture in late 20th century America: Ronald Reagan. Reagan, whether you’re an admirer or a critic, was not an easy man to gain the measure of. But no doubt a significant part of his success as a politician and leader came from his unabashed optimism and (for lack of a better term) positive thinking. This was not an accident, as Reagan was bathed in this culture from his youth to his years in Hollywood and beyond. Part of what drove people like me crazy about Reagan was his firm grasp of unreality, and yet he was amazingly successful in molding reality to his liking, which included changing his mind in ways that seemed at times almost flippant, but that also contributed to his success. The imagination and the mental agility (to put it kindly) that Reagan deployed arose in some measure from these New Thought beliefs (and his acting career). Note that Reagan was not a religious man in the way, for instance, his predecessor, Jimmy Carter was (born-again Baptist), yet Reagan was in tune with most of middle-America and its belief system.

In the concluding chapter of the book, Horowitz takes measure of New Thought and its positive thinking descendants. His assessment is sober, thorough, and convincing, a kind of “what’s living and what’s dead” in the New Thought and positive thinking movement. He concludes that there is a bit of both. He criticizes the “law of attraction,” a major tenet of New Though well before Rhonda Byrnes wrote and produced The Secret (2006); in fact, she gained her insights from New Thought writer Wallace Wattles’ 1910 book The Science of Getting Rich. The law of attraction posits an all-controlling universal law without any second. Horowitz points out the obvious: our lives are governed by a myriad of forces beyond our control. Thus, a naïve and partial reading of Emerson must be rejected; however, that we get what we give in some measure seems more likely than not. Horowitz also points out that the advice to focus the mind on what you really want—and not just what society or culture imposes upon you—will prove liberating, clarifying, and motivating. It makes a lot of sense. One title, It Works! captures the simplicity and common-sense aspect of the movement. Horowitz also marshals scientific evidence and arguments that point to the fact that mind or thoughts can affect the (physical) brain. It may not be true that if we think we can, we can, but it certainly seems to help.

There are persons and topics that Horowitz doesn’t address that I wish he could have. For instance, how the thought of Abraham Maslow and his work about peak experiences might fit into this line of thinking. Also, Robert Anton Wilson explored the topic of belief systems and their interaction with the brain and mind in his wild ride of a book, Prometheus Rising (1983). This book owes its intellectual legacy more to traditional psychology, especially Freud and Jung, as well as general semantics and the psychedelic movement (it’s dedicated to Dr. Timothy Leary). I don’t recall any explicit reference to the New Thought movement, but Robert Anton Wilson’s take certainly shares some attributes and attitudes. Finally, while I know of no direct references between New Thought and Colin Wilson, the two trains of thought provide for an interesting comparison. Across the Atlantic, Colin Wilson developed his own very provocative and convincing theory of the mind and how it worked, but he developed most of his insights from reading in phenomenology and existentialism, as well as the European literary tradition (later supplemented with explorations of the occult). If nothing else, Colin Wilson shared an exuberance and eagerness with New Thought to explore the human mind to realize its full potential.

But like most good books (or at least that those who find willing publishers and readers), Horowitz had to stop somewhere, and in doing so, he provided us with a very satisfying work. And so, while I will likely remain a bit skeptical, I’ll also remember to focus on my intentions, vet my thoughts kick out the stinkers, keep a positive attitude, and acknowledge that thoughts have causative powers. I believe it just might help.
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on March 20, 2014
This is a great book, written in an engaging manner and superbly researched. I was especially grateful for the back story, cultural context of the health care of women in the 19th century as a catalyst to their pursuing more humane and effective methods through mind science. Another excellent aspect of the book is the even handed and serious analysis that Mitch brings to his assessment of the New Thought influences on the late Pentecostal evangelist Oral Roberts, specifically, and the flavors of those influences in the broader "positive confession" movement in Charismatic Christian churches generally. He brings an awareness to those and other traditions that indicates excellent research and much appreciated objectivity. Beyond that, the book is filled with fascinating insights into the lives of the women and men (e.g. Tony Robbins, Napolean Hill, Earl Nighengale, Edwin Gaines, Louise Hay, Emma Curtis Hopkins, and Vernon Howard to name only a few) who continue to influence us today. His assessment of "does this stuff really work?" is extremely helpful. Highly recommended!
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on November 21, 2015
This book is more than a review of positive thinking. It is an exhaustive examination of the New Thought movement in America. It is excellent.

It is also a look at what is now called the Law of Attraction, a principle within New Thought. The final chapter is an outstanding analysis of the two main weaknesses of this law.

I highly recommend this book to anybody who is in, or interested in, the history of New Thought.
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on March 31, 2014
Of course, I'm giving a book on positive thinking a 5-star rating.
All kidding aside, I liked this book because it challenged a lot of my assumptions about positive thinking, which, I always considered fluffy and non-serious. But Mitch Horowitz reveals a side of the philosophy that I never considered and offered an examination of the philosophy's deeper thinking practitioners. Learning about some of the less known leaders in New Thought and the evolution of the philosophy was also intriguing.
If you're into spiritual insights, the book has its share, too.
Great book.
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on February 25, 2014
I couldn’t put down this deeply researched, well-written, and fascinating book. His one simple idea is “thoughts are causative.” Starting in the 1830s, Horowitz weaves together an entertaining and insightful history of “the most radical idea of our times.”
As a long time student of self-help and personal growth literature and approaches I had many “ahas” as I read One Simple Idea. Understanding the origins of “the law of attraction,” visualization, affirmations, the placebo effect, 12 step recovery movements, self-hypnosis, breaking or forming habits, prosperity consciousness, “follow your bliss,” spiritual enlightenment, and mind-body healing brought a whole new appreciation and understanding.

Horowitz traces the foundation for these approaches to the radical New Thought movement of the late 1800s. The term originated with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s lecture “Success” published in 1870, “to redeem defeat by new thought.” In 1899 “New Thought Conventions” were held in Hartford, CT and Boston. Horowitz explains “the term New Thought encompassed the mind-power culture’s highest aims: The ascension of man through his thoughts.”

Horowitz identifies and defines “four primary schools of positive thinking:”
1. The Magical Thinking or Divine Thought School
2. The Conditioning or Reprogramming School
3. The Conversion School
4. The Meaning-Based School

I agree with Horowitz that positive thinking is both the most influential and the most maligned philosophy in North America. It’s been satirized with skits on Saturday Night Live and often dismissed as glossing over real world problems with Pollyanna bromides and inspirational fridge-magnet quotations.

In the book’s last chapter “Does it Work,” Horowitz dips into a tiny sample of the scientific evidence for the power of thoughts to shape our world from research in quantum physics and medicine. And he rightly points to the serious philosophical shortcoming of positive thinking approaches like “the law of attraction” as THE universal law claiming that we alone create all that happens to us. There’s growing proof that the mind does have a huge impact on the reality of our lives. But it’s one of many forces in the universe.

My biggest disappointment with One Simple Idea was not including the deep science emerging from cognitive and Positive Psychology. In the past 30 years this rapidly growing field has put together a large and growing body of evidence and proven methodologies around using our thoughts to reshape our world.
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on February 10, 2014
I have long been interested in various religions. At some point, I became aware of Christian Science and later of New Thought. Having been aware of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale's work for some time, it soon became apparent to me that Peale's work is very much influenced by New Thought. As Horowitz brings out, it was because he was influenced by it, though it seems to me that he sought to baptize it. His work also serves to explain our former great positive-thinker-in-chief, Ronald Wilson Reagan. I particularly enjoyed his portrayal of the Palmer chiropractic family.

I think in his last chapter, he addresses what has long been the failing of this particular movement. At best, it doesn't seem to be able to offer any answers for sin, suffering, and death and at worst it seems to put the blame on the person suffering. Horowitz suggests that one of the fundamental teachings of New Thought, the law attraction, seems to be based in a misunderstanding of the work of Emmanuel Swedenborg and his teaching on the Law of Correspondences.

This book is an excellent introduction to the people and places that made up this interesting movement in American history.
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on February 8, 2014
Most of us have read books by the “positive thinkers” like Norman Vincent Peale or Napoleon Hill. Mitch Horowitz has created a well-researched and complete history of the “positive thinking” movement stretching from the early 1800s through “New Thought” to the “New Age” and today’s “Laws of Attraction.” While extremely complete, factually, it is a smooth and enjoyable read.

I am a “positive thinker” and have read many of the books in the field from Samuel Wattles to Earl Nightingale. In his book, Horowitz fits virtually all of them in. He fits them together as in a mosaic to show a picture of the entire development of “positive thinking.” There are really two streams of development, sometimes intertwining, the religious and the secular. For instance there is the religious trend from Christian Science through Unity through Science of Mind. On the Secular side are scads of “success” books such as Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and Hill’s Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude.

I was somewhat puzzled by the amount of time and energy he gave to certain aspects. For instance, a seemingly overlarge portion of the book is devoted to details of the Christian Science movement. By contrast, only a mention is given to Napoleon Hill or W. Clement Stone. The latter two, I would guess, have influenced more people than Mary Baker Eddy. Perhaps each element’s space is determined by how interesting or complex the story.

I appreciate the author’s factual unbiased stance so different from mindless cheerleading or the surly criticism of, say, Barbara Ehrenreich. Nevertheless, his “analysis” of what is most useful isn’t all that persuasive and he is much better sticking to factual presentation. But, he makes a good case, and shows, that the positive thinking movement in general has made a significant impact on culture in general, and ours in particular.

If you have read any of the positive thinking works, or have an interest in the movement, this book is for you. With fascinating descriptions of the major players and their interactions, it shows very well how all the disparate parts relate to each other. From that you come to a realization as to how pervasive this “movement” has become in shaping our culture.
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