One Simple Idea, One Terrific Book, One Amorphous Movement

Mitch Horowitz has been receiving well-deserved praise for his new book One Simple Idea. My brief Amazon review commented:

One Simple Idea combines intellectual seriousness with a playful celebration of visionary American eccentrics. Any reader drawn to New Thought as a factor in American intellectual history will have noticed its abundant contradictions and evasions. But only Horowitz has thoroughly explored the cast of characters in New Thought history and their contemporary relevance, positive and not-so-positive. His writing is as engaging as in the 2009 study Occult America, and the subjects of his capsule biographies equally intriguing in the new study. One Simple Idea is a thoroughly satisfying read that leaves the reader impressed by the author’s mastery of the subject matter at every level.

Here I add a more personal note of appreciation, from the perspective of a reader with a longstanding interest in New Thought combined with serious ethical reservations about the “no accidents” doctrine that Horowitz analyzes and rejects in this book. He is warmly appreciative of the historical characters he brings to life, which one review described as a daisy chain of capsule biographies glossed with commentary. Warren Felt Evans receives the attention he has long deserved as a New Thought pioneer. Mary Baker Eddy is treated sympathetically in a way that increased my appreciation for her writings. At the same time, her rival Emma Curtis Hopkins emerges as a formidable figure whose influence has been little understood. Although my interest was mainly in the 19th century when I started the book, its treatment of 20th century figures like Norman Vincent Peale is equally groundbreaking and valuable.

My recent research into the roots of the Church of Light for forthcoming books has yielded abundant clues about the impact of Christian Science and especially New Thought. “Directed thinking and induced emotion” is a phrase that resonates with the New Thought message of self-help. As with the Theosophical movement, New Thought has produced a wide ranging legacy of offshoot groups and individuals, a bewildering variety of developments ranging from serious to ridiculous. Horowitz captures its strengths and weaknesses, appraises its influences, and explores its contradictions, in a book that is both pleasurable and enlightening.

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