Oct 7, 2008

Overrated books part 2

I never thought I'd be writing another post dedicated to an overrated book, but here I sit writing about a piece of supposed non-fiction. A friend of mine asked me to read 'Many Lives, Many Masters' by Dr Brian Weiss. She didn't give any description of the book. She just asked that I pick it up, read it, and keep an open mind.

When I asked how she came about reading this she stated the author was on Oprah plugging the book. Impressed by his performance on the show my friend went and picked it up and was blown away by it. She went on to say she gave it to family and friends, who were equally enthralled by it's contents.

My friend asked that I give an honest critique to her about the writer's findings and I promised I would. I did explain that I can be brutal when it comes to reviewing art. Knowing that was the case she did say my opinion meant a lot to her and she was really excited to hear it.
I went to Barnes & Noble that day. After ordering some coffee I ask the clerk for assistance in finding the book still not knowing what it's about. He pointed me to the New Age section.

Sigh. A new age book. This cannot end well. Still I promised to keep an open mind while giving an honest opinion about the writer's conclusions. So I opened the book and decided to give it a go.

Brian Weiss is a psychiatrist who in the book chronicles his care for a patient Catherine. Catherine suffers from numerous disorders such as hyper anxiety which stem from abuse and neglect on the part of her parents. She works in the medical industry and they know of each other before treatment begins; however they've never been formally introduced.

He takes her into his care and after a frustrating ordeal of not seeing any progress in the sessions Weiss decides to take a more non-conventional approach of regression therapy. Often viewed as a controversial method in the industry Weiss decided to employ it anyways as he seemed to be at the end of his rope. Under hypnosis Catherine started to go deep into her subconscious and relate tales of her youth. Progress seemed to be mounting.

Finally Weiss' patient was even going deeper and started recounting tales of a past life. Catherine apparently would go into deep trances and would not recall the information she relayed to her doctor after awaking. It was as if she was talking through the soul of her past existence directly to her therapist.

Her first story immediately raised a red flag. Weiss claimed throughout the book that he was a skeptic about reincarnation and as a scientist he demanded evidence of any such claim. Catherine, in her first recollection of a past life, claimed she was a servant in Greek aristocracy. Weiss was weirded out by this and asked what date it was. She stated it was 1863 BC.

Okay wait just a damn minute here. How the hell did she, or her supposed past life personage, know that? Christ wasn't even an idea then and the Gregorian calendar wasn't invented nor widely used until 700 years after Christ's reported death. What was her frame of reference? Did she actually know the pre-Gregorian date and do some quick and wildly impressive calculations on the fly?

What even bothered me more is that Weiss claimed over and over again to be a skeptic, but he never addressed this issue. I don't have eight years of higher education as anyone who reads this mildly literate blog can attest to, but still this caught me off guard. Why wouldn't it for a trained professional?

The book goes on and Catherine detailed many other lives and of course any Weiss continued to convey his skepticism on the subject, but continued the therapy. Finally after each telling of every life Catherine seemed to channel some sort of Master Spirit who told Weiss of the importance of reincarnation and how they had messages for him to spread the good word. Apparently the Master Spririt was detailing information that Catherine couldn't have known, including details of the death of Weiss' infant son. Never mind that she knew close friends and acquaintances of the therapist. Weiss insists that the knowledge could never have been privy to her.

The book goes on with the Master Spirits revealing to Weiss about what the messages they are trying to convey. Mostly they consist of you need to go through a bunch of lives till you learn to be a nice person. In each life you constantly encounter someone you love, who share each life with you and are supposed to help guide you into being all sweet and stuff. Oh and Catherine, according to Weiss, does get much better as a result of the therapy.

The book is easily digestible as far as prose is concerned and it is engaging. Still the whole premise is a bunch of nonsense. I haven't figured out who the fraud is in this, Catherine or Weiss, or if they're both in on it. The latter would make the most sense.

I gave my opinion to my friend who was disappointed in my assessment of the book and it's theories. She couldn't answer any of my doubts of Weiss' claims, but still believes in the book and continued to state that it changed her outlook on everything. It was difficult giving my critique to her as it felt like I was bashing someone's religion. Issues of faith are touchy, but I won't look down on her for buying into it.

She has elected not to talk to me anymore for reasons unrelated to the book, at least I think so.

I don't mean to condemn anyone who believes in reincarnation or any of that Master Spirit stuff. Actually I'm on the fence about regression therapy as from what I've read about it a lot of patients end up just making up their experiences. Still I can't sit here and pretend to know it doesn't exist. I'm simply not educated enough to say one way or the other. That being said this book and the fact that Oprah gave such a glowing endorsement of it bothers me to no end. What's even worse is that I tried to search for skeptical reviews of it and found little to no information.

People say we're living in an age of reason, but I disagree. The sales of this book, of which I admit I contributed to, are high. Weiss became an institution unto himself traveling the world and giving therapy sessions to people, for a fee of course. He's written other books as well and is regarded as a legend in the reincarnation world. Still I encourage anyone who's interested to give it a read and make up their own mind. I've got a copy I'm willing to give away.

"Only by rowing together, as one crew, can we avoid the storms and find our way home." - Dr Brian Weiss


Scott said...

I am not even totally against new age stuff, but that book just sounds ridiculous to me. Thanks for the review.

Kelli said...

I agree with Scott and you. When I saw that she had given a date, I stopped reading and pondered that. Then went on to read that you took the thoughts right out of my head. I've taken the bait ... now I'm gonna have to read the book.

JLee said...

I think regression therapy can be good, but I can't get on board with the past life stuff, especially when people were always someone famous or important (usually) instead of some schmuck. ha

Anonymous said...

How likely is it that a servant in ancient Greece would actually know the year, period. Regardless of how it is numbered. Do we even know if the Greeks kept count of the year in a numerical system similar to ours? I have no idea. But why would we assume that they do?

And if anybody says we are living in an age of reason, slap them, then say "Oh yeah, explain that."

I disagree with all things new age but, if the book itself affects a positive change in a person, then, for that person, the book is doing good. Whether it be bullshit or cold hard facts, the result is what matters.

Remember last year or two years ago, whenever it was when The Secret was everywhere. It's just a bunch of words on a page that made little sense to many people, but for equally as many people, it provided hope where there had been little or none before. Sure, that's how con-artists, shysters and cults get their spoils, but, if the person who wrote the book is trying to make the world a better place, who really cares if the writer is lying about something. Remember that guy who got on Oprah with a book about drug addiction even though he exaggerated some details. Who cares? His book helped people, that's what is most important.

All that can also be said about pretty much any religion. If praying to Allah makes your life better, then by all means, kneel eastward on a nice rug and pray.

I do hope that your disliking of this book isn't the real reason you've lost this friend. But if it is, then that's one friend you shouldn't want.

Miss Ash said...

Well if you're doing book reviews how about A New Earth ha! You'll find it in the New Age section :)