The Sky's the Limit, by Wayne Dyer, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980, 383 pp., $11.95, New York: Pocket Books, 1981, 383 pp., $3.50 paper.
There is something to be said for only reading books by dead people. At least they don't surprise you by coming out with ringers.
Take Wayne Dyer for example. He's the author of half a dozen books, three of which are aimed at the general market: Your Erroneous Zones, Pulling Your Own Strings, and, last and least, The Sky's the Limit. Now if the good doctor (he only has an Ed.D., but that still qualifies him for the title) had passed on after publishing the first two, one could have written a hell of an obituary about the legacy he left us and what a tragedy he never finished, etc., etc. Or if he was an old-timer, you might have been lucky and read his books in reverse order. If so, you would have marveled that his style and insight had improved with each volume. Too bad it's the other way around.
What made Your Erroneous Zones a runaway bestseller a couple of years back was that Dyer had some new things to say about self-help and said them so simply and well that anybody could pick it up and get a lot from it. As far as presenting abstract ideas clearly without sacrificing depth, it could be used as a textbook in a course on technical writing. The same applies to Pulling Your Own Strings, although it is a one-issue book (how not to be victimized). But with The Sky's the Limit, the good stuff—and there's a fair amount of it—is obscured by all the padding oozing out between the seams
Take language, for example. While the prose of Your Erroneous Zones is lean and tight and the thinking unmuddled, Sky has sentences like: "What I am suggesting is that a world which discourages dichotomous thinking in the first place, in which more people see the gray between black and white divisions and see that every side of every question that calls for thinking has some 'right' and some 'wrong' in it, and that the resolution lies in some give and take, some negotiation—a world which recognizes the individual's right to be listened to (instead of being dictated to)—will progress toward a culture we can all be proud of." Wait a minute—87 words to say that we can all be proud of a culture based on each person coming to his own conclusions? And in the chapter "Transcending Authoritarian Thinking," Dyer begins a sentence, "We must all band together…"
Maybe The Sky's the Limit is a subtle kind of final exam for Dyer's earlier works, to see if readers paid attention and really got the message about simplicity and clarity and not letting any authority figure be your guru and pull your strings. It would be nice to think so. If not, there are nuggets of insight in Sky, but most of them are recycled Maslow, Nathaniel Branden, and early Dyer.
Jack Kirwan is a free-lance writer.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Good Advice Strung Out".