The Road Less Traveled And Beyond: Spiritual Growth In An Age Of Anxiety, by M. Scott Peck
This was the third and (hopefully) final book in the series that M. Scott Peck wrote relating to his breakthrough work The Road Less Traveled. As someone who is by no means hostile to positive psychology and who shares many of the fundamental beliefs of the author concerning the difficulties of life, the benefits of suffering and difficulty, and the need for responsibility and personal growth, there is much to enjoy in all of the books in this series, of which I am aware of and have read three. While this is by no means a bad book or even a disappointing book, it is a reminder that at this point in Peck’s writing he had said most of what he wanted to say. Like many writers, he points the reader continually, sometimes multiple times in the same paragraph, to books he has written before. There are hundreds and even perhaps thousands of references that the author makes to a previous case, a previous novel, an insight from a previous book, and all of that makes this book seem somewhat inessential, merely as an opportunity for the writer to remind the reader to turn to his existing works, rather than something new for the reader to appreciate.
Like the other books in the series, this one is divided into several parts, in this case three. And like the other books in this series, the parts are themselves somewhat complicated. After an introduction and an editor’s preface, the book begins with a crusade against simplism (I). This includes chapters on thinking (1), consciousness (2), and learning and growth (3), each of them with smaller sections that deal, for example, with paradoxes, and the reality that while thinking too little is your problem, thinking too much is someone else’s problem. After that, the second part of the book wrestles with the complexity of everyday life (II) with chapters on personal (4) and organizational (5) life choices as well as choices about society (6), including sections on civility and various paradoxes about human nature and responsibility. The book then closes with a brief look at the simplicity that lies on the other side of complexity (III), with chapters on the “science” of God as well as a lengthy and somewhat awkward poem to God where the author explores his own tangled and complex path to belief. While the author may have felt very strongly about this poem it comes off a bit cringy at least to me as a reader.
And that is my sense of the book as a whole. To a great extent this book feels like a good stopping point. The author reaches the point where he has little more to say than a strident reminder to the reader to remember (or to go back and read) previous works where the author has explored some aspect of psychology and spirituality. The author shares some embarrassing poetry as part of an otherwise serious book. This work feels like a summary of previous efforts tied together to remind the author of their coherence as well as an excellent demonstration of the author’s reading of others and some personal discussion of the author’s own life history and his own path to what he viewed as insight. There is a lot to appreciate here, and if the work does not disappoint, it does at least remind the reader that at this point M. Scott Peck had little new to say, and had exhausted his means of saying it by the time one comes to the conclusion of his closing poem. But while he had little new to say here, what he had to say was worth reading, at least.