Earlier this month, New York City mayoral candidate Eric Adams was questioned about his home address after reporters suggested that he actually lives on the other side of the Hudson River. An investigation by Politico discovered that he owns a co-op in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and a three-unit rowhouse in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn—but Adams, who is currently the Brooklyn borough president, also seems to spend a lot of nights sleeping on a mattress somewhere in Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Following the Politico report, Adams invited reporters to visit his basement apartment in Bed-Stuy. On that undeniably awkward morning, he showed off his “small, modest kitchen” and “small, modest bathroom,” and posed for photos beside his bed. But seeing the apartment just raised more questions, and social media Sherlocks wondered why an outspoken vegan like Adams had a fridge filled with salmon and other non-vegan items. (Adams’ campaign said that all of those items belonged to his 25-year-old son, who sometimes stayed at the apartment.)
Because those armchair detectives had already investigated the contents of his refrigerator—and started an obligatory Eric Adams’ Fridge account on Twitter—VICE was intrigued by the books that spilled out of the wooden shelves on both sides of the fireplace. Unlike in his now-famous "contraband" video, we didn’t spot any casually concealed weapons hidden behind Adams’ reading material, which included Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope; a 2007 travel guide for Ireland; an instructional book in the ‘For Dummies’ series; a non-fiction account of ‘a son’s treachery’ called Murder by Family; Prevention Magazine’s Life-span Plus: 900 Natural Techniques to Live Longer; and The 100 Greatest Days in New York Sports.
Through a campaign spokesperson, Adams told VICE that he thinks having physical copies of books is “great,” but his reading preferences have shifted away from hardbacks. “Books are beautiful and we should preserve our libraries,” he said. “But I mostly listen to audiobooks and read e-books now.” (He told us that the last book he read was New York, New York, New York: Four Decades of Success, Excess, and Transformation, Thomas Dyja’s nonfiction history of the city’s evolution.)
If Adams has any copies of his own plant-based cookbook, he doesn’t put them on display; but, perhaps most intriguingly for our purposes, we did notice that he had a copy of The Secret, that controversial 2006 self-help book that your aunt didn’t stop talking about for a solid year. The Secret—which has somehow spawned almost a dozen sequels and spin-offs, a Katie Holmes movie, and three phone apps— is basically an elaborate repackaging of "The Law of Attraction," the centuries-old belief that positive and negative thoughts can have a direct positive or negative affect on your life.
“When we defeat ourselves with our thoughts, The Secret allows us to think positively,” Adams told VICE. “I find a positive movement in everything.” That attitude tracks with the book itself; author Rhonda Byrne writes that thinking negative thoughts only causes you to think more negatively. “Decide right now that you are going to think only good thoughts,” she advises. “At the same time, proclaim to the Universe that all your good thoughts are powerful, and that any negative thoughts are weak.”
On The Secret’s website, readers enthusiastically detail their positive experiences with the philosophy, writing about how they were able to successfully attract everything from perfect exam scores, to a phone call from an old friend, to a relative’s recovery from COVID-19, to a relationship “soulmate” and, uh, tickets to a BTS concert. On Amazon, it has more than 20,000 five-star reviews. Most of them seem to be less about the book itself, and more about what it brought into the readers’ lives. (The 1,600-plus one-star reviews shrug it off as “a fake doctrine for a gullible audience” and “victim-blaming in disguise,” pointing to the author’s thinly veiled assertions that if The Secret doesn’t work—and, like, your grandma doesn’t grow a new hand—then it’s because you didn’t believe hard enough.)
The Secret’s critics (and there are a lot of them) have derided it as nothing more than pseudoscientific bullshit. In a review of The Secret and its sequel, The Power, The New York Times described Byrne’s books as “an advanced meme” that tried to convince readers that the techniques worked though a combination of “social proof”—ie, believing in something because people you think are credible also believe in it—and "pseudoscientific jargon,” such as the references to energy and quantum physics that Byrne frequently relies on.
“The intuitive appeal of [The Secret’s success] stories illustrates the human tendency to see things that happen in sequence—first the positive thinking, then the positive results—as forming a chain of cause and effect,” the Times wrote. “When Byrne tells her readers to “make a connection” between the good things they do and the good things that come to them, she is focusing their attention on positive examples of the law of attraction, thereby reinforcing the illusion that it actually works.”
Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, has also expressed concern about The Secret, writing that never allowing yourself to think negative thoughts can have significant consequences in almost every aspect of your life.
“[I]t can be dangerous: taking on risky business ventures or investments, ignoring red flag behaviors from a romantic partner, denying personal problems or health issues, avoiding necessary confrontations, failing to weigh the possibility of failure in decision making, and so on,” he writes. “While this sort of ‘delusionally positive’ thinking may make one feel better in some (or even many) situations, as a long-term life strategy it is utterly disastrous.”
And comedian Dave Chappelle hit on one of The Secret’s fundamental problems during a now decade-old set at the Laugh Factory. “I started reading [The Secret], I read like five pages of shit and threw it in the trash,” he said. “I can’t believe they sell this shit [...] Fly to Africa and tell one of them starving children that shit. ‘What you need to do is visualize some roast beef and some mashed potatoes and gravy. The problem is, you have a bad attitude about starving to death.’”
On Tuesday, New York City Democrats will go to the polls to vote in the mayoral primary. Although Adams may have visualized himself becoming the election’s frontrunner, if he doesn’t win, it's because another candidate got more votes than he did—not because he didn't think hard enough about winning.