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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Vague opinionated propaganda, 5 May 2011
This review is from: The Truth About Psychics: What's Real, What's Not, and How to Tell the Difference (Hardcover)
I picked up this book in my local library, where its title "The Truth About Psychics" intrigued me. I became even more curious when I realised that the book was written by a self-proclaimed psychic, who promised to arm readers with the tools to enable them to spot a fraud. Faced with this tantalising prospect, I promptly took the book out on loan.

The book begins with a long section on how Sylvia Browne allegedly discovered her psychic abilities. There's lots of talk of spirit guides and psychic grandmothers, as well as an undertone of injustice when discussing how some people didn't automatically believe in her abilities. This is followed by a rather waffly section about the way different cultures have traditionally viewed life after death.

Next we come to a section entitled "Tricks of the Trade". I thought maybe we'd finally come to the section I'd been waiting for, but, alas, no. She spends this section mainly talking about various supposed branches of psychic abilities, such as clairvoyance, palmistry etc. This is followed by a section on 'pioneers', who all seem to be heroes of Browne that are in some way linked to spiritualism.

Finally, we come to the section that promises to reveal how to spot a fake. Only a very small part (2 & 1/2 pages) is devoted to general psychic ability - the rest seems to focus on curses and fortune-telling (specifically physical mediumship). The two pages on psychic ability provide a very brief overview of cold reading - so brief that it's really of very little use. Bearing in mind the title of the book, it seems amazing that the book's main topic is only dealt with in such a fleeting way. Browne then claims that she always tries to provide reasonable details, although nothing specific like dates of birth, and provides information that the client doesn't already know (how convenient!). In my opinion, this rather vague statement doesn't really clarify how what she claims to do is any different to the fake psychics she's so against. As a result, you can't help but wonder if this book is just a propaganda campaign to try and discredit her competition.

In general, the book is incredibly long-winded and lacks focus. One minute she's lauding over Harry Houdini and other sceptics who've worked to expose fake psychics and mediums, then she's complaining that people don't believe her and criticising the self-same sceptics for raising questions over Uri Geller's supposed psychic abilities (while Browne seems inexplicably convinced of his abilities, Geller himself has recently stopped referring to himself as 'psychic'). In her introduction she derides fake psychics for cashing in and exploiting vulnerable people, which seems ironic considering that the back jacket of the book reveals that at least 22 of her books have been best-sellers! Most curiously, on page 18, she mentions that her abilities have undergone testing. A very quick Internet search reveals that, in 2001 on the Larry King Live show, Browne stated that she would be happy for the well-known sceptic, James Randi, to test her abilities. To date, she's yet to arrange a test. This begs the question: if she's so happy to be tested and claims to have been tested before, why hasn't she arranged this already? Surely it would be the ideal way to silence her critics.

She seems to be equally confused about her list of 'pioneers'. Most of the people that she's chosen to write about either admitted that they were fakes (e.g. the Fox sisters) or, in many cases, Browne herself seems to think it rather unlikely that they had any genuine psychic ability. And, yet, she always manages to add a small twist to the story to plant a seed of doubt. She even claims that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was psychic, although I've yet to find any evidence to corroborate this.

The whole book is incredibly vague and contradictory, and lacks any footnotes, references or even a recommended reading list that would enable the public to validate her sources. Ultimately, then, what we have here is a book that's essentially an opinion piece and doesn't even deliver on what it promises (to reveal how to spot a fake). Browne seems to be hoping that if she's vague enough and simultaneously aligns herself with and distances herself from her sceptics, she'll create a sense of trust in her audience that will encourage them to turn to her over her competitors.

Save your money - this book isn't worth it.
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