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The Book of est is a fictional book about Werner Erhard's Erhard Seminars Training (est), first published in 1976 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. The book was written by est graduate Luke Rhinehart. Rhinehart is the pen name of writer George Cockroft. The book was endorsed by Erhard, and includes a foreword by him. Its contents attempts to replicate the experience of the est training, and the reader takes the place of a participant in the course. The end of the book includes a comparison by the author between Erhard's methodologies to Zen, The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, and to Rhinehart's own views from The Dice Man.

Reception of the book was negative, with critical reviews in Library Journal and The New York Times Book Review. An article about Erhard and est in the religious journal Quarerly Review placed the book among "the most accessible sources about est". Professor Walter A. Effross of the American University Washington College of Law cites The Book of est in an article in the Buffalo Law Review analyzing the control of new age movements over their intellectual property.

Background

Werner Erhard, a California-based former encyclopedia salesman born John Paul Rosenberg, created the Erhard Seminars Training (est) course in 1971. est was a form of Large Group Awareness Training, and was part of the Human Potential Movement. est was a four-day, 60-hour self-help program given to groups of 250 people at a time. The program was very intensive: each day would contain 15–20 hours of instruction. During the training, est personnel utilized jargon to convey key concepts, and participants had to agree to certain rules which remained in effect for the duration of the course. Participants were taught that they were responsible for their life outcomes, and were promised a dramatic change in their self-perception.

est was controversial: critics characterized the training methods as brainwashing, and suggested that the program had fascistic and narcissistic tendencies. Proponents asserted that it had a profoundly positive impact on people's lives. By 1977 over 100,000 people completed the est training, including public figures and mental health professionals. In 1985, Werner Erhard and Associates repackaged the course as "The Forum", a seminar focused on "goal-oriented breakthroughs". By 1988, approximately one million people had taken some form of the trainings. In the early 1990s Erhard faced tax and family problems. A group of his associates formed the company Landmark Education in 1991, purchasing The Forum's course "technology" from Erhard.

Publication

The book was first published in 1976 in a hardcover format by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, and a paperback edition was released later in the same year. It was published in German in 1983 by Hugendubel. In November 2008, Luke Rhinehart, in association with Joe Vitale and Mark J. Ryan, re-released The Book of est as an E-book.

Contents

The Book of est includes a one-page foreword by Werner Erhard. Erhard writes in the foreword that Rhinehart's book "brilliantly ... communicates clearly to the reader both a sense of being in the training room and the spirit of what takes place there." Erhard's foreword notes: "although this book dramatizes the highlights of the training and attempts to give you the vicarious experience of being at a training, this is a book, and the est experience cannot result from reading any book".

With Erhard's endorsement, Rhinehart attempts to replicate the "transformation" experience from est. The book imparts the message that the participant's life "doesn't work", and that after two weekends the individual will come to understand how to "win". The book presents a fictional dramatization of the est training. Punctuation style usage including exclamation points and boldface type bring the reader's attention to key items in the text.

Rhinehart describes the est training as a form of participatory theatre, writing: "Seeing the trainer as a master actor ... permits us to evaluate his acts and words more intelligently than if we misinterpret him as being a scholar or scientist giving a lecture." In an analysis of how to approach the est training, Rhinehart comments that "It might best be described, if it can be described at all, as theater—as living theater, participatory theater, encounter theater. Once we begin to see est in these terms, much that fails to fit the scheme of therapy or religion or science begins to make sense."

In Rhinehart's fictional account of the training, the est course leader begins with the instruction: "Let me make one thing clear. I don't want any of you to believe a thing I'm saying. Get that. Don't believe me. Just listen." The est trainer explains that the course techniques are used because "Werner has found that they work." When of the est participants asks why the instructor says certain statements during the course, the instructor responds: "I'm saying them because Werner has found that the trainer's saying them works."

Participants in est are told that they cannot take notes during the course, and at the end of the seminar the instructor declines to go over a review of the training. In order to participate in the course, trainees must adhere to agreements which include: they may not exit the course facility except during specified break time, they cannot sit next to someone they knew before coming to the course, and they cannot take unprescribed medications or alcohol for the week prior to the training.

Individuals are given a chance to receive a full refund and leave the course after the instructor goes over the course agreements. A second chance to leave the course and receive a refund is offered on the third day of the course. At the end of the training, the seminar participants are strongly encouraged to bring guests to sign up for the course – participants are instructed that "bringing guests is a manifestation of a person's willingness to participate in life."

The concluding portion of the book includes a comparison of Werner Erhard's methodologies to Zen, The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda, and to Rhinehart's views from The Dice Man. Rhinehart comments that those who have taken part in the est training feel the need for a sense of community: "Most graduates indicate that the value of the seminar series depends not so much on is ostensible data content or on the processes introduced, but on the sharing on an intimate basis with others." He notes that some of the graduates of the est training "treat him [Erhard] with the love and awe normally associated with that of disciples for spiritual teachers". He likens Erhard's relationship to his staff members to the way in which a guru interacts with disciples. "[It is] the essentially eastern phenomenon of a powerful being (usually a guru or a spiritual teacher) attracting other powerful beings who nevertheless choose to channel their power through their leader," writes Rhinehart.

Critical reception

James Charney notes in his review of the book for Library Journal, "Questions of effectiveness or possible harm are hardly considered." Charney characterizes the problem of the book and its subject matter as a "kind of with-it diffuseness which disallows any intelligent understanding on principle". In a review of the book for The New York Times Book Review, Zane Berzins was critical of the work, commenting: "There isn't much to be said for the book except that it exudes a kind of repellent fascination."

In an article about Erhard and est for the religious journal Quarterly Review, Florida International Universitymarker assistant religious studies professor Robert R. Hann places the book among "the most accessible sources about est". Hann comments that since the book has been "reviewed by Erhard and carries his statement of support for the author", it "can therefore be presumed to be, if not 'canonical,' then at least not significantly at odds with the perspective of est itself."

Professor Walter A. Effross of the American University Washington College of Law cites The Book of est along with Adelaide Bry's est: 60 Hours That Transform Your Life, in an article in the Buffalo Law Review analyzing the control of new age movements over their intellectual property. Effross notes that the copyright page of The Book of est gives a notice that: "material based in part on unpublished lectures created and copyrighted by Werner Erhard and used by the author with his permission. No material created and copyrighted by Werner Erhard may be used or disseminated in any medium or language without his prior written authorization." Effross comments on the potential loss of control over his material that Erhard may have invited due to endorsing these books about his methodology:

"In conjunction with a nondisclosure program, the leaders of spiritual groups should themselves take care not to disseminate broadly material integral to their teachings and techniques: whether or not their nondisclosure agreements allow group members to repeat, acknowledge, or discuss material that has been publicly unveiled by their teachers or by other group members, this might be the members' natural assumption.
From this point of view, and because it enabled commentators to make "fair use" of the disclosed information, it was not helpful for ...
Werner Erhard, the founder of est, to endorse a first-person account of an est training, even one which provided only simulations of est's "processes," or guided meditations.
(However, the publicity [Erhard's organization] achieved from such exposure during crucial periods of ... expansion may have been seen as justifying the intellectual property risk.)"


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