Morgan Scott Peck (May 22, 1936 – September 25, 2005) was an American psychiatrist and best-selling author who wrote the book, The Road Less Traveled, published in 1978.
The Road Less Traveled, published in 1978, is Peck’s best-known work, and the one that made his reputation. It is, in short, a description of the attributes that make for a fulfilled human being, based largely on his experiences as a psychiatrist and a person.
The book consists of four parts. In the first part Peck examines the notion of discipline, which he considers essential for emotional, spiritual, and psychological health, and which he describes as “the means of spiritual evolution”. The elements of discipline that make for such health include the ability to delay gratification, accepting responsibility for oneself and one’s actions, a dedication to truth, and “balancing”. “Balancing” refers to the problem of reconciling multiple, complex, possibly conflicting factors that impact on an important decision—on one’s own behalf or on behalf of another.
In the second part, Peck addresses the nature of love, which he considers the driving force behind spiritual growth. He contrasts his own views on the nature of love against a number of common misconceptions about love, including:
that love is identified with romantic love (he considers it a very destructive myth when it is solely relying on “feeling in love”),
that love is related to dependency,
that true love is linked with the feeling of “falling in love”.
Peck argues that “true” love is rather an action that one undertakes consciously in order to extend one’s ego boundaries by including others or humanity, and is therefore the spiritual nurturing—which can be directed toward oneself, as well as toward one’s beloved.
In the third part Peck deals with religion, and the commonly accepted views and misconceptions concerning religion. He recounts experiences from several patient case histories, and the evolution of the patients’ notion of God, religion, atheism—especially of their own “religiosity” or atheism—as their therapy with Peck progressed.
The fourth and final part concerns “grace”, the powerful force originating outside human consciousness that nurtures spiritual growth in human beings. In order to focus on the topic, he describes the miracles of health, the unconscious, and serendipity—phenomena which Peck says:
nurture human life and spiritual growth,
are incompletely understood by scientific thinking,
are commonplace among humanity,
originate outside the conscious human will.
He concludes that “the miracles described indicate that our growth as human beings is being assisted by a force other than our conscious will” (Peck, 1978/1992, p281).
Random House, where the then little-known psychiatrist first tried to publish his original manuscript, turned him down, saying the final section was “too Christ-y.” Thereafter, Simon & Schuster published the work for $7,500 and printed a modest hardback run of 5,000 copies. The book took off only after Peck hit the lecture circuit and personally sought reviews in key publications. Later reprinted in paperback in 1980, The Road first made best-seller lists in 1984 – six years after its initial publication.