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Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

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The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyzes the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power. What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall dow The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyzes the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power. What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has . . . Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day. Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.


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The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyzes the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power. What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall dow The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyzes the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power. What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has . . . Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day. Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.

30 review for Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra X is hopeful about regaining some sight

    Finished the book, See comment 11. Notes on Reading (view spoiler)[ The book is even more about the cults than the language as well. I don't know if there is a person left alive who actually needs scientology explaining to them so it comes across as filler. I don't really like everything in this book, but what keeps me reading is the author. I really like her! She inserts herself through asides and she's just like the friend you go out to lunch with who never knows when stop about whatever she i Finished the book, See comment 11. Notes on Reading (view spoiler)[ The book is even more about the cults than the language as well. I don't know if there is a person left alive who actually needs scientology explaining to them so it comes across as filler. I don't really like everything in this book, but what keeps me reading is the author. I really like her! She inserts herself through asides and she's just like the friend you go out to lunch with who never knows when stop about whatever she is going on about, but she's so clever, and witty and funny and well-meaning, you always look forward to meeting her. Good writing and a good persona for an author go a long way to making a book enjoyable. ____________________ Notes on reading Is this really a book about cults or is it yet another (thinly-disguised) hate tome againtst the last US President, Trump? There are 41 mentions of Trump. The author says that Jonestown was a unique event, but that policy makers and media professionals across the political spectrum have been guilty of tossing around “Jonestown” and “Kool-Aid” as omens to warn against all kinds of people they disagree with, from PETA members to abortion rights activists and right back at the anti-PETA and antiabortion protesters screaming at them about Kool-Aid. and then she herself links Trump to Jim Jones at least 8 times, (so far)! I am interested in cults, and their language, I am not interested in yet another book on Trump. It's not like there is anything new to say, it's all been said, time and time again. The subject is now moving into flogging a dead horse territory. The most interesting thing so far is this explanation of cancel culture which aims to demonise everyone who doesn't believe exactly what these people are shouting loudly, and which also aims, in schools and colleges, to not teach people to think for themselves but to teach them what to think.(view spoiler)[You may disagree with this. Fine. If you aren't trying to shut me up from saying it, and you aren't going to be personally insulting (ie you are a troll), feel free to write why you disagree. I'm always up for discussion, disagreement is how we learn other people's views. (hide spoiler)] There’s a companion tool to loaded language that can be found in every cultish leader’s repertoire: It’s called the thought-terminating cliché. Coined in 1961 by the psychiatrist Robert J. Lifton, this term refers to catchphrases aimed at halting an argument from moving forward by discouraging critical thought. Ever since I learned of the concept, I now hear it everywhere—in political debates, in the hashtag wisdom that clogs my Instagram feed. Cultish leaders often call on thought-terminating clichés, also known as semantic stop signs, to hastily dismiss dissent or rationalize flawed reasoning. In his book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism, Lifton writes that with these stock sayings, “the most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly selective, definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed. They become the start and finish of any ideological analysis. Examples of these "thought-terminating clichés": 'that person is brainwashed', 'boys will be boys', 'it's all God's plan', 'Don't let yourself be ruled by fear', 'everything happens for a reason', 'it is what it is', and latterly, 'this is my truth' and 'x is transphobic', 'this is offensive to me as a (insert any group you want to here)", "cultural appropriation' and you can think of many more. They are designed to present only one thought as being the correct one and to make anyone holding another view as being the promulgators and upholders of hate thought and speech. (hide spoiler)] I finished the book and need to review it. It's well-written and interesting but with over a hundred references to Jonestown and all the Trump ones, I'm not sure it is doesn't have an agenda rather an overarching look at the importance of language in cults, linguistics being a particular interest of mine. One of the commenters points out that Trump/cult is important for the future of America. I'm not an American and with all the subjects in the book, Trump as a cult (which he might be) was not one of them. Anyway, review to come.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emily Paulson

    I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of Cultish by Amanda Montell, and I could not put it down. Her writing kept me engaged, as she brilliantly weaved in storytelling and data. I felt like I was simultaneously reading a juicy drama, and the most interesting textbook at the same time. It is PACKED with original research, some of it quite jaw-dropping! As someone who is obsessed with cult documentaries, as well as someone who has been involved in an MLM, she hit so many points that had me n I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of Cultish by Amanda Montell, and I could not put it down. Her writing kept me engaged, as she brilliantly weaved in storytelling and data. I felt like I was simultaneously reading a juicy drama, and the most interesting textbook at the same time. It is PACKED with original research, some of it quite jaw-dropping! As someone who is obsessed with cult documentaries, as well as someone who has been involved in an MLM, she hit so many points that had me nodding my head, yet also revealed how pervasive cult mentality, culture, and language are in situations I would have previously considered quite benign. Incredibly eye-opening, entertaining, and one I will be re-reading and referencing. Wish I could give more stars! A must read!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rhiannon Johnson

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I've been recommending this book to everyone. I learned so much and I keep thinking about it--even weeks after finishing it! Cults, cultish groups, religions, cliques, and communities of all types fascinate me. I always think to myself "why are they drawn to this leader, lifestyle, or way of thinking"? When most people think of cults the images that come to their minds are usually horrific (mass suicide in Jonesto I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I've been recommending this book to everyone. I learned so much and I keep thinking about it--even weeks after finishing it! Cults, cultish groups, religions, cliques, and communities of all types fascinate me. I always think to myself "why are they drawn to this leader, lifestyle, or way of thinking"? When most people think of cults the images that come to their minds are usually horrific (mass suicide in Jonestown, the fires and deaths in Waco, the Manson murders, etc.) and they tend to use the term "brainwashing" as an all encompassing way of stating a massive change in someone's way of thinking. Charismatic leaders have used a variety of techniques to exploit people's desire for community and inclusion for millennia, the most powerful of which is language. Before you think "I wouldn't fall for that" ask yourself about the language used in all of the groups you are a part of in your daily life. Mantras, jargon, acronyms, and group specific phrases, "all inspires a sense of intrigue, so potential recruits will want to know more; then, once they’re in, it creates camaraderie, such that they start to look down on people who aren’t privy to this exclusive code." Some psychologists call this "loaded language" and it is present far beyond the groups that many would be quick to label as a cult. Author Amanda Montell shows how cultish language is present in many common groups in our current society, from SoulCycle and CrossFit to the self-proclaimed Instagram gurus and #bossbabes in multilevel marketing groups (MLMs.) This book really got me thinking about all the ways language can form a community and how any community can quickly become a cult. Come chat with me about books here, too: Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Pinterest

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Bartz

    Witty, slick, and self-assured, CULTISH will change the way you view the interplay between language and power. Yes, it sparkles with muscular prose and snappy asides, but this book's true wizardry is how Montell peels back the veneer over topics we're confident we already understand—brainwashing, indoctrination, even the term "cult" itself—and demonstrates how a few potent verbal tricks, wielded correctly, render us more susceptible to cultish influences than we'd like to think. Compulsively rea Witty, slick, and self-assured, CULTISH will change the way you view the interplay between language and power. Yes, it sparkles with muscular prose and snappy asides, but this book's true wizardry is how Montell peels back the veneer over topics we're confident we already understand—brainwashing, indoctrination, even the term "cult" itself—and demonstrates how a few potent verbal tricks, wielded correctly, render us more susceptible to cultish influences than we'd like to think. Compulsively readable and startlingly of-the-moment, CULTISH is as intriguing as the charismatic leaders and spellbinding groups it examines.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Denise Johnson

    A page-turner! This book is important. Montell breaks down the psychosocial influences that entice and reward people for joining communities that promise enlightenment and self-improvement. While most provide some sort of tangible rewards, others strip followers of money, autonomy, and even their lives. How can you tell a relatively benign self-improvement program from a suicide cult? How can you protect yourself without giving up on humanity? Cultish spells it out. Critical knowledge for everyo A page-turner! This book is important. Montell breaks down the psychosocial influences that entice and reward people for joining communities that promise enlightenment and self-improvement. While most provide some sort of tangible rewards, others strip followers of money, autonomy, and even their lives. How can you tell a relatively benign self-improvement program from a suicide cult? How can you protect yourself without giving up on humanity? Cultish spells it out. Critical knowledge for everyone because we are surrounded by cultish language and influences and we need to see clearly what our would-be gurus are really up to.

  6. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    Interesting dive into how cults are primarily language-driven, and how language both draws us in and keeps us in. Particularly good on Internet cults (QAnon) and on the things she calls cult*ish*, like MLMs and CrossFit, that use those techniques. It's entirely American, as she acknowledges, linguistically and culturally (USians are apparently suckers for the prosperity gospel in its many forms), and I would have really liked to see some more wide-ranging examples covering a broader cultural spr Interesting dive into how cults are primarily language-driven, and how language both draws us in and keeps us in. Particularly good on Internet cults (QAnon) and on the things she calls cult*ish*, like MLMs and CrossFit, that use those techniques. It's entirely American, as she acknowledges, linguistically and culturally (USians are apparently suckers for the prosperity gospel in its many forms), and I would have really liked to see some more wide-ranging examples covering a broader cultural spread, and to see how that might affect the language and techniques. Very much worth reading anyway, if only to get a heads up on what the apparently bizarre language choices are doing.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    I think what I especially loved about this deep dive into how language drives people to behave/engage with "cult-like" and actual cult organizations is how it's not judgmental. It's a linguistic approach to how our brains are wired to build connections and ideas through words and it's through immersion in these words and ideas we find places we want to be . . . thus why SoulCycle or Peloton have such fanatics, as do actual cults themselves. A really interesting look at "cult-like" language and b I think what I especially loved about this deep dive into how language drives people to behave/engage with "cult-like" and actual cult organizations is how it's not judgmental. It's a linguistic approach to how our brains are wired to build connections and ideas through words and it's through immersion in these words and ideas we find places we want to be . . . thus why SoulCycle or Peloton have such fanatics, as do actual cults themselves. A really interesting look at "cult-like" language and behavior, from Jim Jones to MLMs to indeed, fitness programs.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ev

    Fascinating, intriguing, and sooo relevant. I can't tell you how many sections I highlighted. A must-read in 2021 or any time, really. Fascinating, intriguing, and sooo relevant. I can't tell you how many sections I highlighted. A must-read in 2021 or any time, really.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Rossetto

    I loved this book! Montell writes in a language that is both scientific but accessible to someone like me, a complete lay person who has no background in anything discussed within the book. As someone who generally DNF non-fiction books, I found myself unable to put this one down. The connections that Montell drew between seemingly every day things like social media influencers and the language of cults, as just one broad example, (or cult leaders/recent world leaders and the idea that say-it-li I loved this book! Montell writes in a language that is both scientific but accessible to someone like me, a complete lay person who has no background in anything discussed within the book. As someone who generally DNF non-fiction books, I found myself unable to put this one down. The connections that Montell drew between seemingly every day things like social media influencers and the language of cults, as just one broad example, (or cult leaders/recent world leaders and the idea that say-it-like-it-is honesty leadership is really just having a lack of filter) made sense in the way she presented them. I really enjoyed this book and took copious notes throughout the whole thing. I'm looking for thought-terminating cliches in everyday conversations everywhere I turn now. I can't wait to read more of Montell's writings.

  10. 4 out of 5

    The Atlantic

    "'Cultish', a forthcoming book by the writer and linguist Amanda Montell, is an absorbing examination of the one thing cults and 'cults' (think Jonestown and the Manson family, but also Peloton and Glossier) have in common: their manipulation of language. Montell argues that buzzwords, mantras, coded language, and forced silence are how these groups and brands build a sense of power and belonging, 'getting people to a point of extreme devotion and keeping them there.'" —Sophie Gilbert https://www "'Cultish', a forthcoming book by the writer and linguist Amanda Montell, is an absorbing examination of the one thing cults and 'cults' (think Jonestown and the Manson family, but also Peloton and Glossier) have in common: their manipulation of language. Montell argues that buzzwords, mantras, coded language, and forced silence are how these groups and brands build a sense of power and belonging, 'getting people to a point of extreme devotion and keeping them there.'" —Sophie Gilbert https://www.theatlantic.com/summer-re...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Abena Anim-Somuah

    Wow Montell strikes again! Such an incredible commentary on humans yearning for connection and how it has manifested into cults. From Jonestown to SoulCycle, Amanda does an exceptional job of a painting this tapestry on human nature with great historical references, personal anecdotes, and some good old fashioned human psychology. Couldn’t put this book down! Can’t wait for it be out IRL!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Wiegand

    Just when I thought I knew all there was to know about Jonestown, Scientology, and all things disturbing and culty, I could not put this book down!! Cultish had me entirely captivated and awash with new fascinating details of the stories I thought I knew and ones I have not even considered. I was hanging on every word of Montell’s linguistical analysis of the Jonestown death tape (and as a true-crime fanatic, I have already listened to it an embarrassing number of times). Moving from suicide cul Just when I thought I knew all there was to know about Jonestown, Scientology, and all things disturbing and culty, I could not put this book down!! Cultish had me entirely captivated and awash with new fascinating details of the stories I thought I knew and ones I have not even considered. I was hanging on every word of Montell’s linguistical analysis of the Jonestown death tape (and as a true-crime fanatic, I have already listened to it an embarrassing number of times). Moving from suicide cults to religious cults, to those sneaky and slippery MLMs that we find so many of our former high school classmates posting about on Instagram (you know—the posts where everything is smiley, beautiful, and "life-changing," but it is hard to figure out what they are actually selling?) Montell cracks open how language entices us into different worlds and how it convinces and coerces us to stay despite the terror, better judgment, woo woo, etc. we might encounter. This book will push readers to recognize how language facilitates induction into not only those terrifying classic cults we are all obsessed with but also the cults we have willingly joined in our everyday lives! Montell’s writing is beautiful, hilarious, and weaves together so many cultish stories that I could not pull myself away from. If you are at all intrigued by the power of language, cults, religion, multi-level marketing, all the craziness of Qua-non, or even SoulCycle, you NEED to read this book!!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brynn | readyourworriesaway

    Thank you @amanda_montell + @harper_wave for the gifted book! I have always been interested in learning about cults. But I never thought about how big of a role language plays. Amanda Montell does not judge people for getting involved in cults or cultish groups, but instead explains how the cultish language pulls people in who are looking for connections. I had heard of the notorious “suicide cults” like Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate, and the religious cults like Scientology, which Montell explores Thank you @amanda_montell + @harper_wave for the gifted book! I have always been interested in learning about cults. But I never thought about how big of a role language plays. Amanda Montell does not judge people for getting involved in cults or cultish groups, but instead explains how the cultish language pulls people in who are looking for connections. I had heard of the notorious “suicide cults” like Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate, and the religious cults like Scientology, which Montell explores in parts 2 and 3. In part 4 she delves into multilevel marketing companies (MLMs), part 5 covers “cult fitness” studios, and part 6 discusses social media gurus. Whether the group is positive or dangerous, each has a specific language that is used, and we are influenced by that language every day. Amanda Montell blends research with personal experiences and the experiences of people that she interviewed. The chapters of this book led to discussions with my dad about cult influence, and how we have seen cultish language used. I highly recommend picking this one up!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Craig

    This is a beautifully written and researched book that reveals the pervasive and varied types of cults that bombard all of us every day. The author has a unique cool and sophisticated voice that adds greatly to the delight in reading this book. It is so much fun and informative, you will want to read it a second time.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    "What techniques do charismatic leaders use to exploit people's fundamental needs for community and meaning? How do they cultivate that kind of power? The answer, as it turns out, is not some freaky mind-binding wizardry that happens on a remote commune where everyone dons flower crowns and dances in the sun . . . The real answer is it all comes down to words." -- page 12 Writer / linguist Montell presents an interesting look at the use and power of words and phrases that provide the inclusive or "What techniques do charismatic leaders use to exploit people's fundamental needs for community and meaning? How do they cultivate that kind of power? The answer, as it turns out, is not some freaky mind-binding wizardry that happens on a remote commune where everyone dons flower crowns and dances in the sun . . . The real answer is it all comes down to words." -- page 12 Writer / linguist Montell presents an interesting look at the use and power of words and phrases that provide the inclusive or controlling language in certain groups, especially (*but this can depend on personal opinion or point of view) the 'cultish' organizations that originated and proliferated in North America since the latter part of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, notorious factions like Jim Jones' Peoples Temple, the Church of Scientology, and Heaven's Gate are given a fair amount of print time here to detail their odd and/or even deadly situations, along with some lesser-known or thought-of groups like online pyramid schemes, fitness classes, or even otherwise benign political affiliations. (She also provides my favorite new social science idea of this year - the 'thought-terminating cliche'; coined by psychiatrist Robert Lifton sixty years ago, it is defined as a common phrase or catchphrase wielded in polite conversation that is aimed to shut down the discourse or dissent.) Using a deft mixture of detailed research plus some first- and second-hand experiences, Cultish was quite the intriguing and contemporary read with its blend of humor and concern.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Forsyth Harmon

    Through a combination of storytelling and research, Montell examines what causes people to join and remain in cults, with a specific focus on how linguistic patterns affect followers. It explores suicide cults, including Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate; controversial religions like Scientology and Children of God; multilevel marketing companies; cult fitness studios; and social media gurus. This book is important right now not just because of the cultish verbal elements that pervade modern startups, Through a combination of storytelling and research, Montell examines what causes people to join and remain in cults, with a specific focus on how linguistic patterns affect followers. It explores suicide cults, including Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate; controversial religions like Scientology and Children of God; multilevel marketing companies; cult fitness studios; and social media gurus. This book is important right now not just because of the cultish verbal elements that pervade modern startups, Peloton leaderboards, and social media feeds, but because of the ways cultish language is being employed by the fascist leaders of the growing far-right, across the globe—including, of course, our former president. Cultish concludes with an interrogation of QAnon. I highly recommend this for both the enthralling content and thoughtful insights. Once you read it, you'll never hear language the same way again!

  17. 5 out of 5

    s.penkevich

    Linguistics, cults and dunking on marketing? This is hyper-specifically my shit.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    I first encountered Amanda Montell‘s work a year or so ago, when she dissected the world of language and how it has inherent gender pitfalls. In this text, Montell unwraps how language is used to develop strong followings or serve to persuade people into various collectives. After some great background, Montell labels this language as ‘cultish’, right up there with English, Spanish, and even French (yes, I see that the last breaks the fluidity of examples). Montell effectively argues that langua I first encountered Amanda Montell‘s work a year or so ago, when she dissected the world of language and how it has inherent gender pitfalls. In this text, Montell unwraps how language is used to develop strong followings or serve to persuade people into various collectives. After some great background, Montell labels this language as ‘cultish’, right up there with English, Spanish, and even French (yes, I see that the last breaks the fluidity of examples). Montell effectively argues that language can be used in subtle or blunt ways to coerce or convince the population to believe or disbelieve certain things. While many people are surely visual learners, the means by which language is used can have a major influence on decision making, something Montell shows repeatedly throughout the tome. While the word ‘cult’ has morphed into something quite negative, for a long time it was not given the same eerie notion. Montell effectively argues that it was the rise of Jim Jones and his Jonestown commune in Guyana that sullied the word and permitted the world to make negative associations with the word so freely. Montell explores not only the group, but also how Jones used words and various phrases to really drill home his views to followers. It it so very intriguing how words and phrases, usually tied to salvation or persecution, can drum up such emotion in people. Montell’s exploration of the religious cult movement may not have been entirely unique to me (as in, I had heard some of the discussion before), but its presentation and analysis brought a much-needed new look to the subject matter. Another way in which groups can be called cults is a use of insider language, keeping those who are not ‘in the circle’ completely ostracised. While the primary example of this is the Church of Scientology, it can be extended to other groups, usually those in the world of fitness or other health movements. The ‘us versus them’ mentality fuels a separation between those who are actively supporting the group and non-believers. Montell exemplifies that there is usually a push to ‘get more insiders’ in a variety of ways, but that those who refuse to believe should be left to perish. Language to create this inner know is essential to success and failure, something that Montell presents repeatedly. Just as in many other realms, language can be key to bullying others, even within an organization. Multi-level Marketing (MLM) groups use it to keep their members motivated and trying to keep pulling more inside the circle, making it clear that those who cannot meet the standards are forced out and will likely be shunned for good. Montell explores many groups, usually popular sales from home companies, and how they use buzz language to promote continued growth, but also harsh critiques for those who are not able to succeed. While I am not working within an MLM, I know that sort of pressure, to a degree, in my current field of employment, where I work from home and try to liaise with the general public to help them protect themselves and their families. I see the strong verbiage that is used and the buzz language, which was only further highlighted at as I read this section of the book. Language can be a tool, though it is not always a building block, but rather a club to keep people in line. Montell offers many other examples, but it is up to the reader to take the time to explore this book to see things for themselves. The book was paced well and tackled a number fo areas of interest. While there may be moments of ‘soap box’ preaching, it almost needed to be done to shake the trees and allow the reader to see what’s going on around them. Montell’s detailed chapters are full of evidence to suppose her thesis and is also written in such a way as to entertain while surely educating. Amanda Montell is a vibrant personality and this comes through in her writing, but she is academic when the need arises. This is no fluff piece or a means of debunking things that others have already espoused as troublesome. She seeks to devise her own arguments and presents them in a clear and succinct manner, permitting the reader to come to their own conclusions. This is masterful and just what I needed to keep my mental muscle flexed throughout this captivating read. Kudos, Amanda Montell (for you taught me never to call you Madam), for this great book. I loved the hype leading up to its release and can say for a fact... it was well worth the wait. Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/ A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Canaves

    Montell takes a deep dive into cults, specifically the language used in order to gain and sustain power, and has written a book that is fascinating, eye-opening, and just a dash terrifying. It’s written in a completely accessible way—perfect for any reader who loves playing the “did you know” game—since Montell seems to be a person who is just herself fascinated by cults. That fascination stems from learning as a young child that her father escaped a cult his parents raised him in. You get histor Montell takes a deep dive into cults, specifically the language used in order to gain and sustain power, and has written a book that is fascinating, eye-opening, and just a dash terrifying. It’s written in a completely accessible way—perfect for any reader who loves playing the “did you know” game—since Montell seems to be a person who is just herself fascinated by cults. That fascination stems from learning as a young child that her father escaped a cult his parents raised him in. You get histories on some of the most known cults—and the realization that you may have been holding onto incorrect information all this time—but the book casts a wider net in looking at how that same language is also used by companies and in social media marketing. The question then becomes: when is it used for good, bad, or a middle ground? A few things I found particularly interesting that are still bouncing around in my brain: brainwashing doesn’t exist and is widely not accepted by experts; the beginning key element of cults is creating an “us vs them” dichotomy, something playing out very loudly recently in U.S. politics; the cult member who survived the mass killing in one cult then later joined another cult. If your brain has been craving an engrossing read lately, this is your book. (TW mass suicide cult case/ guru who uses triggering language related to suicide discussed in detail/ mentions suicide case, detail/ mentions cult leaders and doctrines allowing all types of abuse, including sexual assault, not detailed) --from Book Riot's Unusual Suspects newsletter: https://link.bookriot.com/view/56a820...

  20. 5 out of 5

    David

    The erosion of faith and community has left a vacuum for people starved for connection. A distrust of traditional institutions and a need to belong has proven fertile ground for the growth of cults from the tame to the terrifying. And it's not just credulous smooth brains — the people most likely to join a cult are generally intelligent, cheerful and most of all, optimistic. They are seeking some better way. And whether it's Scientology or SoulCycle, cults and cult-like brands rely on language t The erosion of faith and community has left a vacuum for people starved for connection. A distrust of traditional institutions and a need to belong has proven fertile ground for the growth of cults from the tame to the terrifying. And it's not just credulous smooth brains — the people most likely to join a cult are generally intelligent, cheerful and most of all, optimistic. They are seeking some better way. And whether it's Scientology or SoulCycle, cults and cult-like brands rely on language to reel us in. From love bombing to the aspirational slogans in the MLM world like "Build a fempire!", "Be a mompreneur" moving to the thought-terminating cliches built to shut down analytical thought like "trust the plan", "Don't be ruled by fear" and "the awakening is bigger than all of this" — these linguistic patterns are made to ensnare. Cultish language Montell writes, does three things; it makes people feel unique while connected to a larger community; it encourages people to feel dependent on a particular leader, group, or product and it convinces people to act in ways that are often in conflict with their former sense of self. Language works to clearly demarcate believers from non-believers and establishes an us-versus-them binary. Cults exist on a continuum so before you go off feeling smug about how you are too smart to be taken in by simple linguistic tricks examine how your own language reinforces your allegiances and defines your tribe. Do you disparage the sheeple, the SJWs who need to be red-pilled and join the Trumpire? Or are you circling back to get buy-in on the low hanging fruit to become the next disruptive change agent on the bleeding edge of tech. (sorry, I just threw up a little in my mouth there) Still a far reaching and fun read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    This felt like the more formally researched and argued version of a lot of TikToks I've enjoyed... and I mean that in the best possible way. This was a distillation of many disparate ideas floating in the internet zeitgeist, and it was interesting to see those ideas brought together in a cohesive, persuasive format. Definitely interested in more from this author, as an intersection of linguistics and pop culture seems to be her thing This felt like the more formally researched and argued version of a lot of TikToks I've enjoyed... and I mean that in the best possible way. This was a distillation of many disparate ideas floating in the internet zeitgeist, and it was interesting to see those ideas brought together in a cohesive, persuasive format. Definitely interested in more from this author, as an intersection of linguistics and pop culture seems to be her thing

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mel mynightsbooked

    Excuse me while I go fan girl over Amanda Montell and ask how to join her cult. Cultish by Amanda Martell was beyond fascinating and don't even get me started on this cover (Ah-mazing.) This isn't your typical true crime narration of Jonestown and the Manson family. Cultish is all about how language is used as the ultimate form of power with cultish groups, ranging from the sinister ones we immediately think of when we hear the word "cult" to the workout gurus and social media influencers we see Excuse me while I go fan girl over Amanda Montell and ask how to join her cult. Cultish by Amanda Martell was beyond fascinating and don't even get me started on this cover (Ah-mazing.) This isn't your typical true crime narration of Jonestown and the Manson family. Cultish is all about how language is used as the ultimate form of power with cultish groups, ranging from the sinister ones we immediately think of when we hear the word "cult" to the workout gurus and social media influencers we see all over Instagram and Tiktok. I especially loved the chapter on MLM schemes and diving into beliefs like Scientology and the spiritually awakened Instagram influencers. Fascinating with a capital F. Check out my full review at: https://www.mynightsbooked.com/post/c...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chris Boutté

    I don’t even know where to start with how much I enjoyed this book. I’ve seen Amanda Montell’s previous book Wordslut and have considered getting it quite a few times, but now I’m definitely going to read it now that I’ve finished Cultish. If you’re interested in understanding cults, how people get lured in, and how people get out, this books for you. If you enjoy the psychological aspect of cults, this book is for you. And if you want a completely unique perspective on cults, this book is also I don’t even know where to start with how much I enjoyed this book. I’ve seen Amanda Montell’s previous book Wordslut and have considered getting it quite a few times, but now I’m definitely going to read it now that I’ve finished Cultish. If you’re interested in understanding cults, how people get lured in, and how people get out, this books for you. If you enjoy the psychological aspect of cults, this book is for you. And if you want a completely unique perspective on cults, this book is also for you. I read hundreds of books each year, and many of them are in the realm of psychology, and it was so refreshing to read this book where the author focuses on how the language used can indoctrinate people and suck them into cult-like organizations. Unlike other books, Cultish covers the full gambit of cults, and what I really respected is how Montell puts cults on a sort of spectrum. The author explains the title for the book and how the word “cult” is often thrown around all willy nilly, so she started using the term “cultish”. Montell covers cults we’re all familiar with like Heaven’s Gate, the Branch Davidians, and Jonestown, but she also writes about many other groups that are “cultish”. Aside from touching on Scientology and some religious organizations, she also dives into how fitness groups like CrossFit and Pelaton can be cultish, and she also discusses the extremely important subject of social media cult followings. I have no criticisms of this book. Amanda is an incredible writer, and I can’t wait to read her other book. I guess my only complaint is that she doesn’t have more books for me to binge. As someone who is 9 years sober and got sober through 12-step programs like AA, it would have been interesting to hear her dive into that topic a bit more because she said that it’s one of the reasons it inspired her book. But, if she ends up coming on The Rewired Soul podcast where I interview authors, I’ll be able to ask her then.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jolene Bresney

    This book is a must-read for anyone trying to make sense of the social unrest and upheaval. America is fertile ground for cult-ish groups, some exploiting vulnerabilities for personal gain. Wealthy nations typically invest in healthcare and education protecting their population from exploitation— whereas America prides itself on laisse faire survivalism. Personally, I have brushed up against modern day cultish circles— I love my gym and my wellness gurus. Cultish is an important tool that helps This book is a must-read for anyone trying to make sense of the social unrest and upheaval. America is fertile ground for cult-ish groups, some exploiting vulnerabilities for personal gain. Wealthy nations typically invest in healthcare and education protecting their population from exploitation— whereas America prides itself on laisse faire survivalism. Personally, I have brushed up against modern day cultish circles— I love my gym and my wellness gurus. Cultish is an important tool that helps to identify and dissect manipulative language. After all it’s words that hook us. Amanda points out, it’s not so much “who a group is” it’s “what do they do” and underneath that lies the Big Why? Interesting read, eloquently written, so very informative.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Racheli Peltier

    Such an engaging read on a popular topic in a way that felt fresh and new to me. It’s a fascinating insight to the way we think about and experience cults!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Isabela Medina

    Had so much fun reading this book, could not put it down!!! So many interesting stories, insight and research jam packed into such a captivating summer read!

  27. 4 out of 5

    chantel nouseforaname

    "In Lindy West’s essay collection The Witches Are Coming, there is a chapter titled “Ted Bundy Wasn’t Charming—Are You High?,” which criticizes America’s frightfully low standards for men’s charisma. As long as someone is white, male, and telling us to pay attention to him, we’ll follow even “the most obviously bumbling con artist dumbass ever birthed by the universe,” West says. Even rude, mediocre, murderous Ted Bundy. Even buffoonish Fyre Festival fraudster Billy McFarland. Even racist fascis "In Lindy West’s essay collection The Witches Are Coming, there is a chapter titled “Ted Bundy Wasn’t Charming—Are You High?,” which criticizes America’s frightfully low standards for men’s charisma. As long as someone is white, male, and telling us to pay attention to him, we’ll follow even “the most obviously bumbling con artist dumbass ever birthed by the universe,” West says. Even rude, mediocre, murderous Ted Bundy. Even buffoonish Fyre Festival fraudster Billy McFarland. Even racist fascist misogynist Donald Trump. Even diabolical despotic Jim Jones." - 28% in Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism I can't heap enough praise on to this book. It was incredibly interesting to engage with mentally. Amanda Montell has been researching some cults and wants to tell you about her findings. She also wants to expose you to the language that people use to drag seemingly reasonable, logical people into seedy webs of suicide & murder, sexual violence, exploitation, fake and exclusionary wellness gurus and con-artists pushing everything from face cream to fit-tummy tea all the while killing themselves to make their lies look flawless. Cultish held me rapt. I was lost in this book. Hours would go by and it was so engrossing that I felt like I was sucked into the world of youtube videos I used to watch like this one with people exposing the madness that scammers are up to. It was fun and funny, but also sad and crazy. Other interesting quotes: "One of the major differences between so-called ethical cults (Hassan references sports and music fans) and noxious ones is that an ethical group will be up-front about what they believe in, what they want from you, and what they expect from your membership." "...juxtaposed with the dark elements, there’s a certain sexiness surrounding cults—the unconventional aspect, the mysticism, the communal intimacy." "Over the centuries, we’ve been primed to believe that the sound of a Jim Jones–type voice communicates an innate power and capability—that it sounds like the voice of God. In fact, during the heyday of television broadcasting, there was a known style of delivery labeled “the voice of God,” which applied to the deep, booming, exaggerated baritones of newscasters like Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow. It doesn’t take much analysis to notice that the voices of history’s most destructive “cult leaders” largely fit this description. That’s because when a white man speaks confidently in public about big topics like God and government, many listeners are likely to listen by default—to hear the deep pitch and “standard” English dialect and trust it without much questioning. They fail to nitpick either the delivery or the content, even if the message itself is suspect." Cultish is a very intriguing, entertaining read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Erin Franklin

    4.5 stars I absolutely adored Montell's previous book, Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, so when I saw that her sophomore release would look the language in and around cults I was... well practically whipped into a religious fervour (haha). Cultish definitely didn't disappoint but it also didn't give me the same instant favourite feelings I got with Wordslut. That said, it's still a great read and I feel like the only thing that left me wanting is it felt a little too 4.5 stars I absolutely adored Montell's previous book, Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, so when I saw that her sophomore release would look the language in and around cults I was... well practically whipped into a religious fervour (haha). Cultish definitely didn't disappoint but it also didn't give me the same instant favourite feelings I got with Wordslut. That said, it's still a great read and I feel like the only thing that left me wanting is it felt a little too surface level at times - I basically just wanted more pages and that's something I say basically never.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica - How Jessica Reads

    This was fascinating. I was totally that annoying person texting snippets from it to all kinds of people. 😅

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lisa &

    This book is incredible. It perfectly explains why humans start, join, and are totally fascinated by cults of the past and modern day. I highly recommend this book. It it both wildly important and incredibly entertaining. Ms. Montell is a talented wordsmith.

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