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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2021 Amanda Montell (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about Cultish

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Get this book ASAP

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.

15 people found this helpful

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Was going good, and then....

I've been looking for a better balance in life and the information I let in. being open to listen to some degree is important. I'd be fine with subject matter, if not for the seemingly constant pointing at Trump. If you didn't know any better you'd think he was the cause of all the world's evils. past, present and future. If not him capitalism, the church, or white men or white women... talking about those this is cool, but what are others on the left? or the far left? nothing? Are there any "cultish" activities on the left that can get the same treatment?

13 people found this helpful

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Great info, great narration and great stories

This book turned out to be better than expected. I love to read about cults so I expected an analysis of some cults. It's much more than that. I realized we are all in cults. The political, corporate, wellness or whatever cults. The stories are entertaining and informative.

The author makes it clear that it's not wrong to be cultish because we all are but the book gives information on how to be. little more skeptical and rational. The author is very knowledgable about linguistics and anyone would benefit from reading this book.

P.S.
Some people will dislike the book because they probably feel exposed even if the author was super compassionate and careful.

11 people found this helpful

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Ruined by author's politics

Each time I found myself enjoying a particular chapter or story, the author found another way to weave in her apparent anti-conservative obsession. She easily could have omitted her bias or presented examples from both sides of the aisle. As it's written, the continuous jabs at Trump, white men, etc. seem childish and ruin the book.

9 people found this helpful

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Wish she would have left out the politics.

This is a really great book. However, I think it could have been a lot better if she would have left politics out of it. Being middle of the road, I don’t find myself particularly offended by anything she says, however I do question the obvious bias and think the book would have been much better had she not referred to one political party or another as a “cult“ I think there is extreme fanaticism on both sides of the aisle and don’t feel that it was well represented that way. Too bad. Hate to see someone allow politics to ruin such an interesting conversation.

4 people found this helpful

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Amazing book

I absolutely loved this book. Very informative and well researched. Made you really think about the power of words and when things that are mentioned have been tried on you. So good. A must read for everyone.

4 people found this helpful

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Toxic Cultish Closed Minded Bias

An engaging narrative that sucks you into her Cultish thinking.. Loving every minute of her presentation because we agree politically. I was so disappointed that she had nothing positive to share only criticism of everything ... sounding exactly like those Q fans on the toxic right she rallies against.

If she would critique both sides she would have been more credible. Sadly it ended up being a whining victim story against all her perceived enemies. After a few more years of life seasoning and exploring her own shadows she may actually be able to influence positives instead of more closed minded bigotry that serves no one on either side.

2 people found this helpful

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Well-told

I'm fascinated by cults and have read a number of books about their manipulation tactics. If you have too, then you won't find any new material here. Even though the author focuses on the role of language in cults, I don't think that really falls within her expertise in linguistics; it's more rhetoric or psychology, I think, so she has to pull in the expertise of others for most of her content. Which is fine and she does a good job presenting the material, while adding in her own anecdotes.

While I liked the book and would recommend it to others, I won't be buying a physical copy to add to my bookshelves like I would if it had given me a new perspective.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent!

Well-done research into how and why cult-like language has crept into our daily lives, who joins cults and why.

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Sceptical at first, but stoked by the end.

Cults are my thing, and I've been in a few. I thought I had read it all, but Montell's writing matched with the Gideon's performance happily kept me till the end.

I was hoping for sections on fraternities like Freemasons or KKK, magickal Crowley/Occult/Satanic groups, or ethnocentric cults like Rastafarianism or Qabalism. Maybe on the next one! Great job Amanda!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-07-21

Grain of salt needed!

This book started of great! Learning the unique perspective the author has on cults by emphasising the power of language. However this book took a turn for the worst after the authors criticism on CrossFits “cultishness”. Even though I totally agree with her claim, it was so poorly substantiated I cringed listening to it. The quality of research on that chapter stood so in contrast with the rest of the book I highly doubt she meant to leave it in. Maybe it had something to do with a publishing timeframe. So take the chapter with a grain of salt and read the rest of the book too! Enjoy

2 people found this helpful

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  • JONAH8208
  • 01-07-22

Interesting and Clever

I enjoyed this book if that is the right word for it! Interesting, informative, cleverly written and enlightening and inspired me to look up some of the people mentioned and a few new podcasts. I have to admit I have always been highly skeptical of pretty much everything that cannot be proven since I was 11 or so and I am a constant thorn in the side of my employers, who employ me to be skeptical and flag up woo and related BS - that's what being in aviation insurance claims for 20 years does to a guy like me but Ms Montell surprised me - well done!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-30-21

Protect yourself by reading this!

Really interesting book discussing the way that cults, companies and brands use language to manipulate us. Discusses some of the biggest cults including Jonestown. Debunks the theory that only uneducated people fall into cults. Their methods are more subtle than you might think. Cultish will arm you with the tools to prevent it from happening to you. This is Essential reading for the times we live in.

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  • BookNook
  • 09-08-21

Fascinating!

I really enjoyed this and would highly recommend to anyone interested in cults, language and marketing! Very easy listen.

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  • Liam_H
  • 07-31-21

koolaid for the soul?

interesting read on various types of cult from death cults to multi level marketing to exercise.

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  • Adam Priestley
  • 06-23-21

Fascinating

I finished this book in two days which is total record for me, I could not stop listening and would highly recommend

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  • Madeline Bradley
  • 07-14-21

Such a good listen

This kept me interested & fascinated the entire way through. It’s written in such an accessible way and everything was thoroughly explained.
I’l definitely be viewing people who have gotten caught up in Cults with a lot more compassion than I would have before hearing this book and also be a lot more cautious around fanaticism language in future. This book was actually fascinating, thank you Amanda Montell.