A fascinating, enthusiastic narrative on the loaded language of cults.

CULTISH

THE LANGUAGE OF FANATICISM

A scrutiny of the social science behind cult communication.

With the same verve demonstrated in her debut on feminism and language, Wordslut (2019), Montell explores how language can manipulate masses of people in detrimental ways. Using accessible prose, the author discusses the varied definitions of the word cult, the dangers of universally demonizing its terminology, and its murky history as society’s relationship with spirituality has evolved. Montell has always been intrigued by her father’s involvement in the Synanon movement in the 1970s, and she explores a wide range of “fanatical fringe groups with extreme ideologies.” The author compares their initial appeal to scanning the scene of an accident: The brain must assess the personal threat level and activate its “fight or flight” reaction. There is also the organic human need for communal intimacy, purpose, belonging, and organizational order. Montell intensively explores how the misleading euphemisms, politicized buzzwords, mantras, and subconsciously suggestive phrasing of “cult language” can be channeled and weaponized to mercilessly exploit participants of such “organizations” as QAnon or the notorious sex-trafficking group NXIVM. The author is an engaging storyteller, sharing tales of bizarre cult behavior found in a vast spectrum of memberships and organizations, including her own hard-sell encounter with Hollywood Scientologists. She also explores the mechanics of complex, multilevel marketing schemes like Amway. She chronicles her often shocking interviews with people who have been seduced by shadowy New Age groups like the 3HO Foundation as well as survivors of suicide cults like the Jonestown People’s Temple and the doomsayers of the Heaven’s Gate group. Of course, any discussion of cultlike language would be incomplete without hard-core fitness programs, and Montell diligently examines CrossFit, Peloton, and SoulCycle. With a provocative combination of interviews, anecdotes, and scientific and psychological research, Montell educates and empowers readers to become more aware of “the varying dialects of Cultish that imbue our daily lives.”

A fascinating, enthusiastic narrative on the loaded language of cults.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-299315-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Wave

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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