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 top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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