• Cultish

  • The Language of Fanaticism
  • By: Amanda Montell
  • Narrated by: Ann Marie Gideon
  • Length: 8 hrs and 21 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (1,720 ratings)

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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

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    5 out of 5 stars

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.

20 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

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.

19 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?

18 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.

17 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.

11 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.

6 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.

5 people found this helpful

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Interesting

a good listen. I just wish the author didn't get political. it could have been avoided but obviously they felt the need to express their political views in their work.

I get enough politics everywhere, I wouldn't have our purchased this had I know that they would insert their political views.

2 people found this helpful

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Engaging but slightly (unnecessarily?) political

Hearing a linguist engage with cult language at varying levels was so engaging. I enjoyed myself immensely. However, even as a liberal, I do wish the author refrained from the topic of Donald Trump. At those points, it pulled me out of the academia-esque nature of this book because it felt more driven by opinion than academic analysis. Regardless, the book was still informative and interesting. Now I have to go buy a copy for my personal library, well done.

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.

2 people 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

3 people found this helpful

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  • simon nielsen
  • 07-22-22

decent

At times I think the feminist/anit-racist aspects felt forced. In the beginning of the book there are a lot of references to later chapters, 'this will be discussed in ch. 6' is mentioned a lot. this makes the listening experience less cohesive in my opinion

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  • Ke Donn
  • 07-06-22

A Whole New Level

I really wanted to like this book however some of the things covered by the author just felt down right judgemental. Anything slightly away from "normal" was treated with derision and a snider tone from the narrator. I listened to the entire book as I was intrigued to see where the author would go next. Oddly although picking on odd things like cross fit and Joe Dispenza a man who has helped thousands she conveniently left out religion! I'm not saying the whole book was awful but a lot of it just made me cringe as it was extremely biased towards what she wants you to think.....almost cultish!

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  • Anon
  • 07-01-22

Mostly Filler Content And Very Little Value

The most basic of books on cults. Only really useful absolute beginners who've never really heard of cults. Gives a decent but very basic introduction and a few examples of cultish language. Offers very little value for anyone who already knows a bit about cults.

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  • Priscilla Eyles
  • 06-29-22

Interesting, informative & well contextualised

Really liked the way Montell contextualises cults & 'cultish' organisations in wider neo-liberal & colonialist ideologies and understands the demographic they aim to cater for e.g. CrossFit's/SoulCycle's appeal to white middle-class aspirational people & bored housewives.

Revealed also a lot about the way corporations like Amazon try to embed fanatical loyalty to them at the expense of worker's wellbeing (learning by heart a 50 plus page manual reminds me so much of Landmark & having to learn their introduction leader manual - the horror).

And the way that dangerous social media guru/influencers like Teal Swan & Benhino Massuro have been able to game sm platforms like Instagram & YouTube in order to gain followers that will fork out for their expensive retreats IRL.

Also liked that Montell doesn't fall into trap of saying 'anyone' could be seduced into being in a cult, but makes the reasons why clear and understandable. As well as the insight into how trauma influences the ability to easily spot a scam and how that's tied to the concept of 'fast & slow thinking' as popularised in the book of the same name.

I want to thank Montell for writing this, as a marginalised cult survivor it is one of the first books which looks with any depth at how abelist, racist etc these cultish organisations and people are.

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  • Ian Williams
  • 02-24-22

Repetitive and shallow after a while

It's a really interesting topic and starts well. However, near the end we are still meeting more identikit 'cults' without really getting any closer or deeper in our understanding of them.

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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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  • Aisling Ching
  • 07-21-22

Fantastic

This is really informative and eye opening. The many different sources, stories and types of ‘cult’ that are looked at gives a really wide view of the language that draws us in. I love the narration style too. The slight change in tone and pattern of speech makes it feel more alive. It helps distinguish the interviews and study’s that are being quoted from the rest of the book and makes it really enjoyable.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-20-22

amazing... I'm going to listen again and again

loved it! I am going to listen again and again... funny.... fascinating and feminist. excellent use of science and anectodes.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-10-22

Fascinating!

This book has been written so well. It is fascinating and captivating, the author has researched the topic excellently.
Especially I found listening to the Jonestown and Heaven's Gate murder/suicides the most interesting.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-07-22

Fascinating Book

I had a great time listening to this book, the narration was great and the discussion regarding cultish language was both informative yet engrossing.

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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.