Book Review: Cultish by Amanda Montell


Title: Cultish

By: Amanda Montell

Genre: Non-Fiction

Pages: 302

Release Date: June 15th, 2021

Publisher: Harper Wave

Rating: ★★★★☆


Summary from Goodreads:

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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This was an interesting ride through words and the language of cults, but not just the typical cult that we normally go to in our minds, but the cultish language that is used in everyday life.

Amanda Montell has a wonderful way of portraying words as a way to manipulate thought in a way that we would normally not think it would. When you really get down to it, how many times a day are we sucked into thinking a certain way without even thinking about it? This book really made me stop and wonder about the use of words and how big corporations, not just religious facilities have used words to manipulate people for their own gain.

I love how this book starts great conversations and I could see it as a wonderful book club read.

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