For the second time this year, I’m gonna downgrade a book that I probably would have liked better if I had different expectations going in. This time the victim of mis-marketing is Cultish, by Amanda Montell.
The book jacket promises:
Through juicy storytelling and cutting-edge original research [emphasis mine — auntadadoom], Montell exposes the linguistic elements that make a wide spectrum of communities cultish, revealing not only how cult language affects followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate but also how it pervades our modern start-ups, fitness brands, 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.
Nope. The book spent most of its wordcount just recapping examples of insular, intense communities, and doing some light description of the psychology driving people to seek out and become members of those communities. The material about language could have probably been condensed into three pages. If there was any “original research” I honestly missed it.
I’m not being snarky, I genuinely can’t remember anything in the book that I can picture Montell herself characterizing that way.
Anyway … groups that spend a lot of time together develop slang and use it to discuss their common purpose, and groups that don’t want people to wander off develop talking points to prevent members for leaving for common reasons or questioning their membership.
^^ turns out I didn’t need three pages for the language content, with my remaining 2.75 pages I will …
The psychology stuff is somewhat interesting but not original, and not particularly illuminating new ground for anyone who’s watched LuLaRich. The book is well-written enough but there’s nothing unique here. So …
If you’re super-interested in cults and cult-adjacent stuff, spend a day (or more) gorging on Netflix/HBO docs.
If you’re not, then don’t do that and don’t read this book either.
If you want to learn something about linguistic tools used to manipulate and control people … keep looking, I guess, ’cause this won’t help.