Ellul's study still stands out as one of the greatest achievements in the history of the study of propaganda, in terms of how it is practiced, how/why it is effective and how it is inescapable and tied to the very nature of democratic society. Ellul's picture is not a pretty one. He views propaganda as ultimately dehumanizing, necessary and inevitable at the same time. Propaganda, ANY propaganda, regardless of motives or veracity, serves to reduce the individual to function as a meaningless syphon. Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not, it is still a well-argued, compelling and frightening look and modern societies.
The biggest drawback is that the book published today is the same as that published in 1965 (Ellul died in 1994 and no real updated edition was ever produced), and the cases analyzed may seem obsolete, in that he focuses primarily on National Socialist, Maoist, Soviet and US cold war propaganda. But the analysis of is still second to none. For those familiar with the study of propaganda, Ellul's work was by far the most comprehensive and penetrating study of propaganda to that point. It was a HUGE and monumental advance from the previous research into propaganda of Bernays, Lambert, or Fraser. This book ought to be required reading for anyone who wishes to consider themselves even remotely literate or intelligent. Although one may not agree with all his conclusions, it nonetheless provides a compelling argument and portrait of modern man and how frighteningly easy it is to systematically 'persuade' him. Any thinking person cannot but attempt to be cognizant of how we are influenced.
This book is relevant for several reasons. 1) The student of history will appreciate the Ellul's examples. 2) The book analyzes what are, essentially, the beginnings of modern propaganda making it important for anyone studying the phenomenon. 3) Ellul breaks the phenomenon down into easily understood categories and places them in the context of the modern 'technological', urbanized society and what Ellul calls the predicament of modern man. 4) The research and sources that went into writing this book are as comprehensive as they could have been. 5) It provides an excellent explanation of much of 'modern life'. 6) Ellul was also an interesting writer and individual (simultaneously an Evangelist and Anarchist).
Again, the only real drawback is that some might find the examples obsolete and there are more recent studies of modern propaganda techniques, which have naturally advanced since from those used during the cold war. One would also be well served to read the more recent studies of propaganda by Chomsky, Cialdini (a more psychological approach), Jowett or Cunningham. I would still give Ellul's book more than 5 stars if I could.