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Propaganda (Vintage) [Paperback]

Jacques Ellul
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House USA Inc (12 Jan 1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394718747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394718743
  • Product Dimensions: 18.6 x 12.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 38,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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True modern propaganda can only function within the context of the modern scientific system. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Jacques Ellul, famous French author decribes the incredible process of propaganda. Totally relevant in today's mind numbing information processing society. Arguably one of the most informative and concise books written on the subject. If you ever wondered what is propaganda and why do you think like you do, this book may help explain some of the difficulties in modern man's inherent thinking. The fact that this comes from French soil and was written prior to the Ken Starr investigation makes it all the more compelling.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening summary 15 Dec 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Translated from French, Propaganda initially feels like one of those books you're forced to read for class. Thankfully even though the text remains somewhat cumbersome it continues to be a very good overview on the subject focusing on the subtlety of how propagandas are applied rather than any one totalitarian state's modus operandi.

The sub-head is actually what the book is about - the formation of men's attitudes - which is a far more insightful for the children of propaganda - us.

A fairly quick read, it is worth reading in conjunction with a good history of PR which are effectively one and the same thing - how to form attitudes/shape another's thoughts.
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10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must read 2 Oct 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Though a tad diffucult at times, especially at the begining, but definately worth it. After reading, I will neve look at the mass media the same again. It truly amazing to see the techniques described in the book at work. When I was in high school, and read Orwell's 1984, I came away terrified. After reading this book, I was terrified even more, as I realized such a horrid society is, in many important respects, a reality.
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wake-up call! 15 May 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Like The Technological Society, this book is a wake-up call. It portrays the forces that are arrayed against us (humans) with chilling forthrightness. This should be required reading for all students of the media, politics, and anyone who wants to understand why and how such large numbers of people can do and believe the crazy things we see every day.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  33 reviews
195 of 200 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Chilling Study 7 Jan 2000
By daibhidh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Published in 1965, this book is a significant, if creepy study of that oft-misunderstood concept of propaganda. The references are unfortunately dated, but the insights are valuable, especially given how much propaganda is ignored in American society, particularly. It's not an easy read by any means, mostly because he throws so much at you at once you're sort of left punch-drunk. He lays it all out forthrightly.
The most terrible revelation he offers is when he points out that the most informed individuals (in the sense of consuming the most media) are the most propagandized (but unaware of being so). This is why this book doesn't get more play -- it would put the Massive Media and the "public relations" (aka, propaganda industry) out of business if people understood their real social role.
The book is bleak, and leaves you reeling. But it does provide intellectual ammunition -- namely, critical thinking -- as a hopeful vaccination from propaganda, except for Ellul's statement that people who think propaganda doesn't affect them tend to be propagandized....
I guess the safest thing you can do is assume you are a victim of propaganda, and then deal with it by sorting out what opinions are genuinely yours, and what are the result of "conventional wisdom" and "common sense". The alternative is to pretend you're somehow immune.
116 of 120 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book 20 April 2003
By R. Burnier - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Ellul takes a look at propaganda in its fullest and widest sense. Instead of trying to tinker with interesting but narrow experiments in mind manipulation, Ellul takes a view of propaganda from where it actually exists and springs forth in society and in history. He has a holistic theory of the workings and effects of the phenomenon.
And this is as it should be. After all, the propagandist is operating in full force right now, as he was in the 1960's when the book was written, and he is not using controlled labs to do it. He is doing it on a mass scale in real society and achieving results. Therefore a serious attempt to understand propaganda "in its actual place" and "as it is used" is valuable and enlightening. Ellul is not interested in "building" a technique for propaganda from the ground up, or in "proving" that it is possible. This much has already been done as evidenced by plain facts!! He is acknowledging what has already been achieved and is looking at these systems from many angles to determine their nature and tease out an understanding so we can know more what we are facing.
You will find many less than intuitive but fascinating notions in the book.
For instance: Education increases the ingestion of propaganda. In fact it is a prerequisite. It is no wonder Saddam Hussein worked to increase literacy in Iraq -- all the better to try to propagandize the people with words and mold them into a cohesive whole. Another idea: Democracies like the U.S. are very vulnerable to propaganda. In fact, this form of government makes propaganda all the more necessary, since you must work on people's minds more than their bodies (it is not a dictatorship.) People in democracies should expect to be heavily and relentlessly propagandized.
These are just a few samples of the many fascinating (and horrifying) ideas and insights in this volume.
One thing to note: Jacques Ellul is also a theologian and Christian, and he doesn't make much of a secret of that in his book or his other writings. I am not a Christian myself (I'm an atheist), but I frankly think Ellul's Christianity not only DOESN'T cloud Ellul's sharp powers of logic and observation, but it does him a bit of service in his examination of propaganda and its harmful effects on the human being. He makes few bones about the idea that propaganda has a tendency to separate man from himself and his true spirituality and/or personality. This he relates among the other harmful effects on the world at large in the form of exploitation and war.
All I can say is read this book: You'll never look at things the same way afterwards.
98 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orwell's 1984 = fiction; Ellul's Propaganda = prophecy 16 Sep 2003
By wildbill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Jacques Ellul is meticulous and thoughtful, so this book is occasionally dense and hard to follow. In addition, most of the examples and allusions will strike modern Americans as dated and obscure. Nonetheless, Ellul saw long ago where moderns were headed. He saw that authoritarian use of modern technologies would mesmerize, stultify, and reduce humans to thralls, just as Orwell and Huxley, in far more hysterical prose, had dramatized.
Orwell's electronic miracles monitored citizens directly or indirectly. Huxley's miracles were far more therapeutic or medical. But routine surveillance or treatment is inefficient and overwhelms any state that would depend on omniscience or envelopment. Ellul foresaw tools both electronic and human that would so condition subject-audiences that close monitoring and careful prescriptions would be unneeded.
Ellul also argued that this "Brave, New World" could not but subvert democracy and decency. Once the will of the citizen is not his or her own, then democracy in any meaningful sense is at least devalued and perhaps transformed into reassuring internment.
Perhaps Ellul's most important insight was that the educated believed themselves immune to propaganda when, due to their proclivity for reading and watching news and other governmental outflow, such "intellectuals" were actually far more vulnerable than masses who did not receive propaganda as often.
So turn off the set and log off the internet and settle in with a truly life-changing read.
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental! 22 Jan 2005
By Adem Kendir - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orwell's "1984" was fiction; Ellul's "Propaganda" prophecy 11 Sep 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Jacques Ellul is meticulous and thoughtful, so this book is occasionally dense and hard to follow. In addition, most of the examples and allusions will strike modern Americans as dated and obscure. Nonetheless, Ellul saw long ago where moderns were headed. He saw that authoritarian use of modern technologies would mesmerize, stultify, and reduce humans to thralls, just as Orwell and Huxley, in far more hysterical prose, had dramatized.
Orwell's electronic miracles monitored citizens directly or indirectly. Huxley's miracles were far more therapeutic or medical. But routine surveillance or treatment is inefficient and overwhelms any state that would depend on omniscience or envelopment. Ellul foresaw tools both electronic and human that would so condition subject-audiences that close monitoring and careful prescriptions would be unneeded.
Ellul also argued that this "Brave, New World" could not but subvert democracy and decency. Once the will of the citizen is not his or her own, then democracy in any meaningful sense is at least devalued and perhaps transformed into reassuring internment.
Perhaps Ellul's most important insight was that the educated believed themselves immune to propaganda when, due to their proclivity for reading and watching news and other governmental outflow, such "intellectuals" were actually far more vulnerable than masses who did not receive propaganda as often.
So turn off the set and log off the internet and settle in with a truly life-changing read.
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