Shop now Shop now Shop now See more Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now DIYED Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Shop now Shop now Shop now

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
26
4.7 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£14.99+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 8 August 2005
Eric Hoffer (1902-83) was born in New York City. At the age of seven he went blind, and after he mysteriously regained his sight at the age of 15 he began to read voraciously. In 1951, the same year that the Rosenbergs were convicted, that the Korean War was at its height, and that Joseph McCarthy was at his height, Mr. Hoffer produced this book.
In this book, Mr. Hoffer examines mass movements, and the true believers that fill them. While the movements change from generation to generation, the believers stay the same - people who suffer from self-hatred and self-doubt, and who join a mass movement (any mass movement) that promises to build a better future. The true believers are obsessed with the outer world, and with the private lives of others, seeking to create some sort of meaning for their own lives.
Overall, I found this to be one of the most fascinating books that I have ever read. The author's thoughts often seem to come in a stream of consciousness, but they explain so much about believers and the movements that they get behind. This is a riveting read, full of a great deal of food for thought. If you really want to understand the world around you, and the fanatics that fill so many different movements, then this is the book for you.
This is a book that every thinking person should read and ponder. I highly recommend it to you!
0Comment| 37 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 27 July 1999
This book has had a strong influence on me. Many of Hoffer's observations ring true when applied to real examples. His startling assertion that true believers are of the same basic psychological type, regardless of doctrine, has an uncanny explanatory power. Many later sociopolitical works echo his thoughts without acknowledging this man and his contributions.
0Comment| 22 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
The work tries to understand and explain, not pass judgment, on mass movements and their followers. Hoffer concentrates on the active phase of mass movements where the true believer has real influence. He cautions that although mass movements share many traits this does not imply that they're equally destructive or beneficent. Their appeal derives from the promise in their materialistic, religious, nationalist or blended natures. Intense, infectious emotion is the fuel. He analyses the various causes of the desire for change. Discontent alone is not enough; other factors are needed to activate it, like a sense of power and the ability to spread a vision of hope.

Faith in a cause is to a large extent a replacement for the individual's lost self-confidence. The movement offers a substitute for individual hope. Furthermore, movements are interchangeable to a surprising extent. As he puts it; "A Saul turning into a Paul is neither a rarity nor a miracle." The reason is that they attract the same mentality. Antidotes include arrangements that discourage atomistic individualism or offers opportunities for action or new beginnings, like emigration. Creative expression is a potent protector: even the poor that are creatively involved are immune, as are the abjectly poor and members of close-knit family, tribal or religious groups.

Potential converts are the disaffected, identified as misfits, outcasts, minorities, adolescents, the ambitious, the obsessed, the impotent in mind or body, certain categories of the poor, the extremely selfish, the bored and the sinners. Hoffer explains that the burden of freedom aggravates frustration in certain individuals. The followers exchange their individual responsibility for the sense of redemption that the movement offers. Those who feel like failures value equality and fraternity much more than freedom. This illuminates Russia's regression into totalitarianism and the passivity of Europeans.

Another striking insight is that that visions, dreams and utopian hopes are powerful weapons; people will die for delusions. Craving/desire is what causes the reckless self-sacrifice. Movements always target the family; Hoffer provides proof by quoting from inter alia the New Testament. Disruption of the family makes the person more dependent on the movement. Movements attract and retain followers due to the refuge they offer from the boredom, barrenness, anxiety and lack of meaning in the individual's life.

There are various species of misfit - the permanent misfit finds peace only in a total separation from the self. The extraordinarily selfish are likely to be the most fanatical champions of selflessness. Oddly, spinsters & middle aged women have played a crucial role in the birth of mass movements. Emotions like remorse and grievance appear to lead people in the same direction. Fervent enthusiasm helps to suppress a guilty conscience. United action and self-sacrifice are the elements that determine the vigor of a movement. Both sublimate the blemished self. Ways of persuading people to fight and die for the cause include:

(a) separating them from the real self by means of assimilation into the collective
(b) creating a make-believe self or a collective show
(c) making them hate the present and worship the future; the present is not only portrayed as miserable but is deliberately made so
(d) separating them from reality with the wall of dogma. Observation & experience are rejected in favor of doctrine which provides certitude.
(e) Keeping them in a state of fanaticism by inflaming passions & breaking down the will, thus transforming them into automatons. Reason is ineffective in trying to free a fanatic from these mental chains.

Hoffer's view of how different political persuasions view past, present and future is an interesting aside: The conservative is like the skeptic, echoing the thoughts of Ecclesiastes about nothing new under the sun whilst the liberal (Hoffer means the Classical Liberal, not today's leftist types) considers the present the legitimate offspring of the past, a springboard towards a better future.

On the other hand, both the reactionary and the radical hate the present. They differ only in their opinion on human nature's potential for change. The radical is convinced that human nature is perfectible whilst the reactionary believes the opposite. Fanatics occupy the same space on the political spectrum which is circular, not linear. The real difference is between the fanatics and the moderates of all ideologies. It is the temperament, not the ideological content that is crucial: fanatics often move from one form of extremism to another: communism, fascism, xenophobic nationalism, religious intolerance. Sinisterism by Bruce Walker offers more insight into this phenomenon.

The unifying agents are hatred, imitation, brainwashing (although Hoffer believes that the power of Propaganda is overrated and that it merely justifies & articulates opinions already present in the minds of recipients), leadership, action and suspicion. His observations on the impulse to convert are most arresting. The missionary zeal emanates from a profound uncertainty, an aching inner void. Proselytizing is a search for something; a quest to confirm that the fanatic's faith is indeed the absolute truth.

Three personality types are influential in mass movements: (a) men of words (b) fanatics (c) men of action. The first prepares the ground, the second initiates/dominates the active phase and the 3rd consolidates. Hoffer remarks that the first, whether they be journalists, academics or priests, thirst for recognition & a status above the rest of mankind. They are often the first victims of what they have unleashed. The fanatic thrives on chaos & destruction. The man of action rescues the movement from the recklessness of the fanatic; when he assumes control the active phase comes to an end.

In conclusion, Hoffer discusses good & bad movements, the sterility of the active phase and some factors that determine its length, plus examples of benevolent mass movements. The book concludes with notes arranged by chapter. It remains a masterpiece and a valuable contribution to the disciplines of politics, psychology, sociology and theology.
0Comment| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 5 April 1997
Whether you read a few sentences a day or in one setting,
you will be challenged to think about humans, history and
the future. This is a must read for anyone who cares about
humanity and understanding mass movements, from the formation
of Christianity to Naziism to Bosnia. Every thinking
Christian must read this book!
0Comment| 13 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 1 July 1999
A truly great book, easy to read and provides a provocative analysis of fanaticism - promoters and joiners of political and religious movements. I consider it one of the best of its type ever written - by a man with a keen ability to analyze human motivations and distill the essence of his findings in concise, often controversial, conclusions. You will be drawn to see how his observations mesh with your own experiences, upon careful reflection. Don't miss it!
0Comment| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 11 December 2007
There is more meat in every 2 pages of this book than you can find in any business or political block-buster. Hoffer's analysis is profound, and his arguments are disturbing because you'll recognise yourself and your own deepest fears and motivations somewhere in his writing. When you find something you can seriously disagree with, you'll discover on the next page he's already figured out your opinion and walks you through why you are wrong!
Best of all, it's written in superb clear English and it's short - no pseudo-intellectual waffle - because he knows exactly what he's trying to say, and he says it well.
You can apply Hoffer's arguments to much that we see in our crazy world, from the smallest to the biggest issues. He's not political and he's got no party agenda to stuff down your throat. After all, he wrote this in 1951 and things have changed a bit since then.
Other reviewers here have given good summaries of what he says - but it's hard to sum the arguments up simply because it's so tightly written in the first place.
This is a very deep and thought provoking little book, highly accessible and written by one of the US' greatest intellects: a formerly-disabled working man who read everything he could find out of terror of going back to being blind. Until you read him, you won't know how blind you are.
0Comment| 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
In this remarkable work, Hoffer concentrates on the active phase of mass movements where the true believer has real influence. He cautions that although mass movements share many traits this does not imply that they're equally toxic or beneficent. The work tries to understand and explain, not pass judgment. Their appeal derives from the promise in their materialistic, religious, nationalist or mixed natures. Intense, infectious emotion is the fuel. Hoffer analyses the various causes of the desire for change; discontent alone is not enough. Other factors are needed to activate it, like a sense of power and the ability to spread a vision of hope.

Faith in a cause is to a large extent a replacement for the individual's lost self-confidence. The movement offers a substitute for individual hope. Furthermore, movements are interchangeable to a surprising extent. As he puts it; "A Saul turning into a Paul is neither a rarity nor a miracle." The reason is that they attract the same mentality. Antidotes include arrangements that discourage atomistic individualism or offers opportunities for action or new beginnings, like emigration. Creative expression is a potent protector: even the poor that are creatively involved are immune, as are the abjectly poor and members of close-knit family, tribal or religious groups.

Potential converts are the disaffected, identified as misfits, outcasts, minorities, adolescents, the ambitious, the obsessed, the impotent in mind or body, certain categories of the poor, the extremely selfish, the bored and the sinners. Hoffer explains that the burden of freedom aggravates frustration in certain individuals. The followers exchange their individual responsibility for the sense of redemption that the movement offers. Those who feel like failures value equality and fraternity much more than freedom. This illuminates Russia's regression into totalitarianism and the passivity of Europeans.

Another striking insight is that that visions, dreams and utopian hopes are powerful weapons; people will die for delusions. Craving/desire is what causes the reckless self-sacrifice. Movements always target the family; Hoffer provides proof by quoting from inter alia the New Testament. Disruption of the family makes the person more dependent on the movement. Movements attract and retain followers due to the refuge they offer from the boredom, barrenness, anxiety and lack of meaning in the individual's life.

There are various species of misfit - the permanent misfit finds peace only in a total separation from the self. The extraordinarily selfish are likely to be the most fanatical champions of selflessness. Oddly, spinsters & middle aged women have played a crucial role in the birth of mass movements. Emotions like remorse and grievance appear to lead people in the same direction. Fervent enthusiasm helps to suppress a guilty conscience. United action and self-sacrifice are the elements that determine the vigor of a movement. Both sublimate the blemished self. Ways of persuading people to fight and die for the cause include:

(a) separating them from the real self by means of assimilation into the collective
(b) creating a make-believe self or a collective show
(c) making them hate the present and worship the future; the present is not only portrayed as miserable but is deliberately made so
(d) separating them from reality with the wall of dogma. Observation & experience are rejected in favor of doctrine which provides certitude.
(e) Keeping them in a state of fanaticism by inflaming passions & breaking down the will, thus transforming them into automatons. Reason is ineffective in trying to free a fanatic from these mental chains.

Hoffer's view of how different political persuasions view past, present and future is an interesting aside: The conservative is like the skeptic, echoing the thoughts of Ecclesiastes about nothing new under the sun whilst the liberal (Hoffer means the Classical Liberal, not today's leftist types) considers the present the legitimate offspring of the past, a springboard towards a better future.

On the other hand, both the reactionary and the radical hate the present. They differ only in their opinion on human nature's potential for change. The radical is convinced that human nature is perfectible whilst the reactionary believes the opposite. Fanatics occupy the same space on the political spectrum which is circular, not linear. The real difference is between the fanatics and the moderates of all ideologies. It is the temperament, not the ideological content that is crucial: fanatics often move from one form of extremism to another: communism, fascism, xenophobic nationalism, religious intolerance. Sinisterism by Bruce Walker offers more insight into this phenomenon.

The unifying agents are hatred, imitation, brainwashing (although Hoffer believes that the power of Propaganda is overrated and that it merely justifies & articulates opinions already present in the minds of recipients), leadership, action and suspicion. His observations on the impulse to convert are most arresting. The missionary zeal emanates from a profound uncertainty, an aching inner void. Proselytizing is a search for something; a quest to confirm that the fanatic's faith is indeed the absolute truth.

Three personality types are influential in mass movements: (a) men of words (b) fanatics (c) men of action. The first prepares the ground, the second initiates/dominates the active phase and the 3rd consolidates. Hoffer remarks that the first, whether they be journalists, academics or priests, thirst for recognition & a status above the rest of mankind. They are often the first victims of what they have unleashed. The fanatic thrives on chaos & destruction. The man of action rescues the movement from the recklessness of the fanatic; when he assumes control the active phase comes to an end.

In conclusion, Hoffer discusses good & bad movements, the sterility of the active phase and some factors that determine its length, plus benevolent mass movements. The book concludes with notes arranged by chapter, a portrait and brief biography of the author.
11 comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 7 August 2015
A very engaging and insightful work is this, well researched and academic, to the point where it would be dry were it not for the subject matter and Hoffer’s engaging turn of phrase, which gives not only a theoretical view of the world of the fanatic, but a deep analysis of how the fanatic and his world came about.
Hoffer is very even-handed in his discussion, drawing examples from the Nazi party, the French Revolution, postwar Palestine, Stalinist Russia, the Crusades and Imperial Japan. No period or aspect of life is left unexamined as he walks through the rise of the mass movement, who is motivated to join them and why, and how each religious, political and revolutionary current transitions through various stages, changing its rhetoric, members and even its aims in the pursuit of-what? Something which they all have in common but claim is unique only to their own race of believers.
You could page through it and find multiple parallels with his time and our own, from Nazi Germany to North Korea, and radical Islam to the radical right. Like any good work of history, this shows the reader how parts of the modern world came about and persist today, and how we might be ( or how we have been) led to follow a strange banner and become a True Believer ourselves.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Hoffer focuses on the active phase of mass movements, the one dominated by the true believer. Frustration seems to be inherent in this personality type. He cautions that although mass movements share many traits this does not imply that they're equally toxic or beneficent. The work tries to understand and explain, not pass judgment.

Their appeal derives from the promise in their materialistic, religious, nationalist or mixed natures. Intense, infectious emotion is required as fuel. Hoffer analyses the causes of the desire for change: discontent alone is not enough. Other factors are needed to activate it, like a sense of power and the ability to spread a vision of hope.

Faith in a cause is to a large degree a replacement for the individual's lost self-confidence. The movement offers a substitute for individual hope. Furthermore, movements are interchangeable to a surprising extent. As he puts it; "A Saul turning into a Paul is neither a rarity nor a miracle." The reason is that they attract the same mentality.

Antidotes include arrangements that discourage atomistic individualism or offers opportunities for action or new beginnings, like emigration. Creative expression is a potent protector: even the poor that are creatively involved are immune, as are the abjectly poor and members of close-knit family, tribal or religious groups.

Potential converts are the disaffected. Hoffer identifies them as misfits, outcasts, minorities, adolescents, the ambitious, the obsessed, the impotent in mind or body, certain categories of the poor, the extremely selfish, the bored and the sinners.

He explains the burden of freedom, how it aggravates frustration in certain individuals. The followers exchange their individual responsibility for the sense of redemption that the movement offers. Those who feel like failures value equality and fraternity much more than freedom. This illuminates Russia's regression into totalitarianism.

Another striking insight is that that visions, dreams and utopian hopes are powerful weapons; people will die for delusions. Craving/desire is what causes the reckless self-sacrifice.

Movements always target the family; Hoffer provides proof by quoting from inter alia the New Testament. Disruption of the family makes the person more dependent on the movement. Movements attract and retain followers due to the refuge they offer from the boredom, barrenness, anxiety and lack of meaning in the individual's life.

There are various species of misfit - the permanent misfit finds peace only in a total separation from the self. The extraordinarily selfish are likely to be the most fanatical champions of selflessness. Oddly, spinsters & middle aged women have played a crucial role in the birth of mass movements. Emotions like remorse and grievance appear to lead people in the same direction. Fervent enthusiasm helps to suppress a guilty conscience.

United action and self-sacrifice are the elements that determine the vigor of a movement. Both sublimate the blemished self. Ways of persuading people to fight and die for the cause include:

(a) separating them from the real self by means of assimilation into the collective
(b) creating a make-believe self or a collective show
(c) making them hate the present and worship the future; the present is not only portrayed as miserable but is deliberately made so
(d) separating them from reality with the wall of dogma. Observation & experience are rejected in favor of doctrine which provides certitude. It is believed in, not understood.
(e) Keeping them in a state of fanaticism by inflaming passions & breaking down the will, thus transforming them into automatons. Constant fanning of the flames prevents the attainment of inner balance. Reason is ineffective in trying to free a fanatic from these mental chains.

Hoffer's view of how different political persuasions view past, present and future is an interesting aside: The conservative is like the skeptic, echoing the thoughts of Ecclesiastes about nothing new under the sun whilst the liberal (Hoffer means the Classical Liberal, not today's leftist types) considers the present the legitimate offspring of the past, a springboard towards a better future.

On the other hand, both the reactionary and the radical hate the present. They differ only in their opinion on human nature's potential for change. The radical is convinced that human nature is perfectible whilst the reactionary believes the opposite.

Fanatics occupy the same space on the political spectrum which is circular, not linear. The real difference is between the fanatics and the moderates of all ideologies. It is the temperament, not the ideological content that is crucial: fanatics often move from one form of extremism to another: communism, fascism, xenophobic nationalism, religious intolerance. Sinisterism by Bruce Walker offers more insight into this phenomenon.

The unifying agents are hatred, imitation, brainwashing (although Hoffer believes that the power of propaganda is overrated and that it merely justifies & articulates opinions already present in the minds of recipients), leadership, action and suspicion.

His observations on the impulse to convert are most arresting. The missionary zeal emanates from a profound uncertainty, an aching inner void. Proselytizing is a search for something instead of a gift, a quest to confirm that the fanatic's faith is indeed the absolute truth.

Three personality types are influential in mass movements: (a) men of words (b) fanatics (c) men of action. The first prepares the ground, the second initiates/dominates the active phase and the 3rd consolidates. Hoffer remarks that the first, whether they be journalists, academics or priests, thirst for recognition & a status above the rest of mankind. They are often the first victims of what they have unleashed. The fanatic thrives on chaos & destruction. The man of action rescues the movement from the recklessness of the fanatic; when he assumes control the active phase comes to an end.

In conclusion, Hoffer discusses good & bad movements, the sterility of the active phase and some factors that determine its length, plus useful mass movements. The book concludes with notes arranged by chapter, a portrait and brief biography of the author.
22 comments| 8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 26 January 2010
Eric Hoffer offers a penetrating and deeply troubling insight into the psychology of those who allow themselves to fall under the spell of fanatical mass movements --- something to which we are all prone to a greater or lesser extent. At several points, though, I feel Hoffer could have showed greater sensitivity. I simply cannot recognize Hoffer's blanket characterization of Christianity as a mass movement, although there are pathological manifestations of 'religion' with exactly this character. Hoffer wouldn't be the first writer that failed to make the crucial distinction between true religion and organized neurosis. But this at least throws the reader a challenge: Hoffer should make us think very carefully about our motivations for what we 'truly believe'.
22 comments| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse