Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism | Amanda Montell
Amanda Montell Linguistics Reference Religious Cults Communication Reference Occult Cults & Demonism Linguistics Academic & Commercial Writing Reference Words, Language & Grammar Communication Politics & Social Sciences Feminist Theory
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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.
A fascinating, enthusiastic narrative on the loaded language of cults. -- Kirkus Reviews
“A rigorous and fascinating examination of the power of language to spellbind us all. Montell’s command over cultish language makes her as mesmerizing and charismatic as the gurus she dissects.” -- Molly Ringwald, actress and author of When It Happens to You
“You will never think of cults the same way again—this is an unforgettable look at human nature and the power of language. I couldn’t put it down. Amanda Montell blends true journalistic sorcery with her trademark humor and intrepid curiosity to create a linguistic narrative so delicious and searingly smart, you will wonder, like I did, can we join her cult? If so, count me in as a follower for life. I’ll read anything this woman writes.” -- Chelsea Bieker, author of Godshot
“Whip-smart, engaging, and utterly intriguing. Cultish is a witty and thorough examination of power, community, words, and the junctures between them.” -- Alexis Henderson, author of The Year of the Witching
“A playful but canny exploration of the ways language can entrance and beguile us—sometimes past the point of no return.” -- Elisabeth Thomas, author of Catherine House
“One of those life-changing reads that makes you see— or, in this case, hear—the whole world differently.” -- Megan Angelo, author of Followers
“Compulsively readable and startlingly of-the-moment, this witty, slick, and self-assured book is as intriguing as the spellbinding groups it examines.” -- Andrea Bartz, author of The Lost Night and The Herd
“At times chilling, often funny, and always perceptive and cogent, Cultish is a bracing reminder that the scariest thing about cults is that you don't realize you're in one till it's too late.” -- Refinery29.com
“We’re all susceptible to coercion, and Montell’s phenomenal book that chilling point as clear as can be.” -- Bitch Magazine
About the Author
Amanda Montell is a writer and language scholar from Baltimore. She is the author of two books: Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism, about the language of "cults" from Scientology to SoulCycle (forthcoming from HarperCollins, June 2021), and the critically acclaimed Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language (HarperCollins, 2019). Amanda's books have earned praise from the New York Times, The Atlantic, Time Magazine, Harper's Bazaar, Kirkus Reviews, and Publisher's Weekly, among others, and Amanda is currently developing Wordslut for television with FX Studios, serving as creator, writer, and executive producer. Her forthcoming podcast, Sounds Like a Cult, will premiere June 2021. As a reporter and essayist, Amanda's writing has been featured in Marie Claire, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, The Rumpus, Byrdie, and Who What Wear, where she formerly served as the Features & Beauty Editor. She holds a degree in linguistics from NYU and lives in Los Angeles with her partner, plants, and pets. Find her on Instagram @amanda_montell.