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.
“Montell’s masterful translation of our need to belong will mesmerize.” — Booklist starred review
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.
Advance Praise for Cultish
“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
“An incisive, illuminating investigation of the broad spectrum of cult-like communities. Montell is a skeptic and a linguist, but she writes with tireless empathy.” — Stephanie Cha, author of Your House Will Pay
“Witty, slick, and self-assured, Cultish sparkles with muscular prose and snappy asides, but its true wizardry is how Montell peels back the veneer over topics we’re confident we already understand—brainwashing, even the term “cult” itself—and demonstrates how a few potent verbal tricks, wielded correctly, render us more susceptible to cultish influences than we’d like to think. Compulsively readable and startlingly of-the-moment.” — Andrea Bartz, author of The Lost Night and The Herd
“One of those life-changing reads that makes you see—or, in this case, hear—the whole world differently.” — Megan Angelo, author of Followers