As someone who is obsessed with cult documentaries, Montell hit so many points that had me nodding my head, yet also revealed how pervasive cult mentality, culture, and language are in situations I would have previously considered quite benign. Incredibly eye-opening, entertaining, compulsively readable, and startlingly of-the-moment, Cultish is as intriguing as the charismatic leaders and spellbinding groups it examines.— From Amanda
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.
Amanda Montell is a writer and reporter from Baltimore with bylines in Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Woman's Day, The Rumpus, Byrdie.com, and WhoWhatWear, where she is the staff features editor. As a pop linguist, Amanda's insights have been featured in Glamour, Bustle, Refinery29, Hello Giggles, and Bust Magazine. Amanda graduated from NYU with a degree in linguistics. She lives in Los Angeles. Find her on Instagram @amanda_montell.