Your Garage Best Books of the Month Amazon Fashion Learn more Discover it $5 Albums Fire TV Stick Sun Care Patriotic Picks Shop-by-Room Amazon Cash Back Offer roadies roadies roadies  Amazon Echo  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Amazon Echo Starting at $49.99 All-New Kindle Oasis UniOrlando Segway miniPro STEM

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars47
Format: Paperback|Change
Price:$11.91+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


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

on January 6, 2000
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.
1616 comments|250 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on April 19, 2003
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.
44 comments|149 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on September 16, 2003
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.
11 comment|112 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on January 22, 2005
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.
0Comment|58 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on September 11, 1998
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.
0Comment|21 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on January 6, 2001
Propaganda is a relatively recent phenomenon made possible by the channels of the mass media. In this work, Jacques Ellul analyzes propaganda in all its forms. He argues that propaganda is indeed effective, that it is indeed necessary, that it is indeed harmful to democracy, and that it need not be based on lies. It is precisely at this point that the dangers of propaganda become appparent because often the propaganda released is truthful in content. Propaganda is also necessary even for a government which claims to be a democracy (and yes the United States does engage in it on its citizens). Ellul examines the history of propaganda as it was used by Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany, Lenin and Stalin among the communists, and in the United States. In an appendix, he deals with scientific studies which have aimed at measuring propaganda's effectiveness, and with the propaganda of Mao in China (which includes the topic of "brainwashing", unfortunately not very developed in the text). He also discusses propaganda as put out by churches and concludes that a true Christianity cannot rely on propaganda. Also, the relation between propaganda and advertising is examined.
Overall this work is a thorough study of propaganda, although I wish that it had gone into further detail on the subject of "brainwashing".
0Comment|28 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on December 23, 2011
To a scholar of propaganda, being familiar with the literature and having written some of it myself, Jacques Ellul's Propaganda stands among the best treatments of this subject ever. It is a terrifying book because Ellul, quite unlike many writers who have trivialized the subject by compiling lists of salesmen's tricks, and calling them "propaganda," shows how propaganda is really a battle over the meaning of your life. He shows how people may become crystalized psychologically and spiritually by propagandas that deceive them by appealing to their base needs for meaning, belonging, identity and direction. The result is a stunted soul and spirit instead of a self-developing, self-educating human being. Brian Anse Patrick, Associate Professor, Departmentt of Communication, University of Toledo, and author of The Ten Commandments of Propaganda.
0Comment|11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on June 12, 2002
I don't think I could have asked for a more precise and in-depth look at this topic. Each chapter went more and more into deep discussion about how propaganda is used, how it evolved, and how it is affecting the freedom of our own minds in the modern world. The book talks a lot about psychology itself, especially of groups and nations and how propaganda affects the lone, isolated individual most of all.
A few of the examples that Ellul uses here and there are rather "out of date" and very hard to follow if you don't have some foreknowledge about what event he may be discussing. This does not take away from the whole of the book however, events are presented only to show an example of a point, and only a few times are they hard to follow. This book has many examples, but the focus here is on the psychological analysis and of it and how propaganda works on people. If you want to just examples, read Chomsky's "Propaganda and the Public Mind," it is all examples with little analysis and I thought this book had more what I wanted.
Another thing to note, this book is very "full" there are an incredible amount of points made in each section. I don't think I have ever spent quite this amount of time making notes in and underlining things in a 313 page book. Those of you that like to read a book in a few hours or even a few days will probably have trouble doing that here, at least if you want to understand it on the level that I did.
Everyone needs to read this, it is a real eye opener in our day and time. When the other reviewers say it is mind blowing they are correct. I have read a few things of this nature in the past so it was not as much to me, but for a person new to this topic who thinks propaganda always comes from "the bad guy" or "the other guys," this would be a good introduction for them. I think if everyone read and understood this our society would probably shut down completely...
0Comment|22 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon October 25, 2006
Ellul has written a marvelous volume on the topic of propaganda. He has covered every aspect of this political socialization machine that has been impregnating, manipulating, and corrupting our society with pseudo-ideologies, education, and attitudes in order to perpetuate complete control over the people by the elites and the propaganda masters.
Individualism, ideology, myth, literacy, and technology make the essence of this powerful and successful propaganda that brainwashes every recipient that is exposed to it. Ellul's book is mesmerizing as well as enlightening and would leave you spellbound and flabbergasted.
I would strongly recommend this book for every reader who is interested in comprehending the dynamics that mobilize our society and the strategies that form our attitudes.
0Comment|15 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on September 16, 2012
Jacques Ellul was a keen observer who captured the essence of propaganda perfectly. He pointed out that the rise in propaganda has inevitably followed the improvements in technology. Ellul points out that propaganda has been increasingly used to mold public opinion, especially from the World War I era Creel committee in America.

Ellul points out that governments innately want to preserve and increase the power and influence that they possess. When there are societal problems, governments try to be more intrusive in the name of "reform." Once an organization is created or a regulatory body is formed, it is rarely dissolved or its powers terminated after a threat is gone.

Ellul has a pessimistic view of the future of propaganda. He believed that governments would continue to intrude on the civil liberties of the populace, whether in Communist countries or in "Democratic" administrations. Ellul points out that propaganda has grown inversely since advances in the printing press, radio, and television. Ellul predicted that trends would continue. He had similar views as George Orwell. He saw a surveillance state capable of keeping the populace under a microscope with increased scrutiny. This would be done in the name of "national security." He feared that people would willingly give up their civil rights in order to let a nanny state control more and more aspects of citizen's lives.

This was one of the most illuminating books I have ever read. I was assigned to read the book when I participated in a Colloquium taught by Dr. Leonid Heretz at Bridgewater State University. Dr. Heretz added to the insights of Ellul by pointing out that propaganda is used more to agitate and compel people who tend to agree with a political program or ideology rather than to change the minds of opponents. Heretz gave a measured coverage to the nature and purpose of propaganda. He provided a good balance between conservative commentators (like Ellul) and leftist pundits (like Noam Chomsky.) Chomsky's writings are very partisan, but he makes good points about how governments use euphemisms to explain policies to make them more palatable for people to support. For instance, the American forces in Vietnam rounded up people in detention-style camps called "Strategic Hamlets." This subtle use of language softened the connotations that were engendered when people thought about the policy.

Heretz pointed out that subtle exaggeration and hyperbole is used on a daily basis by right-wing and left-wing news outlets. These outlets also omit stories that may stir up opposition to whatever political program the editors and administrators of the outlets endorse. The end result is that Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck able to fuel the fire of opposition to liberal governments. By the same token, Keith Olberman and Michael Moore inflame left-wing interest groups by making outrageous and slanted claims.

The Ellul book is an essential read for anyone who desires to learn how the mechanisms of propaganda work. The Colloquium I participated in was perhaps the most valuable college course I ever took. I learned to identify exaggerated claims and I began to ignore the outrageous contributions of partisan rabble-rousers. I became more moderate politically as a result of reading this important text. This book is almost fifty years old, but it is as relevant in the present day as in the day it was written. Ellul would not have too surprised to see the influence of the Internet and legislation like the Patriot Act. He also would have been deeply disturbed by the video surveillance in European public quarters.
0Comment|9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.