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The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (Perennial Classics) Paperback – January 19, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Its theme is political fanaticism, with which it deals severely and brilliantly...." -- The New Yorker

"One of the most provocative books of our immediate day." -- Christian Science Monitor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

A stevedore on the San Francisco docks in the 1940s, Eric Hoffer wrote philosophical treatises in his spare time while living in the railroad yards. The True Believer -- the first and most famous of his books -- was made into a bestseller when President Eisenhower cited it during one of the earliest television press conferences.Completely relevant and essential for understanding the world today, The True Believer is a visionary, highly provocative look into the mind of the fanatic and a penetrating study of how an individual becomes one.
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Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (January 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060505915
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060505912
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (222 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author



Eric Hoffer Biography

Former migratory worker and longshoreman, Eric Hoffer burst on the scene in 1951 with his irreplaceable tome, The True Believer, and assured his place among the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. Nine books later, Hoffer remains a vital figure with his cogent insights to the nature of mass movements and the essence of humankind.

Of his early life, Hoffer has written: "I had no schooling. I was practically blind up to the age of fifteen. When my eyesight came back, I was seized with an enormous hunger for the printed word. I read indiscriminately everything within reach--English and German.

"When my father (a cabinetmaker) died, I realized that I would have to fend for myself. I knew several things: One, that I didn't want to work in a factory; two, that I couldn't stand being dependent on the good graces of a boss; three, that I was going to stay poor; four, that I had to get out of New York. Logic told me that California was the poor man's country."

Through ten years as a migratory worker and as a gold-miner around Nevada City, Hoffer labored hard but continued to read and write during the years of the Great Depression. The Okies and the Arkies were the "new pioneers," and Hoffer was one of them. He had library cards in a dozen towns along the railroad, and when he could afford it, he took a room near a library for concentrated thinking and writing.

In 1943, Hoffer chose the longshoreman's life and settled in California. Eventually, he worked three days each week and spent one day as "research professor" at the University of California in Berkeley. In 1964, he was the subject of twelve half-hour programs on national television. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

"America meant freedom and what is freedom? To Hoffer it is the capacity to feel like oneself. He felt like Eric Hoffer; sometimes like Eric Hoffer, working man. It could be said, I believe, that he as the first important American writer, working class born, who remained working class-in his habits, associations, environment. I cannot think of another. Therefore, he was a national resource. The only one of its kind in the nation's possession." - Eric Sevareid, from his dedication speech to Eric Hoffer, San Francisco, CA, September 17, 1985

Customer Reviews

On that basis I found the book a very good read.
Joseph Bishop
Anyone wanting to understand this horrible irony would do well to read Eric Hoffer's 1951 classic, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.
Jonathan L. Widger
This was one of the enlightening books I have ever read.
Private Person

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

348 of 357 people found the following review helpful By James Arvo on July 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
When I first read Hoffer's classic book, "The True Believer", as a graduate student twenty years ago, I was shocked. I was astonished that a writer could openly suggest parallels among Christianity, Islam, fascism, and the KKK, and survive to write another book. Yet I was riveted by Hoffer's observations, which seemed to jump off the page in spite of his straightforward and unembellished prose. But I also recall thinking that Hoffer was a bit too brash in his assertions; that he ought to have tempered nearly every statement with a qualifier--a disclaimer that left open the possibility that he was mistaken.
Upon reading Hoffer again, as a middle-aged and somewhat less idealistic professor, I find that several things have changed. First, Hoffer's observations seem even more keenly relevant today, post 9/11, than they did in the post-Vietnam era. Secondly, I now understand Hoffer's apparent brashness. In my youthful zeal I often rushed through the preface of a book, or skipped it entirely. But therein was Hoffer's justification: "The book passes no judgments, and expresses no preferences. It merely tries to explain; and the explanations--all of them theories--are in the nature of suggestions and arguments even when they are stated in what seems a categorical tone. I can do no better than quote Montaigne: 'All I say is by way of discourse, and nothing by way of advice. I should not speak so boldly if it were my due to be believed.'" While I am generally no fan of blanket disclaimers, I understand why Hoffer did it this way. His words could have been too easily dismissed had they been continually tempered and restrained.
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138 of 147 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan L. Widger on November 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
"The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready is he to claim excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause."--Eric Hoffer, The true Believer
None of the terrorists of September 11 were destitute. Some even had wives and children. Nevertheless, they committed suicide for their cause. Anyone wanting to understand this horrible irony would do well to read Eric Hoffer's 1951 classic, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) was a self-educated US author and philosopher who was a migratory worker and longshoreman until 1967. He achieved immediate acclaim with his first book, The true Believer.
According to Hoffer, the early converts to any mass movement come from the ranks of the "frustrated," that is, "people who..feel that their lives are spoiled or wasted." The true believers' "Faith in [their] holy cause is to a considerable extent a subsitute for [their] lost faith in [themselves]." He says that we are prone to throw ourselves into a mass movement to "supplant and efface the self we want to forget." He then adds, "We cannot be sure that we have something worth living for unless we are ready to die for it."
Hoffer offers a general insight about mass movements, which seems to prophetically explain why there is currently widespread anti-Western sentiment within Islamic countries:
"The discontent generated in backward countries by their contact with Western civilization is not primarily resentment against exploitation by domineering foriegners. It is rather the result of a crumbling or weakening of tribal solidarity and communal life.
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273 of 296 people found the following review helpful By Eugene A Jewett on October 30, 2001
Format: Paperback
Written 50 years ago this classic book has been dusted off in the wake of the Taliban's bombing of the Pentagon in Washington DC and the WTC in NYC. The book concerns itself with the active phase of mass movements which are dominated by a true believer, a man of fanatical faith who is ready to sacrifice his life for a holy cause. The 19 suicide bombers who have wreaked so much havoc on America are fanatics of this sort. Eric Hoffer attempts to trace the fanatic's genesis and to outline his nature.
Hoffer doesn't dance around the subject like a behavioral therapist billing by the hour. He assumes, in a very straight forward fashion, that frustration with one's life is a peculiarity of fanatics, and assumes that this mindset is necessary for techniques of conversion to achieve their deepest penetration and most desirable results with regard to the fanatic's twisted adherence to his new faith.
Hoffer allows that to understand the various facets of the fanatical personality requires an understanding of the practices of contemporary mass movements. Written circa 1951, he studied the Nazi's, the Fascist's, and the Communist's because it was here where the successful techniques of conversion had been perfected and applied.
This is a book of ideas and as such it offers up theories. It suggests that through amplifying the negative feelings of its frustrated fanatic's a movement advances its interests by seconding their propensities. Hoffer also posits the thought that all not mass movements are bad, however the central point of the book is to explain the composition of the mindsets of a movement's collective of True Believers.
At 168 pages followed by 9 pages of notes, the book is not difficult nor is it an arduous task to read. In fact it's pithy.
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