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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

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.

About the Author

Eric Hoffer (1902 -- 1983) was self-educated. He worked in restaurants, as a migrant fieldworker, and as a gold prospector. After Pearl Harbor, he worked as a longshoreman in San Francisco for twenty-five years. The author of more than ten books, including The Passionate State of Mind, The Ordeal of Change, and The Temper of Our Time, Eric Hoffer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.


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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: 9.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (172 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

415 of 427 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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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By J_Onyx TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
It is no accomplishment to trash a book. Many, who clearly do not understand what Hoffer is writing about or what he is saying, have criticised him over the forty plus years since first publication of "The True Believer". Hardly any of Hoffer's critics have a single accomplishment that equals the book.

Let me tell you a little about this unique man. Eric Hoffer did not finish elementary school. A rare disease struck him blind. Possessing an insatiable curiosity, Hoffer studied on his own, getting anyone he could corner to read to him. He developed powerful memory skills to compensate for his blindness and limited resources. He wrote his books entirely in his mind while laboring and set them to paper when he was done. He could recite verbatim any page of any of his books. (Bill Moyers of PBS had him demonstrate this profound memory skill.)

A new medical proceedure reclaimed Hoffer's sight when he was about 19. It was too late for schooling. He had to work. Hoffer lived much of his adulthood as a drifting laborer. At different times, he worked as a miner, a prospector, a dishwasher, a longshoreman. He never stopped learning. This unusual man, who understood his fellow Longshoreman and respected the common man, was able to engage fellow laborers in deep philosophical discussions. That is something no professor can do with a classroom full of university students. Like a Socrates of the docks, Hoffer learned much from orchastrating discussions with his humble work mates. I suspect he got the idea from the works of great thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle, ageless thinkers most professors want students to ignore.

Hoffer was dedicated to a life of learning. A practical, rugged man, Hoffer understood the wisdom of seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Lemas Mitchell on July 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
Because of constraints of space, I'll note that at least two things that he did that were brilliant in the overall writing were:
1. The use of specific historical examples to develop the general idea (deductive reasoning) and NOT vice versa (inductive reasoning). Many sociologists get so caught up in trying to make fine sounding phrases that they don't understand that there is a qualitative difference in going from examples to suppositions and not the other way around.
2. Succinctness. A great many books go on for a very long time and manage to assert very little. (Read anything by Ayn Rand lately?) This book is very to the point and short on words.
The way that we know that his predictions are with merit is that they have come true 50 years *after* the book was written.
Ten examples of things for which he gives good, mechanistic explanations/ predictions are:
1. Noting that movements for the rights of this group or that group often end with finished products/ governments that are WORSE than the formerly existing order. (Africa).
2. Explanations of why it is in the best interest of governments to have citizens that are less well educated. The less well informed are citizens, the less likely they are to hold government accountable for serious mistakes because they aren't aware of what's happening. (United States)
3. If there is no cause, people will invent one. (The Islamic world. Student protestors on university campuses).
4. When people stay caught in religious movements (or any movement too long), then it will divert other energy that could have been used for other more immediately useful tasks. The net result will be backwardness. (Islamic world again. Sub-Saharan Africa and tribal conflicts.)
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