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Crowds and Power Paperback – April 1, 1984

4.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Elias Canetti's 1981 Nobel Prize was awarded mainly on the basis of this, his masterwork of philosophical anthropology about la condition humaine on an overpopulated planet.

Ranging from soccer crowds and political rallies to Bushmen and the pilgrimage to Mecca, Canetti exhaustively reviews the way crowds form, develop, and dissolve, using this taxonomy of mass movement as a key to the dynamics of social life. The style is abstract, erudite, and anecdotal, which makes Crowds and Power the sort of work that awes some readers with its profundity while irritating others with its elusiveness. Canetti loves to say something brilliant but counterintuitive, and then leave the reader to figure out both why he said it and whether it's really true. --Richard Farr


“Canetti dissolves politics into pathology, treating society as a mental activity--a barbaric one, of course--that must be decoded.” ―Susan Sontag

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 59112th edition (April 1, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374518203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374518202
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
That the author won the Nobel may suade the reader one way or another. But as this work is what got him the prize, which to me says the Nobel must be worth something. If you don't know Canetti's work, you won't get the impression from the title that the man is incredibly funny. But he is. And yet his brand of humor comes only from surgical-precise observation of the ordinary. Canetti is the Montaigne of our time, of modernity, bearing all the marks and scars of our age. If Canetti's prose has the disarming rambling style that we associate with Montaigne's, it also has the latter's power to draw out the most unexpectedly profound from the ordinary. Sort of like old fencing masters: they never run, never sweat, are never fancy, but they always beat you to the jugular. All the scholarship,all the discipline is hidden, like the hull of a ship that keeps the whole thing afloat. In this book, without torturing language, Canetti tells you more about the nature of power than Foucault, and more about the nature of crowds than a room full of social psychologists. (That such a feat is possible ought to be a sobering lesson in itself!) Canetti's book is a wonderful mix of the potentially tedious (kangaroo behavior) and the...funky. For example, in describing the psychology of mass fear as it relates to its twin, the desire to out-survive others, he cites unexpected examples: burial customs in rural India in which a strenuous attempt is made to appease the spirit of the child if it dies a preventable death; the peculiar madness of Roman emperors; and the Viking warriors' tradition of piling up a mound of stones before going into battle. Each warrior brings a stone and adds to the pile. After battle, each warrior removes one stone, thus leaving a mound of stones that would represent the dead.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Canetti's monumental work is at the same time, frightening, awe-inspiring, shocking, numbing, believable & unbelievable . Strange though it may seem, it requires a deeply individual experience to understand 'Crowds and Power'. For, according to Canetti, a crowd is not just a bunch of people. The concept of crowd is ontologically prior to Man. In one of the most illuminating books ever written, Canetti takes one through two of the most important traits that have shaped Man's destiny on this planet - the formation of crowds and the facet of power. Hence, this is not a book about crowds. Its about Man.
The kaliedoscopic journey for the reader includes a vast range of topics from Australian aborigines,pueblo indians, jivaro indians, etruscans to ants, monkeys, kangaroos to Islam, Christianity, Judaism.
Some aspects of this book might sound unbelievable( like laughing being a substitute for eating..I believe it though)...but I can only quote what Blake wrote in 'Proverbs from Heaven and Hell' -
"There is no truth that can be understood and not be believed".
Read this book. It could be one of the most important things you might be doing in your life.
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Format: Paperback
Well, if I'd ever once been a cockeyed optimist or a believer in the inherent goodness of humanity, this book would certainly have knocked the foundations out from under me and brought all my idealism crashing down. Fortunately, I guess, I already stand in the after-world of shattered illusions and so Canetti's *Crowds and Power* didn't disturb my uninterruptedly black view of human nature with even the briefest flicker of light. It only gave me another way to look at a bleak landscape.

This book is a massive--and for the most part massively entertaining--indictment of the human being at virtually every level of its existence. Whether alone, in packs, or full-sized crowds, our goal is not just survival, but to be the last man standing beside a pile of corpses. No kidding. Crudely put, that's the bottom line, but its how Canetti adds up the facts to arrive at his thesis, or, perhaps more accurately, subtracts all the subterfuges we hide behind, that provides the real fascination of *Crowds and Power.*

Somewhat reminiscent at times of Frazer's *Golden Bough,* Canetti's masterpiece explores, in part, ancient as well as more recent, but still `primitive' native cultures to reveal the power principle that drives civilizations and those who rule them. At the same time, he shows how the same ruthless dynamic is at work in modern society and in practically all human relationships. Animal behavior, paranoid schizophrenics, the hidden symbolism in the act of standing up, it's all brought to bear. Canetti's dazzling insights and audacious intellectual leaps, some more convincing than others, are startling, shocking--and maybe even true. The teeth in their smooth rows as mankind's first inspiration for order, weapons, and eventually prisons? Is it possible?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Canetti's book is somewhat strange; it is also gripping and often uncannily accurate about the nature of power. At the same time it is full of conceptual nodes and holes that reflect the peculiarities of his own life and the times in which he lived (e.g., can the world's wide array of political arrangements be reduced to the narrow spectrum of paranoid rulers, their enablers, and the preponderant human majority of quasi-slaves that Canetti presents as typical throughout all of human history?) Taking into account his own early life as an "undesirable element" (a Jew) who was not fully welcome in the land of his birth (Bulgaria) and who was then cast out of the society of his adolescence and early manhood in Vienna (where he acquired his higher education and the language of his thought and writing) his focus in Crowds and Power makes sense in a very personal way -- had you led his life with all of its insults you too might have arrived at similar conclusions about the dismal nature of "power relationships" among people, especially if you came of age during the pan-European turmoils of the first half of twentieth century, a very bad time for the human race.

The work is "Nietzschean" in its construction and often in its tone (and, from the light shed on human thinking, there are shades of Kafka in the work as well - man as beset, mortified and made anxious by the social walls that surround him and metastasize in growth and shape in his mind.) As in Nietzsche, there are idiosyncratic topic groupings and unexpected leaps between groupings. Canetti illuminates his central point by setting intellectual bonfires in a circle around it.
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