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The True Believer Paperback – October 6, 1989
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
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"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
From the Back Cover
A highly provocative, bestselling analysis of the fanatic -- the individual compelled to join a cause, any cause -- and a penetrating study of mass movements from early Christianity to modern nationalism and Communism.
Reporting on the true believer, Air Hoffer examines with Machiavellian detachment mass movements, from Christianity in its infancy to the national uprisings of our own day. His analysis of the psychology of mass movements is a brilliant and frightening study of the mind of the fanatic, the individual whose, personal failings lead him to join a cause, any cause, even at peril to life -- or yours.
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Top customer reviews
Over the years I've read quotes and excerpts from this book and seen interviews with Eric Hoffer. I can't remember ever hearing a more straightforward-speaking character. He seems to discard all assumptions and plunge to the heart of the issue. Maybe that's why Jimmy Carter appointed him one of half a dozen or so people to figure out why the country was suffering from "general malaise" in the mid 1970s.
Finally reading it now, I find it to be a web of interconnected generalizations about the necessary conditions for generating a true believer. It sparkles with an occasional statement that's more than usually penetrating, but I found myself getting lost sometimes in theoretical constructs like "the loss of individuality" in the absence of empirical bonding. I kept wondering how the hell you measure something like the loss of individuality. And sometimes the logic of the book seems to be "frustration (under exactly the right set of circumstances) leads to radicalism" or something of the sort.
It's pretty thought provoking if you haven't had your thoughts provoked lately about problems like true believers blowing themselves up in the middle of a souk or something. It belongs in the category of such theoretical works as Emile Durkheim's "Suicide" or William James' "Psychology: A Briefer Course."
It takes a certain amount of stamina to get through it, especially in the absence of anyone to discuss it with or to hear it explained. I find that I'm a little too old for such effort now and never quite finished the book. I couldn't finish "War and Peace" either. The author isn't to blame. His prose is lucid and still relevant. I'll give just one example.
As I write this, some of us seem to have accepted as charismatic a political figure who seems to me to be ridden with flaws. Yet those who see in him salvation are able to ignore even the most flagrant of flaws. As he himself said, he could shoot someone dead on Fifth Avenue and his poll numbers wouldn't go down. How can all of his open gaping weaknesses be so tolerated? How can they maintain their faith in such a man?
"Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move." That notion, expressed so pointed and literary a way, is what psychologists blandly call "selective perception."
Well, another example. Who could disagree with this? "Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power."
Judging from the comments on some of the internet news boards these last few years, I can't imagine a more rewarding pastime for younger people than to read this book through from beginning to end in order to help them realize that not everything can be judged as completely evil or completely good according to their nature. It might be enlightening for them to have it pointed out that God didn't make the universe in such a way that it would be easy for us to understand.
In many movements that we have seen in the recent history we see similar threads to those discussed in this book. There must be a cadre of "true believer" these are necessary because there will be setbacks before the movement gains steam. During this time only those fully committed to the cause will stick it out.
This is a great book for understanding how and why movements form. Thought it is older and will reference Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia more that modern readers will likely appreciate.