The book is somewhat dated, and repetitive. Published in 1951, the author’s purpose seems an attempt to make sense of Hitler and Stalin, and to fit these two examples into a broader historical pattern of mass movements that are populated with ‘true believers’.
Along the way, he offers generalizations that are difficult to agree with – for example, in his section 73 he writes: “It is easier to hate an enemy with much good in him than one who is all bad.” Huh?
He also offers some generalizations that are appealing – for example, in his section 95 he writes: “When the leader in a free society becomes contemptuous of the people, he sooner or later proceeds on the false and fatal theory that all men are fools, and eventually blunders into defeat.” Hillary Clinton’s ‘basket of deplorables’ remark supplies a modern day example of this blunder.
The book lacks a narrative flow. It seems like the author had a pile of index cards onto which he wrote various insights, and then cobbled them together, imposing a sort of order to them in the editing process.
As other reviewers have noted, his key insights seem like common sense: those who are attracted to mass movements are dissatisfied with the status quo; those who become the ‘true believers’ in the movement do not exhibit critical thinking skills; mass movements have a beginning, a middle, and an end; the early adopters in a mass movement are from a different cohort than those who populate it later.
If the author’s goal is to get the reader to think about features common to mass movements and the type of ‘true believer’ who populates them, he succeeds, but the book could have been a brief essay instead of a book length treatment.