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The Origins of Totalitarianism

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  2,806 ratings  ·  109 reviews
Hannah Arendt's definitive work on totalitarianism and an essential component of any study of twentieth-century political history

"The Origins of Totalitarianism" begins with the rise of anti-Semitism in central and western Europe in the 1800s and continues with an examination of European colonial imperialism from 1884 to the outbreak of World War I. Arendt explores the ins
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ebook, 576 pages
Published March 21st 1973 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 1951)
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Szplug
Way back when I read this, I recall being somewhat surprised at how few works she actually referenced in this tripartite tome, especially in the latter two sections on Imperialism and Totalitarianism; and, for the first of these, the surprise turned to incredulity when it occurred to me that she appeared to be basing a considerable part of her argument—virtually the entirety regarding the interaction between Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, IIRC—upon the most famous fictional work by Joseph Conrad ...more
Rob
Nov 25, 2007 Rob rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who have already read 1000 european history books but haven't read this yet, i.e. nobody
certainly in the running for the most disappointing book ever. first, it's on all these lists of the greatest books ever, plus it's got a really high rating on goodreads. plus i open it and the first few pages are breathtaking. hannah is one killer sentencecrafter. a vixen of prose. some sentences 50+ words long but you only need to read them once because they are both precise and action-packed. and oh, the promise her intros seem to hold. bold, sweeping strokes that wipe out long-held beliefs a ...more
Neal Romanek
I'd always assumed totalitarianism and dictatorship were the same thing. But nope. I learned more about modern politics and power reading this masterpiece by Hannah Arendt than in the past 20 years of reading and studying. I was shocked to find that certain baffling features of contemporary political movements suddenly make perfect, terrifying sense when viewed from a totalitarian perspective.

Some fun things I learned about totalitarian movements:

-Totalitarian movements deny objective reality a
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Tony
Arendt, Hannah. THE ORIGINS OF TOTALITARIANISM. (1951). ****. Arendt was a well-known intellectual and teacher of political philosophy, and wrote several key books and papers expressing her views and analysis of, among other things, Nazi Germany. In this book – the seminal work on it’s topic – she created an instant classic and a definitive study of this political movement. The book is divided into three main parts: Antisemitism, Imperialism, and Totalitarianism. Her thesis, ultimately, is that ...more
Lucian
A truly haunting work. I don't even know what to say to give it justice. You have to read it for yourself. And weep, because Arendt opens up the totalitarian box and out pours all the insanity and absurdity of man with all his inhuman potential.
Jessica Keener
This book unequivocally helped me understand how things like genocide can and do happen. Timeless. One of the most important book of the last century.
Maggie
this book was (first) published in 1951, written by a BRILLIANT thinker (who happens to have been a woman) who spanned the 20th century (1906-1975), and covers THE essential topic of that century: the origin of national and international horrors and the political systems/ideas that supported such untoward horror.

thus far the 21st century is inheriting this way of politics. this book (amazingly and really) answers so many questions that it is mind-boggling at the sheer number of insights and the
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Jon-Erik
So far, I'm finding this interesting, though it suffers from many of the same defects that philosophers encounter when writing about history. For example, relying on portrayals in novels is not evidence. Not about popular history, not about the "zeitgeist" whatever that is.

It's things like that that make me nervous that the conclusions based on these weak propositions are false. Also, there is a powerful dose of Marxist philosophy of history here, which I don't reject because it's Marxist, but
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Dylan Suher
Her views on Anti-Semitism are mostly what my grandfather would have called "German Jewish thinking" and whenever she writes about America or Africa, it's frankly embarrassing. But when she's talking about European pre-war politics, she's absolutely on point. She has great insight into the basic human impulses at the heart of the great evils of the 20th century, insights which I found useful even when thinking about the Tea Party Movement. I found myself nostalgic (a blessedly rare mode for me) ...more
Paul Dinger
This is an interesting case study of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, which takes into account not just their anti semitism, but also their use of propaganda, the 'big lie' which just gets bigger and bigger. This book though is really about the weapons that any government can use against it's people. I read into this lots of what Noam Chomsky was talking about in his book Failed States, she outlines every major point he put across. This book is also interesting history, written as it ...more
Andrew
This was required reading in a political science course of mine in college. This book is incredible and one of the most intelligent reads anyone could ever pick up. Arrendt gives the definitive history of the rise of anti-semitism, and the Nazi and Russian totalitarian states. You want to understand the world we live in today, history like this is something you must read.
david-baptiste
I just begin this, which have wanted to read for a very long time.
Not surprisingly, one finds descriptions and analyses and brilliant insights in here, not only regarding the Nazis and Stalinists, but the situation of today in the USA, in which new forms of the Totalitarian are steadily under construction for several decades now.
It is interesting that Zizek, for example, who was on Democracy Now this week, has signalled in his new book For lost Causes, that what is necessary now is not the fur
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W. C.
What to say about Arendt? She is one of those authors who intrigues as much as she frustrates, which means that there is something important going on. And although many in the continental tradition now reject many of Arendt’s theories, you will see this text crop up again and again as the one with insight into the nature of totalitarianism and its genealogy (although historians generally reject many aspects of her analysis).

What is particularly important about this text, I think, is the level t
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David Beeson
The three parts of the book are like three great tributaries that flow together into the river on which Hannah Arendt sails to explain the forces that allow totalitarianism to emerge. She covers anti-Semitism, Imperialism and finally Totalitarianism itself. The Origins of Totalitarianism is a tour de force which, despite a sometimes ponderous style (but English was not her first language) and some extravagant leaps of logic in detail (conclusions that aren't always plausible consequences of the ...more
Lysergius
An exhaustive and thorough exploration of totalitarianism using the Nazi and the Soviet models as a basis for explanation.

Much of what happened in Europe from 1930 in Russia and 1933 in Germany becomes clear to the reader as Arendt expands her argumentation. Touching upon such issues as the Pan-Germanic and Pan-Slavic movements and the concept of statelessness this massive work traces the development of every aspect of the totalitarian phenomenon.

A truly enlightening piece of work.
Xdyj
It is overall very well written and readable, and Arendt's analysis of the history of Europe from early modern times to WWII is quite insightful & interesting, esp. in the way she combines class analysis with a deep appreciation of some classical republican ideal of civic virtue. Some of her speculations may seem a bit dated or premature in hindsight. Overall it is no less relevant today than it was 60 years ago b/c most of the phenomena it deals with are still with us.
Craig Evans
An interesting view from over 50 years ago that in some ways strikes home today. A relatively comprehensive history of the sociological, political, racial-ethnic, economic, and class struggles starting with the closing decades (and before!) of the 19the century and ending in the late 1950's. Difficult to read, particularly since I have difficulties retaining thoughts from the beginning of the paragraph to the end. Started this book in June 2011 via an inter-library loan, and finally requested it ...more
Eva
"Somos todos tentados a explicar o intrinsecamente inacreditável por meio da racionalização. Em cada um de nós existe um liberal que procura persuadir-nos com a voz do bom senso. O caminho do domínio totalitário passa por vários estágios intermediários dos quais podemos tentar muitas analogias e precedentes. O terror extraordinariamente sangrento durante a fase inicial do governo totalitário atende realmente o fim exclusivo de derrotar os oponentes e de impossibilitar qualquer oposição futura; m ...more
Ari
I had mixed feelings here. I learned things from the book -- it has a number of insights that strike me as interesting and important -- but I'm worried I also learned a lot that isn't true. Disclaimer: I skipped through most of the first two parts ("Anti-semitism" and "Imperialism"), to get to the part I was really interested in, "Totalitarianism".

I had expected this to be a work of analytic history, chronicling the rise and operation of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It is not. This is prim
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Gary Bruff
Arendt's writings are typically important, portentous, and wise. Origins of Totalitarianism is possibly Arendt at her best. Unlike her works of philosophical anthropology (for example The Human Condition or Between Past and Future), Arendt's analysis and explication of history (in for example On Revolution or Origins of Totalitarianism) reminds the reader of a good Marx. Big ideas are dealt with systematically, one is tempted to say scientifically. But unlike with Marx, there is no utopian telos ...more
Chiara
premetto di aver letto unicamente la terza parte, per preparare una parte dell'esame di Teoria e storia dell'opinione pubblica, quindi parlo solo in relazione ad un frammento di un'opera più vasta.
la arendt sa come mantenere l'attenzione del lettore. ci è stata presentata a lezione con un'autrice controversa, che genera passioni nel bene e nel male - puoi amarla o odiarla, ma è impossibile ti lasci indifferente. personalmente l'ho amata e non vedo l'ora di avere tempo a disposizione per poter a
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Minkah
Classic in political thought. I'm certain there are nuances that I thoroughly missed, especially in the section on anti-Semitism. The other two, especially middle section on imperialism, very enjoyable. I now can identify the source or backdrop of the arguments from so many others I have read on imperialism and the nation-state, though most rarely read as compellingly as Arendt. She is nonetheless somewhat troubled in her limiting of discussion in this section by confining her analysis to the pe ...more
Patrick
This took me quite a long time to finish and I’m really not sure that I have very much to say about it. I certainly can’t attempt anything like a ‘review’ since I feel like my reading was a fairly superficial one, given that I’m not a historian and have little else to legitimately compare this to. Some parts I liked and some I did not. There are long passages where it is very dry and quite difficult to read, and there is a lot of stuff which seems like pure speculation, but equally there are par ...more
Yifan (Evan) Xu (Hsu)
最近回顾了一下汉娜阿伦特的这本政治哲学经典读物。再读一遍,感受又深了一层。这里简单记录一二。

汉娜认为,在人类历史上出现过几种统治模式:君主制和独裁制 (一人说了算)、贵族政治和寡头政治(少数精英说了算),民主政治和暴民政治(大多数人说了算)。而“极权主义”在当时则是前所未有的政治制度,不是以往任何制度的“对立”,而且对以往的制度有着极大的颠覆性和毁坏性。在书中,汉娜认为极权主义的起源可以追溯到欧洲反犹太主义和帝国主义。欧洲很早就开始利用反犹太主义作为狂热宗教行为的借口。后来德国纳粹同样利用反犹太主义作为发动群众运动的基础。而极权主义则采用十九世纪的帝国主义作为其扩散至全球的模型。一战时期欧洲各列强在非洲和亚洲的殖民地为德国纳粹提供了扩散其极权统治的最佳“操作”模型。

本书前两部分挖掘了现代反犹太主义和欧洲帝国主义的一些本质特点。从第三部分开始,主讲极权运动的起源,尤其是德国纳粹和前苏联所发起的极权主义模式。窃以为,本书的精华在第三部分第十三章“意识形态和恐惧”(见1958年的英文版)。在本章,汉娜队对极权主义做了清晰地总结。她认为极权主义本质上是通过一个简单的意识形态加上一个持续
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Andrew
First Part's essentially about Court Jews: big pre-industrialization bankers for many, many states in Europe. The Rothchilds are presented as the most important institution in this regard, a family which split to 5 European capitals. These Jews were granted a special citizenship, with higher benefits if the Jewish population was not huge; ie changing in Austro-Flux-Hungary and as German states' borders moved east. Jews were urban in Western Europe relatively rural to Eastern Europe. A significan ...more
Gijs Grob
Lijvige studie over totalitarianisme en hoe deze is ontstaan uit het antisemitisme en het imperialisme.

Het boek graaft ver terug, tot in de 17e eeuw en vormt ook een boeiende beschrijving van het imperialisme en hoe het verschilt van het kolonialisme. Het is echter niet zozeer een geschiedschrijving alswel een diepgaande analyse van het ontstaan van gedachtegoed en zijn consequenties.

Vooral de beschrijving van het totalitarianisme en zijn eigenschappen zijn origineel en openbarend. Arendt beschr
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Josephine
Een zeer scherpe analyse van wat nu de fundamentele gedachte is van een totalitair regime en hoe, als je bereid bent het uitgangspunt consequent door te denken, het hele systeem angstaanjagend efficiënt en coherent wordt.

Arendt was geen psychologe, maar doet tevens toch een interessante poging te beschrijven welke bekoring voor volgelingen kan uitgaan van zo een uitgangspunt in de beginfase van een totalitaire beweging.

Voor mij een zeer indrukwekkend boek, verrassend helder en leesbaar geschreve
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Guy Cranswick
One of the greatest books written in the last 100 years for a number of reasons. It is superbly crafted; her writing is an instruction and a delight on the expertly written sentence with sophisticated way of presenting arguments and balancing them. Her erudition is displayed but not vulgar. She expects the reader to know German, French and Latin as the quotes are not translated.
The thesis is cogent and though some shallow minds would wish for empirical evidence and foot notes like a common acad
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Manuel Corroza
Esta es una obra maestra de la filosofía política contemporánea. Hanna Arendt posee una potencia de pensamiento descomunal -'Eichmann en Jerusalén' o 'Sobre la violencia' son dos ejemplos de ello- que se manifiesta en todo su esplendor en esta obra. Es posible que algunos de sus puntos de vista puedan estar desfasados. Tal vez. Pero Arendt, en esta obra, despliega, sobre un fondo de amplia erudición, una capacidad de análisis absolutamente portentoso. Un análisis que se aplica a categorías de la ...more
Iñaki Tofiño
639 páginas, casi un mes de lectura, pero ciertamente vale la pena dedicarle tiempo y esfuerzo.
La tesis de Arendt es que los totalitarismos del siglo XX (los que ella conoció, el nazismo y el estalinismo) son un subproducto del imperialismo de finales del XIX y principios del XX, que a su vez no se entiende sin estudiar el antisemitismo político de finales del XIX. Interesante, bien argumentado, juicioso en su análisis de las sociedades totalitarias, basadas en la profunda soledad del ser humano
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Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) was one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century. Born into a German-Jewish family, she was forced to leave Germany in 1933 and lived in Paris for the next eight years, working for a number of Jewish refugee organisations. In 1941 she immigrated to the United States and soon became part of a lively intellectual circle in New York. She held a ...more
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“Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.” 26 likes
“That Hegelian dialectics should provide a wonderful instrument for always being right, because they permit the interpretations of all defeats as the beginning of victory, is obvious. One of the most beautiful examples of this kind of sophistry occurred after 1933 when the German Communists for nearly two years refused to recognize that Hitler's victory had been a defeat for the German Communist Party.” 10 likes
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