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The Captive Mind

4.22 of 5 stars 4.22  ·  rating details  ·  1,141 ratings  ·  84 reviews
The Captive Mind begins with a discussion of the novel Insatiability by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz and its plot device of Murti-Bing pills, which are used as a metaphor for dialectical materialism, but also for the deadening of the intellect caused by consumerism in Western society. The second chapter considers the way in which the West was seen at the time by residents o ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published August 11th 1990 by Vintage (first published 1953)
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Community Reviews

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Szplug
This is a book of acute psychological understanding, commiserative rumination, and towering moral fibre. Miłosz, a Lithuanian-Pole—a member of the untermenschen that Hitler deemed so pernicious to the rightful ascendancy of the Master Race—was raised imbibing enough of the West, whilst soaking in the East, to enable a judicious and sagacious appraisal of the Soviet Totalitarianism that overwhelmingly blanketed the entirety of Central and Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Third Reich's colla ...more
Kelly
May 23, 2008 Kelly rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: cold war historians, those interested in philosophy or psychology
This book was absolutely fascinating. The arguments he made to explain the capitulation of writers and artists under communism were things I would have never thought of before. It's a good read to help blow away any bits of American propaganda about Soviets that are being taught in school still, and help you see the other side of the issue. Mind, this book was written by a man who left as well, so it isn't as if he agrees with the Soviets, he was actually forced out. It explains so much about ho ...more
Chris Coffman
Nov 05, 2007 Chris Coffman rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone
It has been an illuminating and deeply moving experience over the last several months to read or re-read books by Hungarian, Russian and Polish authors, from John Paul II to Anna Akhmatova.

These Eastern and Central European authors have insights into the tragedy of Western civilisation that seem unknown, and are certainly still ignored, in Western Europe and the rest of the world that is under its influence.

This wonderful book by the great Lithuanian-Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, so exhilirating
...more
James
Czesław Miłosz was born in 1911 in central Lithuania (then part of Russian empire). He wrote lovingly of his Lithuanian childhood in a novel, The Issa Valley, and also in his memoir Native Realm. In his twenties he traveled to Paris, where he was influenced by his distant cousin Oscar Milosz, a French poet of Lithuanian descent. The result, a volume of his own poetry, was published in 1934. After receiving his law degree that year, he again spent a year in Paris on a fellowship. Upon returning t ...more
John David
“There are occasions when silence no longer suffices, when it may pass as an avowal. Then one must not hesitate. Not only must one deny one’s true opinion, but one is commanded to resort to all ruses to deceive one’s adversary. One makes all the protestations of faith that can please him, one performs all the rites one recognizes to be the most vain, one falsifies one’s own books, one exhausts all possible means of deceit.” – Arthur Gobineau, from ‘Religions and Philosophies of Central Asia’

“The
...more
matt

A great book- Orwellian in its tough minded appraisal of a miserable mindset, political in its interests and powerful in its imaginitive subversion.

This book belongs to the select company of texts which are novel(istic), essay(istic), and philosophically stringent about their world, their politics, and their language....I'd put it with 'Catalonia' (sorry to reiterate the praise, but for me there's scarcely a higher honor) and Camus' "The Rebel" in terms of durability, prophecy, and thoughtfuln
...more
Caitlin
The context in which I read this book was exceptionally perfect. After traveling for several weeks and reading many works of historical fiction about wars, occupations, and eastern european dictatorships in the 20th century, this book was recommended to me by a surly, cell phone hating, beardy long-hair in Halifax. Ok great! The philosophical and academic tone of the book means that each page demands full attention, and much time for reflection... I happened to pick this book up on the way to th ...more
Lazarus P Badpenny Esq
"The term 'peasant revolt' sounds nice in textbooks and has a certain propaganda value, but only for the naive. In reality, the peasants have almost always served as a tool; their leaders, most often of non-peasant origin, have used them for their own ends. The power of the peasants lies in their number; it is a power only when a man like Lenin comes along and throws the weight of their numbers into the scale of events." p.194-5
Abby
What happens to an artist living in a totalitarian regime? Take your answer from Czeslaw Milosz, who knew better than almost anyone, living in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. This interesting and thoughtful series of essays and arguments is a compelling glimpse at the interaction between war and culture.

I really love his concluding paragraph, too:

"When, as my friend suggested, I stand before Zeus (whether I die naturally, or under sentence of History) I will repeat all this that I have written as my defe
...more
Val
When Poland was liberated from Nazi rule many people, including Czeslaw Milosz, saw socialism or communism as the best or only way forward. It was only later, as 'socialist realism' began to stifle independent thought, that Milosz exiled himself from his country and its government. This book is his intellectual journey. He shares with Orwell and Camus the distinction of being criticised for his anti-totalitarian polemic against Stalinist communism and for 'being a communist'. Anyone who can't se ...more
Rav
Jest to ważna książka, którą warto przeczytać. Pomimo, że jest parabolą, rzuca światło na sytuację w powojennej Polsce. Mnie właśnie bardziej zaciekawił wątek lokalny, niż ponadczasowe przesłanie dzieła, które odczytuję jako przestrogę przed systemami totalitarnymi. Ciekawy jest też opis Europy przedwojennej. Antagonizmy, które wówczas dominowały na naszym kontynencie nieuchronnie prowadziły do wojny. Byłoby głupotą i ignorancją lekceważyć globalne zagrożenie, jakie stanowiły ówczesne Niemcy i Z ...more
Nemanja Sh
Fascinating read. Not only does that author vividly portray the suffering of the Polish nation but he also adds a personal touch to his writing. I think this is very important as without it the book would have been just another history read listing facts and dates with a few personal paradigms here and there.

I would recommend this book to all those who propagate communism as I believe they are not aware of how this system was imposed on several countries in the aftermath of the Second World War
...more
Ellen
Interesting to read about the totalitarian mindset from a psychological perspective. Thought his approach of writing portraits of those he knew when he was young and how they changed once they began to see History and Progress as twin gods was extremely effective. The last chapter about the Baltics, specifically the last page, brought tears to my eyes, really the perfect culmination, very artful and moving. What I found myself thinking of most of all were parallels with today in terms of mindset ...more
ジェイムズ・n. パウエル
In the wake of WW II many French intellectuals were enamored of Communism. Milosz, then the cultural attachee of the Polish embassy in Paris, knew better, having survived the "liberation" of Lithuania by the Russians, under which sixty percent of the intelligentsia disappeared in the direction of Siberian labor camps.

However, Milosz's main fascination is not with those of his colleagues who simply vanished, but with his fellow writers and artists cunning enough to have gained state support. Thi
...more
James
In the wake of WW II many French intellectuals were enamored of Communism. Milosz, then the cultural attachee of the Polish embassy in Paris, knew better, having survived the "liberation" of Lithuania by the Russians, under which sixty percent of the intelligentsia disappeared in the direction of Siberian labor camps.

However, Milosz's main fascination is not with those of his colleagues who simply vanished, but with his fellow writers and artists cunning enough to have gained state support. Thi
...more
Sunny
quite an interesting book about communism essentially but also touches on capitalism = focus is on the polish russian, luthuanian, latvian areas and the communism there. were not that many wow moments in the book but as its short its certainly worth a read. there are a couple really horrifying concentration camp scenes (jews getting off the train and a mother trying to deny a 3 year old is her baby even though the baby is calling her mama mama amidst tears) - shit did this sort of stuff really h ...more
Alex
I think I read this after The Land of Ulro. At least that's my recollection. Continued my interest in the inherent conflict between dogma and the creative individual, as presaged in the intro to the book:

"When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever say he’s 1
...more
William Dearth
Ce n'est pas un livre facile pour lire, mais c'est essentiel dans la compréhension des effets de totalitarisme.
Robopuppy
I enjoyed the writing in this book immensely. Milosz writes that he can only write poetry in his native Polish, and it's easy to tell that he is most comfortable writing in Polish. However, his English writing is fantastic.

Because I have little philosophical background, this book was very dense for me. It would have been helpful to go into this book with a better knowledge of Hegel, Marx, and others. I fear that I missed much of what could be gotten out of the book due to my ignorance in these
...more
Travelin
The majority of this book was intellectually thrilling, with a balance and subtlety which is rare, for example, on the internet today. On the other hand, I've read a few autobiographical works by Milosz, and it seems as if the subtlety is disguising pro-communist leanings and communist intellectual training. Milosz was an ambassador for communist Poland for a decade or so. He also says, possibly in this book, that he cannot identify with people who have not been raised in a communist intellectua ...more
wigwam
initial impressions (6/15)
This might be like that Social Construction of Reality book I tried to read last month, where I'm just too stupid to get it, but so far I'm enjoying whatever misunderstanding I'm taking away from this book. At first I thought it was a novel and he was making up this fake sci-fi novel where everyone goes anti-Atlas Shrugged and all the intelligensia take the blue pill (red pill?) and get taken over by dumbing-down-ing Totalitarianism, but then he makes this reference to
...more
Patrick
This book is really a 2.5 stars for the intriguing ideas to the reason communism is the worst system in the world. Communism treats individuals as clogs in the machine that is the communist society. Ironically in trying to free the proletariat from the emptiness of being a "machine" in the capitalist factories, communism creates a society in which all men feel like machines. Milosz created this book because he sees beauty in individuals that makes up humanity.

Until this book, I failed to see how
...more
Madhuri
I started reading this book somewhere in April last year, then abandoned it due to travel schedules, and have been reading it amidst different books since last month. A long drawn read sometimes hampers a reading experience, but not when the book has been written with as much clarity as Czeslaw Milosz has accorded the Captive Mind.

Milosz, a Polish writer, lived through the Warsaw uprising of 1944 and the Russian rule in Poland, and initially lent his cooperation to the Communist government by be
...more
John
The Captive Mind is a collection of essays on how and why intellectuals in Poland came to accept Communism after the end of WWII. Part of that explanation had to do with the situation that Poland found itself in. It was occupied by the Soviet Union which did all it good to discredit and in many cases, eliminate potential political opposition. At the same time, many intellectuals joined the Party. Yes there was an element of coercion or at least “bribery” (in the sense that new government did emp ...more
Keval
"Pablo Neruda has been a Communist for some ten years. When he describes the misery of his people, I believe him and I respect his great heart. When writing, he thinks about his brothers and not about himself, and so to him the power of the word is given. But when he paints the joyous, radiant life of people in the Soviet Union, I stop believing him. I am inclined to believe him as long as he speaks about what he knows; I stop believing him when he starts to speak about what I know myself."

I hav
...more
Mary Catelli
The Mind of Man Under Communism. . . That it was written prior to the fall of Communism is visible on internal evidence alone.

It also has some stuff about World War II in Poland, and somewhat more about life in the annexed or theorertically indepent Eastern European countries, but its focus is on the thinking of people. Somewhat fancifully on occasion -- it opens with describing a novel's account of the "Pill of Murti-Bing" as an allegory of it. It talks about ketman, the various excuses that pe
...more
Fred LaPolla
Milosz provides a haunting portrayal of intellectual life within Soviet Poland, revealing with lucid language the overwhelming pressures to conform that the Polish intellectual and artist faced. This book struck me all the more for the author's refusal to condemn those who yielded to the Soviet state's influence, and Milosz's unwavering ability to avoid dehumanizing caricatures. Reading as an American who grew up in the post-Soviet era (having entered Kindergarten the year the wall fell) I might ...more
Lorenzo Berardi

I'm not an avid reader of essays - well, actually I have a tendency to keep them out from my bookshelves -, but 'The Captive Mind' is a different matter.

As some earlier Goodreads reviewer stated: 'This book has some power'.
Well, a Hell of a lot of power, indeed!

'The Captive Mind' is an extraordinary study on the different behaviors of human beings when they are engulfed by history.

At first it was all but easy to get into the spirit of the book, but then the whole fruitful meditation took off fr
...more
Greg Fanoe
Nobel Prize Project
Year: 1980
Winner: Czesław Miłosz

Review: The psychological insight in this is outstanding and the descriptions of Poland during and after WWII are essential. Truly a fascinating read and one that I would highly recommend to anybody interested in how the intellectual mind reacts to repressive regimes.

Verdict: Although "The Captive Mind" is probably Miłosz's best known individual work, he was most famous at the time and is still probably most famous today as a poet. He was consi
...more
Matthew Mcnaught
Beautifully written and insightful. I came to Milosz through his poems and his poet's eye and turn of phrase is evident here. Each chapter feels like a standalone essay but they all add up to a great whole. Loved the chapter on the concept of 'ketman', and each one of the chapters about the different writers [Alpha to Delta] is like an epic short story in itself. Milosz has lots to say about totalitarian/absolutist ideologies old and new.
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Czesław Miłosz memorialised his Lithuanian childhood in a 1955 novel, The Issa Valley , and in the 1959 memoir Native Realm . After graduating from Sigismund Augustus Gymnasium in Vilnius, he studied law at Stefan Batory University and in 1931 he travelled to Paris, where he was influenced by his distant cousin Oscar Milosz, a French poet of Lithuanian descent and a Swedenborgian. His first volume ...more
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“When, as my friend suggested, I stand before Zeus (whether I die naturally, or under sentence of History)I will repeat all this that I have written as my defense.Many people spend their entire lives collecting stamps or old coins, or growing tulips. I am sure that Zius will be merciful toward people who have given themselves entirely to these hobbies, even though they are only amusing and pointless diversions. I shall say to him : "It is not my fault that you made me a poet, and that you gave me the gift of seeing simultaneously what was happening in Omaha and Prague, in the Baltic states and on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.I felt that if I did not use that gift my poetry would be tasteless to me and fame detestable. Forgive me." And perhaps Zeus, who does not call stamp-collectors and tulip-growers silly, will forgive.” 7 likes
“The work of human thought should withstand the test of brutal, naked reality. If it cannot, it is worthless. Probably only those things are worthwhile which can preserve their validity in the eyes of a man threatened with instant death.” 5 likes
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