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Crowds and Power

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  763 ratings  ·  50 reviews
Crowds and Power is a revolutionary work in which Elias Canetti finds a new way of looking at human history and psychology. Breathtaking in its range and erudition, it explores Shiite festivals and the English Civil war, the finger exercises of monkeys and the effects of inflation in Weimar Germany. In this study of the interplay of crowds, Canetti offers one of the most p ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published April 1st 1984 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan) (first published 1960)
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Elias Canetti, the Nobel Prize-winning author of this book, would be unhappy to learn that he's now best known as Iris Murdoch's one-time lover. I had heard that he was the prototype of the diabolical Julius King in A Fairly Honourable Defeat, and I'd also read various lurid accounts of their affair. Among other things, Canetti's wife used to greet Murdoch with a smile when she turned up for their trysts and then make lunch for all of them afterwards; as you can see, a cult leader kind of person ...more
More literary than scientific, Canetti's anthropological investigation of crowd behavior will leave you looking both at human behavior and the natural world in new ways. Overstatements, stereotypes, all-too-tidy categories, and strained associations abound, yet the more one approaches the book as literature and less as a scientific treatise the more one can appreciate the insights throughout. An important book for better understanding oneself, religion, politics, sports fans, high school, and ju ...more
This is a truly fascinating and perspective-altering examination of the phenomenon of crowds, and the power formations out of which various crowd configurations evolved, developed from a literary-mythological-psychological perspective. One of Canetti's principal explicatory methods is to describe custom and ritual amongst the modern remnant of hunting-gathering mankind - Australian aborigines and certain tribes of Southern Africa, for example - as well as using mystic religious ceremonial for il ...more
Sono troppo sopraffata per esprimere un giudizio articolato, nel caso poteri fare una classificazione aka lista da far invidia a Perec del perché questo testo è un'accozzaglia, pardon, un lungo susseguirsi senza filo, di brandelli di pensieri senza capo né coda su cosa sia la massa. Illustrati con ampi (ampissim) stralci di etologia – forse con sfumature enologiche - e antropologia, ma, francamente, a patto di non esser interessati alla vita particolareggiatamente descritta nei suoi momenti topi ...more
Feb 08, 2009 Dan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Literature, poetry, English, and Behavioral Science students,
Recommended to Dan by: Saw it on a library shelf
I read and re-read this book from front to back numerous times. The second half of this book is powerfully insightful. If one approaches this work from the perspective of deeply involved humanness, as literature, rather than austere science with cut and dried methodology, one may come away with a deeper, more comprehensive, and much more circumspect feeling and understanding for the human animal. The insights in this book are raw, to the point, and so far, are the most accurate and imaginative d ...more
I thought this was amazing. Crazy crazy book that covers such an amazing range of the topics. All are essentially based about d the tic of crowds of humans mainly and the power associated with them. Highly recommended. Elias brings in a whole range of topics such as panic, rhythm, crowds of people and their types, the dead, hunting packs, native Indians, religious wars, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Muharram, European nationalities, the destruction of the Xhosas, monkeys, epidemics, questions, c ...more
Seicento inutili pagine...

Per le sezioni sulla psicologia, Canetti si rifà a Emil Kraepelin, attivo nel XIX secolo. Anche le ampie citazioni di antropologi, per altro spesso assai interessanti, non sembrano delle più recenti.
Pubblicato nel 1960, Massa e potere sembra fermo a un secolo prima, se non di più. Non solo per i riferimenti, ma per tutta l'impostazione.
Il suo approccio al sapere è libresco, antiquario, letterario e poco propenso al confronto con l'empiria, con l'accidentata particolarit
Ryan Louis
The best insights can sometimes come from meandering pathways. Elias Canetti (a Nobelate in 1981) seems to embody an interdisciplinary fervor in order to uncover patterns related to power and corruption. Armed with a lifetime of reading in anthropology, psychology, political science and rhetoric--and equipped with a life traversing totalitarian governments, two world wars and knowledge of numerous languages--he weaves together stories of ancient and all-but forgotten cultures (to me, at least) i ...more
A long-term dipping-into book. Recommended on a blog by Charles Lemos, at [now defunct] Goes deeper and wider than Hoffer's "True Believer."

Trivia: Canetti is thought to have been Iris Murdoch's model for The Black Prince.
Interesting view of the behavior of crowds and leaders and how they interact and grow. Uses many anthropoligical examples, although some links are more tenuous than others. Extremely interesting.
I read about 1/3 of this during college days, oh so long ago, but in a very scattered manner, jumping from segment to segment. It had a large impact and I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately ... so it's time to go back and give it a more frontal assault.

Finally through this intellectual thicket ... though I cannot claim to have digested it. This is a dense, magisterial work ... vast erudition is on display, yet somehow worn lightly. His concerns are so human that the abstractions take r
I'll start by saying that I liked reading Crowds and Power, was deeply impressed by the concepts that Canetti develops and invokes, and entertained by the stories and myths he uses to buttress those concepts.

But this isn't scientific analysis at all-- it's literature above all else, and should be read in that light. Keep in mind that Canetti was writing in the structuralist heyday of the late '50s and early '60s-- this was a time when Marshall McLuhan was doing his thing with media, and when the
This is one of my favorite books of all time -- perhaps even more so in recent years, with the West finally learning how to become a crowd once again. Canetti's is not a totally straight-forward scholarly account of the psychology of crowd behavior, if that's what you're looking for; but more of a mythological anthropology of its undercurrents and symbols. My favorite being that concerning fire. If you find the book, flip to the section called "Panic," and you will be treated to a history of the ...more
John Eder
Canetti won the Nobel Prize mostly because of this book about crowds and power and the things that drive civilization and human beings. It’s not a pretty picture. Canetti connects most behavior to the will to dominate and kill at best and survive at least and you come out of it, if you come out of it at all (I couldn’t finish it) just going, well, it’s a predatory universe and we’re all boned. But it is fascinating and written in a cool, weird, semi-mystical, very individual voice. I’d try to ge ...more
Caspar Peek
This is not Margaret Mead's 'Coming of Age in Samoa,' but it does share a lot of the same 'impressionistic' style we also find in Mead's classic. In fact, Crowds and Power reads more like a fictional account at times than a "serious" attempt at anthropology or philosophy. And therein lies its secret perhaps: in essence, this book is a collection of stories, not a collection of essays. It is similar, in that sense, to The Earwitness (, a collection of vign ...more
Abner Rosenweig
All I hear is praise for this book. It's good but I feel not as good as it should have been. Its rambling, discursive style is somewhat disorienting. There is no introduction and the structure of the book is very loosely held together. There is no logical progression, just a meandering through ideas loosely related to the themes of crowds and power. The book is admirable for its erudition and scope, ranging through history, anthropology, mythology, psychology, politics, biology, and more to give ...more
One of the seminal books of the 20th century -- a synthesis of anthropology, sociology, deep psychology, political science, and folklore as channeled by a brilliant Romanian Jew who witnessed the rise and fall of Hitler and Stalin. So much that seems inexplicable about human behavior makes sense after reading this book.
Mark Johnson
This is one of those philosophical works in which the author reimagines the world through one of the lenses of a compound eye. Here, Canetti considers the human tendency to gather into groups, packs, herds and large crowds. Having analyzed the different types of crowds, their functions in society, and their typical behaviors, Canetti considers a great many case examples, ranging widely through time, space, and cultures, in which the notion of 'the crowd' provides fresh insights. I found dazzling ...more
Mauro Brenna
Un libro veramente notevole. Canetti dimostra una profondit ineguagliabile e una ferma conoscenza delle fonti, veramente tantissime, che usa per argomentare i temi della massa e quello del potere. Libro che consiglio a chiunque voglia avere una visione diversa di tali fenomeni, non legata all'oggi, a determinate figure politiche decadenti, ma che ricerca il vero nocciolo iniziale che fa emergere questi bisogni nell'uomo. Consiglio inoltre di leggere: Il frutto del fuoco, parte della autobiografi ...more
Brett Green
probably too rooted in a post wwII world view to have more theoretical staying power than something less contemporaneously minded, Canetti's ultimate point - all of his wonderful cited primary source digressions aside (the real highlights of the book, imo) - is that we all need to learn how to think and act for ourselves. crowd behavior as rooted in ressentiment, political power as rooted in paranoia. misanthropic and entertaining. too anecdotal to be non-fiction. too documented to be fiction. n ...more
Simon Lavoie
Masse et puissance m'est d'abord apparue comme une oeuvre d'imagination généreuse mais sans plan, lancée voire gaspillée en généralisations outrancières, en analogies douteuses et superficielles, en classifications inutiles, en tautologies, et en objectifs nobles - mais abandonnés aussitôt que déclarés. Ces impressions demeurent un temps puis disparaissent, presque entièrement. Le propos de Canetti s'échafaude sur des classifications et des métaphores, et sur de nombreuses incursions dans les ...more
Read "Crowds": Canetti makes a curious attempt at categorizing different crowds (baiting, flight, prohibition, double...), though some of this crowd categorization goes against what he had earlier said about the moment of crowd formation being the discharge of difference that transforms people's usual fear of being touched into a desire to be touched, a desire to form one equal social body. That is, some of the crowds he categorizes/reifies/ontologizes aren't formed by discharge. His most curiou ...more
Nov 25, 2013 Philip marked it as to-read
Fouad Ajami: "In trying to grapple with, and write about, the Obama phenomenon, I found guidance in a book of breathtaking erudition, "Crowds and Power" (1962) by the Nobel laureate Elias Canetti. Born in Bulgaria in 1905 and educated in Vienna and Britain, Canetti was unmatched in his understanding of the passions, and the delusions, of crowds. The crowd is a "mysterious and universal phenomenon," he writes. It forms where there was nothing before. There comes a moment when "all who belong to t ...more
In libreria trovate questo saggio spesso e volentieri negli scaffali di filosofia. Definizione un po' riduttiva, perché Massa e potere racchiude in sé i più svariati campi del sapere: filosofia sì, ma anche antropologia (molto), sociologia (e in verità io la direi più opera sociologica che filosofica), storia, psicanalisi.
Ecco, psicanalisi. Strenuo oppositore di Freud e della teoria psicanalitica tutta, Canetti si rivela uno dei più fini psicologi nei quali sia dato imbattersi.
È un saggio p
Michel Van Goethem
Crowds and Power
by Elias Canetti
Quite intriguing to bizare... Canetti's views on power and crods are convincing and his examples taken mostly from Australian and African anthropology are most insightful. When he becomes too esoterical and to vague, especially in the last third when taking about mutation etc., it becomes hard to follow. None the less, quite an inspiration.
Anthropologische Studie der Psychologie, Struktur und Dynamik von Menschenmassen, wie sie aus politischen oder sportlichen, kriegerischen oder religiösen Zusammenhängen bekannt sind. „Masse und Macht“ ist Canettis Hauptwerk, das Ergebnis von 20 Jahren Mühe, festgehalten auf 592 oft sehr gut geschriebenen Seiten (C. ist Literaturnobelpreisträger).
Víctor Sampayo
A través de la historia, las acumulaciones humanas han causado siempre el mismo asombro embriagador y terrible, aunque normalmente solemos ser ciudadanos de ese país llamado soledad/pensamiento interior... ver reseña completa
Aug 02, 2012 Tom is currently reading it
I'm sure I'll never read the whole thing, but it is a lot of fun to sample randomly. Best lines so far: “To the crowd in its nakedness, everything seems a Bastille.”

“Everyone belonging to such a crowd carries within him a small traitor who wants to eat, drink, make love, and be left alone.”

Asails F
I read Crowds and Power when I was just entering high school. Recently after parusing the book again I realized that it spurred my interest in management. New theories of group management and group behavior don't dwell too far from the hypothesis of this book.
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Awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize in Literature "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power."

He studied in Vienna. Before World War II he moved with his wife Veza to England and stayed there for long time. Since late 1960s he lived in London and Zurich. In late 1980s he started to live in Zurich permanently. He died in 1994 in Zurich.

Author of Auto-da-Fé, Party in the
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“It is always the enemy who started it, even if he was not the first to speak out, he was certainly planning it; and if he was not actually planning it, he was thinking of it; and, if he was not thinking of it, he would have thought of it.” 12 likes
“The hand which scoops up the water is the first vessel. The fingers of both hands intertwined are the first basket. [p. 217]” 7 likes
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