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Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  7,485 ratings  ·  850 reviews
First published in 1971, Rules for Radicals is Saul Alinsky's impassioned counsel to young radicals on how to effect constructive social change and know “the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one.” Written in the midst of radical political developments whose direction Alinsky was one of the first to question, this volume exhibits his style ...more
Paperback, 196 pages
Published October 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published December 31st 1971)
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Colin This is one of the best resources for understanding postmodernism. Alinsky is truly a moral relativist, and uses this to justify whatever political ac…moreThis is one of the best resources for understanding postmodernism. Alinsky is truly a moral relativist, and uses this to justify whatever political action best fit for his intended goal at the time. He lays strong arguments for moral relativism, and surprisingly, he seemed to be an authentic seeker of truth. The latter surprised me greatly.(less)

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Mike (the Paladin)
Feb 02, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: political
Freely admitting I did not read this "thing" in detail(please note I said "in detail" not that I hadn't read it)...this is not my first brush with this small yet putrid tomb oops, I mean tome. I graduated high school in 1970...was cursed for wearing my dress army greens...and had friends who bought/buy into the poison Alinsky (a hero to many of the current administration in the white house) spews. From the opening appeal to Lucifer through it's "the ends justify the means" attitude it turns my s ...more
Jan 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read Alinsky for the first time in graduate school, and pulled his books off the shelf again upon hearing that Barack Obama studied and was influenced by Alinsky in his days as a community organizer.

The book is as good as I remembered, and freshened upon re-reading by the ability to apply some of the discussion to Obama's campaign and early days in office. Alinsky was an organizer--a passionate pragmatist with a sense of humor, willing to compromise at any turn or use any means by which to ach
Oct 30, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: bleeding-hearts
Total hogwash. This is simply moral relativism clothed in political sophistry. Following the path of all relativistic philosophies, Alinsky contradicts himself constantly throughout the book. He argues the "duality of all phenomena" and then goes on to describe the status quo as intolerable. He makes statements like "He who fears corruption fears life" and then attacks the Pentagon for corrupt practices during the Vietnam war.

You can certainly see how The One drew much of his campaign philosophi
Jun 25, 2012 rated it did not like it
It’s very appropriate for Alinsky to dedicate this book to Satan. Like Satan, Alinsky mixes God’s word with his own lies to craft his socialist evil.
He warns those he calls “Have’s” to watch out for their “Have Not” neighbor because they’ll kill him and take what he has. Then he says the “Have Not” is justified in doing so. Well Alinsky, based on your stupid logic, the “Have” is also justified in killing the “Have Not” in defense. Alinsky states just the opposite. His stupid logic also says not
Stephen Drake
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The first time I read this book was when I was sixteen. Since then, I have given away and replaced the book several times. Alinsky, who was active in both Chicago (where I lived for over ten years) and Rochester, NY (where I grew up and live now), was a terrific community organizer. The language is a little dated - definitely sexist by today's definitions - but it's a great reminder to those of us who get discouraged about fighting on unlevel playing fields. The playing fields have never been le ...more
Aug 04, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, activism
There are definite aspects of Alinsky's book that are getting a little outdated. It's interesting to read the final chapters, and see his hope for what essentially has become the responsible investment movement - a large part of which is students on campuses getting their schools to divest from companies involved in business with unethical political regimes - and to know the limits of that movement, and its failure to cause 'a middle class revolution' like the one he envisions. But then, his hop ...more
Nov 14, 2008 rated it liked it
Ah, for the simpler days of radicalism, when you could get your college friends together for an impromptu rally, and no one had an excuse why they couldn't come.

That's not really what this book is about, but, having been written in 1971, it did inspire in me a bit of nostalgia for the kind of activism that was widespread then and is now alive and well only in places like San Francisco.

Alinsky is not anywhere near that idealistic. He was a down-and-dirty--and extremely effective--organizer who ha
Jun 06, 2022 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 0-a-own

Alinsky admits who he serves on the very first page of this book. He serves "the very first radical . . . the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer". What is Lucifer known for? Negating the truth. As Mephistopheles says in Goethe's Faust:

“I am the spirit that negates.
And rightly so, for all that comes to be
Deserves to perish wretchedly;
'Twere better nothing would begin.
Thus everything that
May 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I've been meaning to get around to Alinsky for years, and am so glad I finally borrowed a copy of this book from a friend.

The thing I appreciate most about this book is that he is so practical. I often get impatient with philosophical/ethical discourses about right and wrong and actions and consequences. The fact of the matter is, people are motivated by self-interest, and if you want to bring about a successful movement for justice, you have to appeal to that.

I think it is important to balanc
Larry Bassett
Newt Gingrich is criticizing Barack Obama by associating him with Saul Alinsky. Read this book if you want to know what Mr. Alinski thought and how he organized people without power to make their lives better.

I am not sure if Saul said, "Power to the people!" but I am sure that is what he meant. This book is a classic for community organizing.


I have just finished listening to this book in the audible version in early 2022. The book was published in 1971 shortly before the author died
Ryan Holiday
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Rules for Radicals is the 48 Laws of Power written for the power hungry with a conscience. Alinksy was the liaison for many civil rights, union and student causes in the late 50's and 60's and though most of his efforts were temporal, he immortalized the tactics in this book. He teaches how to implement your radical agenda without using radical tactics, how to disarm with words and media as opposed to arms and Utopian rhetoric.

What's most impressive about Alinsky is how his books become more rel
Della Scott
Jul 12, 2010 rated it liked it
This is a book that I didn't want to read, but knew that I ought to read. During the 2008 presidential campaign, people were talking about it so much that one got the sense that maybe it wasn't necessary to read it--you already knew what was in it. But that's always a mistake. It's always better to go to the source. And actually, although the people on the talk radio stations that I listened to were taking about it a lot, people in mainstream media probably weren't talking about it enough, or el ...more
Douglas Wilson
Jun 27, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
Alinsky was a tactical genius, but when it gets to foundational issues he is beyond sophomoric. A hard leftist, who did not know where he was going or why, but he was the kind of driver who knew how to make good time.
Sep 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Alinsky was the left side of a two headed system approved Jewish Hydra operation out of Chicago. On one side you had Strausser who spawned the Neo-Con cabal that ruled the white house from 2000-2008. On the other side you had Alinsky who either influenced or in some cases out and out mentored people like Hilary Clinton, Cesar Chavez, Barry Satoro Obama, Bill Ayers, etc, etc. So their little globalist Marxist operation was quite succesful no doubt.

Alinsky for all his notoriety for rabblerousing
May 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Alinsky's classic about organizing in America is a fascinating work which is in many ways timeless. I found it inspiring and it definitely got me thinking about the often overlooked possibilities for creativity within collective action. In our modern era of letter-writing campaigns, call-in campaigns, and even protests, we can forget that "realistic radicals" have a much broader arsenal of rhetoric and media-grabbing actions (that can be more effective and more fun for their cadres to participat ...more
Sep 22, 2014 rated it did not like it
Alinsky's message was never received in a significant sense. The Tactics weren't employed. The goals were not achieved. There was no Movement or revolution for which he made these rules. I don't think the Tactics would be effective if they were employed. They might have some effect against some low-level bureaucrats in the 1970's but the powers that be are insulated from Alinsky and his ways.

(Prologue) "What I have to say in this book is not the arrogance of unsolicited advice. It is the experie
This book must have been recommended to me several dozen times over the course of the past year, from activists from either side if the ideological divide. Written by a rabid political organizer who cut his teeth organizing in the Depression-era south-side Chicago who makes no secret of the fact that he views a worker's revolution as inevitable and something that leftists should constantly work toward, and given that President Obama got his start organizing with the late Alinsky's group back in ...more
Feb 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: social workers, activists
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: political, resource
Rating this GOOD is not accurate. But it is a Must Read unless what's going on now in America os not affecting you, or you don't care.
This is a reread from years ago in my social activist days. Amazing how one can see these techniques in use if our eyes are open.
Jul 07, 2020 rated it liked it
It started strong and then by the end it kind of felt like he was rambling about whatever was on top of his mind. Required reading for organizers though imo and there were a lot of gems once you look past the fact that it was written by a white guy born in 1909.
Dec 01, 2008 rated it liked it
In an amazing start to his book, Alinsky acknowledges "the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom--Lucifer." While I wouldn't put Alinsky in the same category as Lucifer, it does make me wonder why he would put radicals in the same category. I guess he has his reasons, and certainly those bomb throwers (Alinsky speaks against) belong to Lucifer.
Parts of the book were pretty slow (the first half.) It seems l
Jun 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: The Young and those who need their fire lit
Shelves: bestreadsever
This is just one of those books that people who are young and on fire should read. It is inspiring and thought provoking if not a little contreversial at times- especially when it was published I imagine.
Zachary Brown
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
Honestly, I wanted to like this. I just think Alinsky might come from a different time. All the truths he lays down seem self-evident, and he spams quotes from famous people as if they will somehow make him feel smarter. I think the onslaught of quotes really detracts from some things he might have had to say. I don't know what kind of hero to the working class this guy was, but he writes like he's jerking himself off. He has a chapter where he talks about how cool it is to have all the magic tr ...more
Darran Mclaughlin
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, american
A really extraordinary book. I remember hearing about Alinsky for the first time years ago when I read Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama, when Obama referred to the fact that he had learned from Alinsky and been influenced by him when he worked as a community organiser in Chicago. I recall having my interest piqued because his work was described as being in the line of Machiavelli and Nietzsche, which is a very unusual thing to hear about a book on political organising. Well the comparisons ...more
Oct 17, 2010 rated it did not like it
Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky is a terrible book on all accounts: terrible writing and, most importantly,terrible ideas. I'll take his opening remarks and two propositions within the first chapter (not including the Prologue) to make my point.

Alinsky makes these opening remarks: "What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be." He refers to those with the desire to change the world as Organizers.

On page 10, Alinksy writes that "the
Brian Napoletano
Mar 08, 2009 rated it liked it
Saul Alinsky presents those of us who talk about change without acting on it with an uncomfortable challenge: you are either actively opposing the establishment or you are siding with it. This challenge struck home with me and inspired me to invest more effort into connecting to local activists and engaging in direct action.

On the other hand, I found Alinsky's discussion of ends and means rather troubling. Alinsky tends to judge actions solely by their ends, and is so certain of the righteousnes
Gordon Hilgers
Apr 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
All the right wing hullabaloo over Saul Alinsky's "Rules For Radicaals", published in 1971, is what made me decide to read this--horrors!--book about community organizing. Since I have been involved in community organizing before, it only seemed logical to see if I could find some of the things I learned on the fly in Alinsky's book. And you know what? I did. Accident and necessity sometimes become crossing points where you act before you develop a rationale, and I remember interviewing a Dallas ...more
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Surprisingly full of wacky hijinks, this book still manages to be a fundamentally rationalist primer on how to bring people together, find out what they want, and how to get them to work together to get it. Entertaining and educational.
Stefan Dimitrov
Feb 12, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Somewhat outmoded in its style and the specifics of its time, but still relevant, highly recommend.

The short version would be reading just his sections where he lists his actual rules. A very, very brief version is here, but his explanations to each rule aren't too long and add value:

Mike (the Paladin)
Freely admitting I did not read this "thing" in detail (please note I said "in detail" I didn't say I hadn't read it.)...this is not my first brush with this small yet putrid tomb. I graduated high school in 1970...was cursed for wearing my dress army greens...and had friends who bought/buy into the poison Alinsky (a hero to many of the current administration in the white house) spews. From the opening appeal to Lucifer through it's "the ends justify the means" attitude it turns my stomach.

A quo
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Somewhat dated but a must read for radicals 2 17 Nov 17, 2012 10:36AM  
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Saul David Alinsky was an American community organizer and writer. He is generally considered to be the founder of modern community organizing. His organizing skills were focused on improving the living conditions of poor communities across North America.

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