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The Captive Mind

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4.26  ·  Rating details ·  2,683 ratings  ·  230 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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James Morrison Fareed Zakaria mentioned this book on Sunday and how it applies to the current administration and especially to the Republicans who are calibrators to…moreFareed Zakaria mentioned this book on Sunday and how it applies to the current administration and especially to the Republicans who are calibrators to Trump. Perhaps not outdated, as critical thinking never is. (less)

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Glenn Russell



Beginning with Hitler and Nazi Germany in 1933 up until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 counts as one of the most brutal, nightmarish periods in history for such Eastern European countries as Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary and Poland. The Captive Mind is Polish poet and Nobel prize winner Czeslaw Milosz's astute 1953 work of non-fiction speaking to the attraction of totalitarianism for writers, artists and intellectuals.

In his first chapter Czeslaw Milosz explores how the vision of Stanis
...more
Szplug
Sep 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
WILLIAM2
The Captive Mind was first published in English translation by Secker and Warburg in 1953. The work was written soon after the author's defection from Stalinist Poland in 1951. While writing The Captive Mind Milosz drew upon his experiences as an illegal author during the Nazi Occupation and of being a member of the ruling class of the postwar People's Republic of Poland. The book attempts to explain the allure of Stalinism to intellectuals, the thought processes of those who believe in it, and ...more
Maciek
PL: Recenzja w dwóch językach - tekst angielski znajduje się pod polskim.
ENG: This is a bilingual review - English text is presented below.

PL: Pomysł lektury Zniewolonego Umysłu Czesława Miłosza przyszedł do mnie krótko po skończeniu Imperium Ryszarda Kapuścińskiego - obszernego reportażu z podróży po rozpadającym się sowieckim imperium. Zniewolony Umysł to książka zupełnie inna - to próba zrozumienia ideologii którą Miłosz nazywa Nową Wiarą, stworzoną w Rosji i narzuconą jej w następstwie rewol
...more
Aubrey
The rage one feels on reading sixteenth-century memoirs whose authors, mostly priests, recount the atrocities committed in America by Spanish Conquistadors is senseless. It cannot resurrect the Caribbean population slaughtered by Ponce de Leon, nor shelter the Inca refugees pursued through the mountains by knights fighting with faith and a sword. Those who have been defeated are forgotten forever; and anyone who would look too closely into the record of past crimes or, even worse, try to imag
...more
Kelly
May 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Antonomasia
Audiobook, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki.

This is famous as a great book about totalitarianism in general - and evidently works for many readers on that level - so I was surprised how historically and geographically specific it is. Although there was no doubt a great deal I missed too, I appreciated what I'd built up so far in exploring Polish literature and history.

I've been wary of some of the material about in Orlando Figes' The Whisperers while I've been listening to it over the last couple of
...more
Michael Perkins
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Helmut Thielicke is not as famous as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was a martyred leader of the Confessing Church that opposed Hitler. But Thielicke was also a member the Church and also spoke out against the Nazis. Thielicke’s writings give us a window into life under the Reich.

Thielicke reports that among the first to morally capitulate in Nazi Germany were the non-Jewish professors and intellectuals. Their learning and intellect did not guard against surrendering their conscien
...more
Chris Coffman
Nov 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Daniel Laskowski
Captive Mind by Czesław Miłosz should be the mandatory companion piece to Orwell’s 1984. And it is mostly just as good. The Nobel laureate Miłosz was a true giant of literature and he employed his keen mind to dissect and scrutinise the ways in which artists and intellectuals in Eastern Europe adapted themselves to the reality of the totalitarian socialism (and Socrealism). Having been part of the "historical machine" of the Soviet Socialism he also correctly identifies its true nature: that of ...more
Jim
Feb 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Andrew
Even though this as described as an "anti-communist" book, it's far more than that-- it's a plea against totalitarianism of all kinds, not for the usual things (human rights violations, etc.) but for how the mind is effectively colonized. Now, I should point out that Milosz is far more persuasive when he's narrating the lives of his fellow Polish writers-- reminiscent of the film Mephisto-- then when he's making generalizations. In fact, some of his generalizations (that arty types are drawn to ...more
Bryan "They call me the Doge"
Published in 1951, The Captive Mind was Milosz' attempt to explain why intellectuals from the Eastern Bloc countries were willing to tolerate and eventually accept the 'New Faith' (Stalinism) in the post-war years. He explicitly says that it was not a matter of force and coercion: that, given the reality of the situation, these people were converted through a rational thought process that led them, happily or no, to conform and even become proponents--at least superficially.

Through a succession
...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
Kinga
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, non-fiction
Czeslaw Milosz is one of Poland's most beloved poets. Much of his work was inaccessible during my childhood due to his defection to the West. The Captive Mind looks at how a person survives in authoritarian times psychologically. I filled pages in my notebook with quotes from this book, and I noted some of those on here, as I read along. Milosz truly captures the feeling of living in Communist times, where the brain has to cope with an unforgiving reality and political system, juxtaposed against ...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
Sue
Jul 31, 2017 rated it did not like it
Oh man. This was way out of my normal box; and maybe that's why I couldn't get it or into it. I found the first chapter not so bad and found some good lines. However, as soon as he got into his writer friends, I just couldn't keep up. As much as I thought I was beginning to understand something, I lost it as I continued to read.
John David
Oct 03, 2010 rated it liked it
“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
Charles J
Dec 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
We all like to imagine ourselves as heroes. We watch movies, and we instinctively put ourselves in the place of the hero, not in the place of the villain. We read the histories of twentieth-century tyrannies, and we assume we would be the resistance fighter, not the collaborator, informer, or toady to the new archons. Maybe we would be heroes. But probably not, if history is any guide. Czeslaw Milosz’s 1951 The Captive Mind explores, through the author’s personal experience, what motivates seemi ...more
Nemanja Sh
Jul 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Sherry Elmer
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
How I wish I could an essential reading list that everyone actually had to read! I'm joking (kind of). I would put this book on that list. It dismays me that after all the failed experiments in socialism and communism, there are still people today who believe it could work. It is so sad when history's suffering cannot at least be used to prevent more of the same.

In any case, I've loved Milosz as a poet for many years, and this was his first nonfiction book I've read. I love it because it is not
...more
Stephen Griffith
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I started reading this years ago and it struck me as too dry compared to the Penguin Writers From the Other Europe, so I put it back on the shelf. Now that I'm somewhat less immature I found this a compelling read on how Russia inexorably got the intellectuals to bend to their will. I was particularly interested in Milosz's description of Tadeusz Borowski's fate. When I read "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen", which stood out from most of the rest in terms of being compellingly brutal ...more
Michael Bishop
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
If this book teaches anything it is that we should never allow our minds to become imprisoned by dogma, nor deny our creativity to satisfy established norms or win favour. Systems come and go, and despite the resistance of the powerful, the struggle for truth and human progress continues.
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 f
...more
Caitlin
Aug 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Sam Ludwig
Sep 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Although this book makes several good and relevant points in the common aspects declining civilizations share (ours included), which lead to the totalitarian demagoguery that eventually rules them. There is a pervasive cynicism through the book that gives the impression the author is throwing up his hands to history and the very worst of human nature as unchangeable and just accepts it as if unable to shake the dialects that he was immured in through communism in Eastern Europe. It would have se ...more
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
May 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Corinne Wasilewski
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this book several years ago, and, although I found it interesting, most of it went over my head as I had no firsthand experience with the subject matter. Not so this time around. Since then I’ve become familiar with identity politics and the tactics used by those who follow them. I’ve seen speakers say things that are well accepted in the scientific community (ie. personality differences exist between men and women, gender is NOT just a social construct but due to a combination of biologi ...more
Crito
Jun 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Milosz is a poet foremost, and that's the angle I come at when approaching this work. It is a blend of many different elements, be it politics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, lit crit, biographical portraits, and a implicit confessional at its core. The central event he keeps returning to, which I believe nicely personifies the struggles which interest Milosz, is that of the revolt of Warsaw; with the oppressive Nazi rule on one hand, and the Soviet advance just across the river, the youth o ...more
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Eclectic Readers: The Captive Mind 1 3 May 18, 2019 01:26PM  

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Czesław Miłosz was a Nobel Prize winning poet and author of Polish-Lithuanian heritage. He 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 ...more

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“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.” 16 likes
“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.” 16 likes
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