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The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  8,470 ratings  ·  1,283 reviews
A stevedore on the San Francisco docks in the 1940s, Eric Hoffer wrote philosophical treatises in his spare time while living in the railroad yards. The True Believer -- the first and most famous of his books -- was made into a bestseller when President Eisenhower cited it during one of the earliest television press conferences. Completely relevant and essential for unders ...more
Paperback, 177 pages
Published January 19th 2010 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1951)
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Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Mike by: Rob Z.
So you've decided to start your own cult or mass movement. Fantastic. Just remember that it's not all fun and games- there's a good deal of planning and work involved. You'd be well-advised to read Eric Hoffer's The True Believer in full before you do anything, but here, as I understand them, are a few of his main points:

First of all, somewhat counter-intuitively, the contents of your platform or doctrine are almost irrelevant. Whatever you do, don't wrack your brain or search your soul for legi
Dec 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
#2 on my list of the ten most influential books in my life. At this point mybest guess is that I read this around 1960. It was a clear and incisive look at the people who believe as a matter of faith and not as a matter of logic or fact. What is more amazing is that the author was a longshoreman who had no formal education beyond high school. Reading his insights was my first understanding of the workings of the minds of irrational people. The principles of mass irrationality apply to religion, ...more
Mar 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Every citizen of the world
Outstanding. A concise and astute portrait of the personality type that is drawn to authoritarian institutions, whether political or religious. Hoffer makes an excellent case that the mass movements - the fascists, the communists, and the various brands of religious fundamentalists, that have caused so much death, suffering, and chaos throughout history in their attempts to impose their values and belief systems on others, have all depended on people of basically similar character to fill their ...more
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: societies
This book possesses a terrible timelessness. Though written a few years after World War II to examine the factors that led people to embrace fascism and communism, it still rings true for our times, clearly explaining the reasons why so many people have embraced anger, intolerance, and a foolish wish to return to an America that never was. People need to read Eric Hoffer now more than ever.

Those who see themselves as stuck in a life with no prospects, losers at the game of economic and social su
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
In trying to understand why this book has been so popular for so long, I can only conclude that its because it is infinitely useful for political purposes. This is basically a book of musings about what drives the average follower of a mass ideological movement, as well as the life-cycles and nature of such movements. Rather than any empirical argument there is a lot of psychoanalysis and pithy philosophical quotes. A book of musings is fine, but Hoffer is unable to make anything even close to a ...more
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kunst-zukunft
This book for me is like when you've just met someone and you're talking to them and you find that you have so much in common, and you like them so much that you stutter in trying to say ten different things at once because you're so excited and then you just trip over your own foot and fall in the lake. ...more
Mikey B.
I read this to get a better understanding of mass indoctrination whether it be religion, Nazism, Stalinism, and more recent developments in our populist era, namely Trump. The author lists what he feels are the commonalities to all of these, whether it be Nazism, ISIS or the “moonies” or even a small religious movement like the Branch Davidians of David Koresh.

The author uses the word “mass movement”, whereas I would use the word “cult”; perhaps the word “cult” was not in vogue when this was wri
Ross Blocher
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The True Believer seeks to explain the causes of mass movements and how political upheavals emerge predictably from psychological and sociological predispositions. It is broad, confident, and hugely insightful. Eric Hoffer wrote The True Believer in 1951, with World War II fresh in memory and other threats emerging around the world - and yet, his insights feel current and often frighteningly prescient (one cannot help but interpret his observations in the light of Trump's presidency: parallels o ...more
Feb 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A mainstay of any library, this slim book on political extremism was written, not by a professor but by a gifted amateur, an American stevedore willing to think through not the historical problem of radicalization in this or that society, but who becomes an extremist. What is the psychology of the extremist as opposed to that of more moderate people. Who is more likely to join an extremist movement? It was written in the 1950's, not long after the defeat of the Third Reich, a time when the probl ...more
I haven't yet read the other reviews of this, as I didn't want my own to be influenced, but I would imagine other reviewers will have commented on the author's background. He had very little formal education, but seems to have been an extraordinarily perceptive and articulate person.

Of this work he says himself "...this is not an authoritative textbook. It is a book of thoughts, and it does not shy away from half-truths so long as they seem to hint at a new approach and help to formulate new que
Grady Ormsby
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer is a political philosophy classic from 1951. It has lost absolutely nothing to age. In Walden Henry David Thoreau wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." This could easily be seen as Hoffer's starting point. "The true believer" begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and/or self-disgust to bury his own identity in a cause oriented to some future goal. It scarcely seems to matter whether the ...more
Jan 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"It is the true believer's ability to "shut his eyes and stop his ears" to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacles nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. Strength of faith, as Bergson pointed out, manifests itself not in moving mountains but in not seeing mountains to move." (80)

"The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its
The True Believer has been popular for so long, and when I first read it years ago, I was deeply impressed.

Now, I have to admit I'm much more skeptical. On the one hand, the book makes so many observations and sometimes sweeping judgments of 'mass movements' - and lumping so many of them together. And Hoffer only sometimes makes citations or provides any historical examples for his points, so the whole book is a string of assertions.

Anecdotally, I can't think he's completely off the mark - a d
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Holy generalizations, Batman! While there were some insightful points made in the book, mostly it felt like a long, disjointed collection of the author's personal unfounded assertions. Hoffer makes sweeping generalizations about people's motivations and engages in hack psychology ad nauseam.

The organization is odd as well, with 125 "Sections" in just 168 pages - some of the sections were literally one sentence, and often they don't seem to have any sort of logical connection or flow.
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Apr 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Liz's Book?
It's rare that a book has the impact on me this one did, especially first read in mature adulthood; a book that often made me wish to underline paragraph after paragraph. It's a very short, simply written and accessible book--the main text is only 168 pages. The preface tells us it intends to examine "active, revivalist phase of mass movements." On the GoodReads review site it's on a "notable atheist books" list, which I consider absolutely bizarre. The ideas in the book definitely cut both ways ...more
David Gustafson
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Eric Hoffer was an autodidactic longshoreman who was the author of ten books. He became a cult figure in 1960's America resulting in two, one-hour CBS interviews with Eric Sevareid. I cannot recall another author ever being accorded such exposure on the commercial television networks.

President Eisenhower mentioned "The True Believer" at a press conference and he gave copies to personal friends.

Although it touches on Christianity and Islam and bills itself as 'thoughts on the nature of mass move
Charles Haywood
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
Eric Hoffer was, Dwight Eisenhower said in 1952, his favorite philosopher. This endorsement made Hoffer, a self-educated San Francisco stevedore, famous. "The True Believer" is the book that Eisenhower gave all his friends. Read today, however, this book is mediocre, at best. It is the type of book that congratulates the reader while pretending to challenge him; it is a mirror that reflects to the reader what he wants to hear—especially for self-proclaimed “moderates” of flexible principle like ...more
J.M. Hushour
May 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"If anything ail a man so that he does not perform his functions, if he have a pain in his bowels even, he forthwith sets about reforming the world." -Thoreau

Hoffer presents us with a tremendous and important book on the fanatic and fanatical follower. This should be required reading in every school and household in our current age. Far too complex and comprehensive to even be properly summarized, I can recommend this for anyone attempting to understand all the potential mindsets, perceived inad
Jul 13, 2016 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael Perkins
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Quest for Certitude.

Some excellent insights into the mind of the fanatic, including his insecurities and contradictions.


"Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil."

The effectiveness of a doctrine does not come from its meaning but from its certitude. No doctrine however profound and sublime will be effective unless it is presented as the embodiment of the one and only truth.

There is perhaps no surer way of infecting ourselves
James Henderson
I have read this book several times over the years, starting the summer before I entered college. It is a classic in the sense that it both retains a freshness upon rereading and succeeds in challenging the reader with the thoughts that it presents. I use the word thoughts in the sense that Pascal wrote his own Pensees in the Seventeenth Century. Hoffer's observations on the nature of mass movements are still essential reading for anyone who desires to understand the nature of the twentieth cent ...more
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Eric Hoffer wrote in the 1940s about the mass movements such as the rise of the Bolshevists, the Fascists and the Nazis, but he seemed to be describing the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Arab Spring, and the current populist movements such as Brexit. We may say that he was a prophet, but more accurately, he had isolated the ingredients that make up mass movements.

Demonstration in Tunisia

He understood that mixing discontent for the present and hope for the future breeds a desire for change. He

Aphoristic, harsh, beautifully articulated.

It's about how giant seas of people congeal to hate or be fascinated by a certain object, person, ideology.

A guidebook, even, if you were so cynical enough to want to start a cult.

This is real wisdom. I'll prove it to you: open it at any page and read it real slow, carefully, and reflect a little after about a paragrpah or so. You know he's right.

Funny thing- I decided to buy it for real when I was leafing through it in a bookstore (I'd been exposed to
Stephanie Sun
Dec 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Prose reminiscent of that other Eric, Eric Blair a.k.a. George Orwell, at times. Form and focus reminiscent of that other ordinary American turned accidental thought leader, Jane Jacobs.

Puts things in the context of 1955 and through the perspective of a San Francisco dockworker with a great deal of common sense.

Rarely uses the word Fascism, rather nationalist is used for nationalist movements, sometimes just "reactionary" if it is a hard-right movement in its nascent stages.

Highly recommended.
Jul 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
Moved to ...more
Sep 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
This is a very difficult book for me to rate. I definitely would not dismiss the book as simple-minded nor useless. It was very well-written and thought-provoking. But I disagreed so much with its basic premise and the arguments that flowed from it that I felt giving it any better than two stars would give an appearance that I agreed with some of its message - which I didn't. I found flaws in Hoffer's analysis and observations left and right. First, he weakens his entire generalizations of polit ...more
Bonnie Brandt
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was so fascinating. It was also a very dense short read. I could only read 10 or 20 pages at a time. I picked this up on our libraries new acquisition shelf so I thought it was a newly published book. It turns out that it was written in the 1950’s when there were a lot of remnants of mass movements that the world was still trying to clean up from and a few in progress.

The main focus is the thought processes of people who stream to a mass movement. This seems a particularly well timed r
Kressel Housman
It’s a good thing this book was under 200 pages because it was such a heavy read, I might have given up in the middle if the ending hadn’t been in clear sight. I stuck with it because it’s a classic in historiography. Rabbi Wein recommends it in several of his lectures. Many would be surprised that a rabbi would recommend what is largely an anti-religious book, but it seems the author recognizes the redemptive power of religion (i.e. the concluding sentence). He also “gets” Jewish history, which ...more
Booze Hound
Aug 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I dont know where to start, the book interweaves so many disciplines, history, politics, psychology, sociology, and religion. Its very well crafted and a must read for anyone involved in "political movements" or interested in such. Im breezing through it, easy read. I completed it in one day. And Eric Hoffer was a true gangsta (he was blind as a kid, homeless most his life, and tried killing himself at 30), so makes the book that much cooler!

One complaint I have is how Hoffer creates dichotomie
Apr 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the most helpful books I've ever read. So illuminating for my interests. The perfect outline for those of us trying to understand terrorism, cults, religions, the military, communism, fascism, revolutions.... ...more
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Eric Hoffer was an American social writer and philosopher. He produced ten books and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 1983 by President of the United States Ronald Reagan. His first book, The True Believer, published in 1951, was widely recognized as a classic, receiving critical acclaim from both scholars and laymen, although Hoffer believed that his book The Ordeal of Ch ...more

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