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The Power Elite

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,228 ratings  ·  74 reviews
First published in 1956, The Power Elite stands as a contemporary classic of social science and social criticism. C. Wright Mills examines and critiques the organization of power in the United States, calling attention to three firmly interlocked prongs of power: the military, corporate, and political elite. The Power Elite can be read as a good account of what was taking ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published February 17th 2000 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1956)
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Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that has remained in print for 60 years – so, it clearly has had something to say to the world about how power in America works.

I want to focus mostly on the last chapter of this book – but to do that I need to quickly point to some ideas from earlier in the book. Chiefly, the thesis here is that in the United States power has developed in a way that can’t be adequately compared with other countries. For instance, in Europe the local bourgeoisie were literally the middle class – t
Kaelan Ratcliffe▪Κάϊλαν Ράτκλιφ▪كايِلان راتكِليف
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who's read 1984
Recommended to Kaelan Ratcliffe▪Κάϊλαν Ράτκλιφ▪كايِلان راتكِليف by: Chris Hedges
A Dark Portrait

UPDATE: I am very excited to say that a spiritual sequel to this book has been published in 2018. It has received overwhelming praise from the likes of Noam Chomsky and Abby Martin for carrying forward C. Wright Mills tradition of studying the ruling classes as a social network. The difference now being that said classes have become transnational, something Mills had not yet seen, but has been theorised as becoming the new paradigm for twenty years. The Book is called Giants:
Erik Graff
Sep 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in the New Left & the history of American sociology
Recommended to Erik by: Edward Erickson
This book had a profound influence on me and on my generation. I read it no later than 1969, but may have read it as early as 1967. In any case, all of my older, political friends had read it and encouraged me to read it.

Basically, Mills argues that the USA is owned and operated by a very small portion of its population, acting behind the institutional smokescreen of representative politics and elections which they subtantially finance and control. So far as I recall, his major emphasis is in de
Blaise Lucey
Sep 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A quote that should make you read The Power Elite:

"On the one hand, there is the increased scale and centralization of the structure of decision; and, on the other, the increasingly narrow sorting men into milieu. From both sides, there is the increased dependence upon the formal media of communication, including those of education itself. But the man in the mass does not gain a transcending view from these media; instead he gets his experience stereotyped, and then he gets sunk further by that
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
C. Wright Mills wrote this landmark volume sixty-one years ago, but the problems he confronted have not disappeared, but merely altered. In this decade as well as the late Fifties, it seems when one pursues American power to see who holds it, the ability to wield power becomes more diffuse -- but suddenly more concentrated once out of popular (or direct-political) control. Today we live in a world in which American business people, like the companies they helm, are as apt to go international (or ...more
Alexandra Chauran
Apr 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I read this book for my dissertation. It was fascinating. The author has a way with words. Basically this is the dude who invented The Man. Though his rants today might sound like the ramblings of any anti-elite stoner at a party, back in the day this was mind-blowing stuff. If you can put yourself in that headspace when you read the book it's pretty good, humorous, and insightful.
Răzvan Molea
Mar 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
But not all men are ordinary, some men come to occupy positions in American society from which they can look down upon, so to speak, and by their decisions mightily affect, the everyday worlds of ordinary men and women. They are not made by their jobs; they set up and break down jobs for thousands of others; they are not confined by simple family responsibilities; they can escape. They may live in many hotels and houses, but they are bound by no one community. What Jacob Burckhardt said of ‘grea ...more
Apr 17, 2020 rated it liked it
More like 2.5 rounded up... but that's mostly because I really didn't like the writing style.

This book read like a college lecture - a dull one. It was dry and did NOT draw me in. Also, not its fault, but the material was out of date - I would love to see a more modern spin on this concept. Too bored by this to even write a good review.
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
One of the better books on the subject. Classic text of sociology from the 1950's that still holds true (more or less) today.

Describes the inner circles of power in America in the post-war world with rare insight for the time. Of particular interest is the logic of the mutual exclusive re-enforcement of “right” based solely on money. Common rhetoric now, yet novel then.

Was thinking the other day along these lines why more wealth tends to exclude less wealth.

Why is the person with more money th
Todd Stockslager
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
Review title: Needs a real new edition
The "new edition" of this edition of this 1950's social science classic is nothing more than a reprint with a short 15-page critical essay from 2000 tacked on the end. What it really needs is a real and extensive updating to be read as anything other than a work limited by and to the time and place of its creation.

I first read The Power Elite as a student of history and government in the late 1970s, when much of the criticism and commentary that Mills aimed
Joshua Sauvageau
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just picked this book up on a whim, cynically imagining that, even after 56 years, it may have some salience to the current American political structure. I was not disappointed. Or rather, I was, if only in our body electorate.

Having just finished watching the Zeitgeist Trilogy, perhaps I was primed for a work that many may consider a conspiratorial treatise. I won't deny that I was seeking independent verification of my own hypotheses, but I would be open to reading a counterpoint to this wor
Apr 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Though it did take the better part of three months to read, I consider it excellent. Mills' writing is top-notch, and the topic is well-explored. It may not be the most heartening read, and the temptation is to call it dated, but it is roughly as applicable as the day it was published. Have a taste:

"It is in this context of material prosperity, with the demagogic right setting the tone of public sensibility; the more sophisticated conservatives silently achieving established power in a largely u
Steven Peterson
Apr 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
First published in 1956, this was a classic in sociology at the time. The focus of this book? The American power elite, of whom Mills says (Page 3): "The power elite is composed of men whose positions enable them to transcend the ordinary environments of ordinary men and women; they are in positions to make decisions having major consequences." In this volume, Mills seeks to identify the power elite of the United
States at the time.

He notes a variety of venues from which the power elite comes.
Aug 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Much of what Mills covers has already seen light in some other works I have read (Media Monopoly by Bagdikian and most of Chomsky). This does not dilute his message, if anything other publications reinforce and illuminate the basis of this sociological classic, supported with good data. I agree with the afterword by Alan Wolfe except that I believe that Mills in his social criticism (the last half of the book) was not incorrect in calling the bureaucratization of and resulting mindless decisions ...more
Fred R
Feb 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
Not as good as I had hoped, it's more in the line of: "I assemble this information so as to inspire action by the downtrodden masses." It was interesting to me how much political influence he ascribed to the Military, which I don't entirely trust, even given the era the book is analyzing (early Cold War).

The problem for Mills is:

1. Our elite is incompetent
2. Our elite is not democratic enough

Now, there are situations in which both propositions could hold, but as a general rule, and despite their
Mark McTague
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Published in 1956, Mill's book is a primer for understanding the corporate capitalist society we have today. This trailblazing work presented concepts that continue to be relevant today - interlocking directorates in corporations, the revolving door between corporations and the government agencies that exist to oversee them so they obey the rule of law, and the triumvirate of corporate, military, and high government agencies that run our society. He also looked at old money families and how they ...more
Sep 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I suggest you read the afterword FIRST.

I requested this book back in December 2015 and my library finally bought it.

This was a revelation, in that so much of the mire our political system is currently in was gathered a century ago if not earlier.

I picked it up after seeing it referenced in another history book (though it was so long ago I have no idea which one). I'm going to buy it and underline the good parts.

It is very dense and academic, which is why it took me nearly a month to finish it as
Mar 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: society-politics
At the beginning of the book, the discussion of traditional elites seemed dated. After that, a number of descriptions of changes to the corporations and political structures sounded like shifts I had thought took place in the last 45 years. But then as I continued with the book, it began to seem long and my mind drifted more than usual when reading. I wouldn't say the writing style is academic, but the last 60 pages (over 10% of the book) is acknowledgements and notes.

The book may give some read
A great book of sociology and social criticism. Very clear style, with a lot of footnotes and data. The first 2/3rds were more sociological with facts and figures intermixed with anecdotes and cultural commentary. The last 1/3rd was a devastating critique of America's pretensions to democracy and the assumptions of classical liberalism in light of social reality.

The sociological part describing the history of elites, high society and the lifestyles of 50s corporate executives was very interesti
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Listened to as an AudioBook.

There's an old saying - that in any population 3% of the individuals are "movers and shakers" - (have power and can get things done) - these people and their ideas have another 8% of the population as their allies and agents and 'thugs' in making this change - that leaves approximately 89% of the population without a clue about what's happening why and what (if anything) to do about it.

The Power Elite is a nearly-perfect classic that studies the then in place power ne
The Power Elite represents a portion of sociology, history and analytical works I’ve purchased to bring myself closer to the subject. Internal US Politics have for a long time interested me, the side veering towards conspiracy and the so called ‘deep state’ has interested me even more. This interested originates in both other media I’ve consumed and a gradual attraction to all things political in my younger years. Media pertaining to this were movies like Lord of War, American Psycho and The Pen ...more
Lissa Loo
Dec 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"As politics gets into the army, the army gets into politics." I particularly like the topic about 'Civilian supremacy' in this book. The principle of Civilian supremacy was so successful up until WW2 and even beyond, there was no serious problem which arose from military submission to civilian authority. As the nation developed, however, faith in civilian supremacy began to wane. The waning of that faith began when civilian officials started using military elements for furthering their ambition ...more
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book, written in the mid-fifties sees in the background about politicians that which is so obvious to us now. It would be a hard read for a present-day Republican and Mills truly does seem sad at the decline of a logical, liberal (Lockean liberalism) conservative ideology, but he does not hold back in his contempt of the immorality and irresponsibility of the Conservative movement he found at the end of the McCarthy Era. A worthy read by someone on either end of the political spectrum.
Chad Montabon
Dec 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a 'must read' for Libertarians, those seeking to explain the modern phenominon of the government's ever increasing intrusiveness, the rise of media as a power player and the evolving structure of society.

It has aged well, but at times it was a hard read, which is to say I 'could' put it down, but another pillar of ignorance has fallen.
Punk Johnny Cash
I feel this book is one of the most important books for most people to read. I have only found the work of Mills to be positive. Despite some critical critiques I have heard of him, I feel that this specifically is an important book to understanding power and domination in our current society.
Mano Chil
Nov 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Such an important study to read that is still relevant today in my opinion.

After reading about the power elite class and how they think, I came to the realization that they use the same strategy, approach and tactics in Lebanon and politics.
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Though some modes of thinking cannot be applied to current socio economic conditions, the book does a fantastic job of informing Americans how our military, political, and economic powers relate towards society.
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Devastatingly astute
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Published in 1956, yet most points are on target in 2018. Names of people, corporations, and military events have all changed since the time of this book, yet the content remains powerfully relevant.
Aug 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book back in the late 60’s in college. It is ad relevant and meaningful today as it was when Mills wrote it.
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American sociologist. Mills is best remembered for his 1959 book The Sociological Imagination in which he lays out a view of the proper relationship between biography and history, theory and method in sociological scholarship. He is also known for studying the structures of power and class in the U.S. in his book The Power Elite. Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in po ...more

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