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The Power Elite

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,117 ratings  ·  67 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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4.13  · 
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 ·  1,117 ratings  ·  67 reviews

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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: T
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
Lucid explanation of American 'aristocracies'. Slightly outdated, but not nearly as much as I had anticipated. Simplistic, but still insightful.
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
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
Aristotle Webb Katanos
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Devastatingly astute
William Leight
May 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
"The Power Elite" hasn't really aged all that well. Not because its arguments are no longer applicable to the modern world, as the rather self-satisfied afterword to my edition asserts, but for precisely the opposite reason: because its main claims have largely graduated to the level of common knowledge. For instance, a significant part of Mills' argument amounts to an extended version of Eisenhower's warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex. Mills doesn't use that particular ph ...more
C. Wright Mills' The Power Elite is a worthy classic of social science. Mills analyzes, using interviews, public records, and other sources, the structure, character, and importance of a class he calls 'the power elite,' as they are during the 1950s (in addition to delving briefly into the history that brought them to that state). Mills ascribes the following characteristics and definitions to his power elite:

By dint of their positions in relationship to large, influential institutions (chiefl
Gary Bruff
Mill's masterpiece, this book allows its readers to peer into the shady upper echelons of power in America. Interlocking directorates run the show. This means that the top business executives, the top military officers, and the board members of churches, universities, and other non-profits are the same people--either coming from the same families, or serving in each of these capacities at different times in their careers. This results in among other things the military industrial complex, where ...more
Jan 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a terrific book. A lot of the abstract ideas might seem like common sense / general knowledge to cynical people of the modern day, but this book's value is in how it empirically demonstrates the *structural* linkages between the privately wealthy, the military, the corporation, and the government. Further, it uses these linking factors to explain the evolution and the current structure of power in the United States. It's fascinating too that even though the book was written in 1956, I t ...more
Oct 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is a book that I wished I had read during college (and not weeks after having a kid). Mills' book is considered a social science classic about 1950s America and the changes that were happening after WWII to society, power, and class. All that was interesting enough, but it's now 60 years old and that dates some of his thoughts and his writing can be dry. In addition, the second half of the book is less observation and more criticism and became even drier such that I will have to admit to ha ...more
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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
“The idea that the millionaire finds nothing but a sad, empty place at the top of this society; the idea that the rich do not know what to do with their
money; the idea that the successful become filled up with futility, and that
those born successful are poor and little as well as rich - the idea, in short,
of the disconsolateness of the rich - is, in the main, merely a way by which
those who are not rich reconcile themselves to the fact. Wealth in America is
directly gratifying and directly leads to many further gratifications. To be
truly rich is to possess the means of realizing in big ways one's little whims
and fantasies and sicknesses....”
“Once war was considered the business of soldiers, international relations the concern of diplomats. But now that war has become seemingly total and seemingly permanent, the free sport of kings has become the forced and internecine business of people, and diplomatic codes of honor between nations have collapsed. Peace in no longer serious; only war is serious. Every man and every nation is either friend or foe, and the idea of enmity becomes mechanical, massive, and without genuine passion. When virtually all negotiation aimed at peaceful agreement is likely to be seen as 'appeasement,' if not treason, the active role of the diplomat becomes meaningless; for diplomacy becomes merely a prelude to war an interlude between wars, and in such a context the diplomat is replaced by the warlord.” 9 likes
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