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The Origins of Totalitarianism

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  8,988 ratings  ·  699 reviews
Hannah Arendt's definitive work on totalitarianism and an essential component of any study of twentieth-century political history

The Origins of Totalitarianism begins with the rise of anti-Semitism in central and western Europe in the 1800s and continues with an examination of European colonial imperialism from 1884 to the outbreak of World War I. Arendt explores the insti
Paperback, 527 pages
Published 1973 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (first published 1951)
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Tristan Chambers I also often struggle to digest Arendt's very long and sometimes tangential sentences. I've found after reading a couple chapters that I'm starting to…moreI also often struggle to digest Arendt's very long and sometimes tangential sentences. I've found after reading a couple chapters that I'm starting to get the rhythm of her writing. I find myself intentionally glossing over the parenthetical clauses of her sentences at first, and then going back and reading them separately. My biggest advice would be don't try to read the whole book cover to cover. Read the parts that interest you most. It's divided into three sections, which as far as I can tell from skimming, stand on their own. I for example skipped ahead to the last book, which directly addresses my particular research interest at the moment, which is the rise of totalitarianism in society.(less)

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Kaelan Ratcliffe ▪ كايِلان راتكِليف
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone with a pulse.
Recommended to Kaelan Ratcliffe ▪ كايِلان راتكِليف by: Chris Hedges
Some Tips For The Reader To Be

Having just finished this monster of a book in just under three months (not sure if any book has taken me so long to finish, perhaps Infinite Jest might surpass?), I can safely say that I feel like I've just gone through ninety days of mental kick boxing with Arendt. As such, I've had plenty of time to conduct a criticism in my head that I feel adds to the already crammed Goodreads review page on here. It takes the form of three bits of advise, as I truly believ
Leonard Gaya
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
It is often necessary to re-read the books of yesterday to make some sense of current affairs. The Origins of Totalitarianism is possibly one of these books, a massive (600+ pages), dense volume on political philosophy, written in the aftermath of World War II, by a German-born woman of Jewish descent. Oddly enough, she had a one-time affair with Martin Heidegger, one of the most prominent metaphysicists of the twentieth century, and, quite notably, an early member of the Nazi party.

Hannah Arend
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, recs
Detailed and sobering, On the Origins of Totalitarianism charts the rise of the world’s most infamous form of government during the first half of the twentieth century. In the first two parts Arendt traces the roots of totalitarianism to anti-semitism and imperialism, two of the most vicious, consequential ideologies of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the third and final section she turns her attention to Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, arguing that terror and the loss of indiv ...more
Bam cooks the books ;-)
"Totalitarianism is a political system in which the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life."

Some have said this should be required reading to prepare ourselves to face the changing political climate armed with information, as we watch again the rise of nationalism, the rise of antisemitism, the rise to power of what could be a new demagogue: 'a political leader who tries to get support by making false claims and promises and us
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Profound insight into totalitarian movements--not just how they happen but why, getting at the psychology behind their appeal and the social and psychological conditions that allow them to grow. The writing is clear-eyed, penetrating, and deeply unsettling.
Neal Romanek
Jan 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I'd always assumed totalitarianism and dictatorship were the same thing. But nope. I learned more about modern politics and power reading this masterpiece by Hannah Arendt than in the past 20 years of reading and studying. I was shocked to find that certain baffling features of contemporary political movements suddenly make perfect, terrifying sense when viewed from a totalitarian perspective.

Some fun things I learned about totalitarian movements:

-Totalitarian movements deny objective reality a
Greg Brozeit
Dec 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: political-theory
Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting begins by recounting “a crucial moment in Czech history” when Klement Gottwald emerged on a balcony in Prague to announce the birth of the Communist Czechoslovakia. The image of him and Clementis, who took off his fur hat and placed it on Gottwald’s cold head, became as iconic for Czechs as the flag-raising in Iwo Jima has become for Americans. “Four years later,” however, “Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section i ...more
Oct 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people who have already read 1000 european history books but haven't read this yet, i.e. nobody
certainly in the running for the most disappointing book ever. first, it's on all these lists of the greatest books ever, plus it's got a really high rating on goodreads. plus i open it and the first few pages are breathtaking. hannah is one killer sentencecrafter. a vixen of prose. some sentences 50+ words long but you only need to read them once because they are both precise and action-packed. and oh, the promise her intros seem to hold. bold, sweeping strokes that wipe out long-held beliefs a ...more
May 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Way back when I read this, I recall being somewhat surprised at how few works she actually referenced in this tripartite tome, especially in the latter two sections on Imperialism and Totalitarianism; and, for the first of these, the surprise turned to incredulity when it occurred to me that she appeared to be basing a considerable part of her argument—virtually the entirety regarding the interaction between Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, IIRC—upon the most famous fictional work by Joseph Conrad ...more
Richard Derus
Feb 25, 2021 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindled
It will take me the entirety of the 20s to re-read this, but I was 22 when I finished it the first time and that was damn close to forty years ago.

It's still rattling around my head. I think of phrases that I think Arendt wrote every time I see news items about the nightmare scum to the political right. (To calibrate that for you, I consider Elizabeth Warren a centrist.)

Only $2.99 on Kindle with a very, very handsome new cover.
E. G.
Preface to the First Edition
Preface to Part One: Antisemitism
Preface to Part Two: Imperialism
Preface to Part Three: Totalitarianism

--The Origins of Totalitarianism

Dec 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
By the title, I might have gotten the impression that this might have been a full history and treatise on all Totalitarian regimes, but I'm not at all unhappy to see how the author narrowed it down to the full wealth of circumstances that gave rise to Nazi Germany and, to a lesser degree, Stalin's Russia.

More than that, Hannah Arendt proves to be an erudite master at breaking down huge subjects and many causes into easily digestible chunks.

The focus begins on the actual origins of racial target
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biblioteca, american
Our world is truly messed up.

Truly we are in a sad state, despite this pandemic. The amount of hatred, racism, and bullying is rampant and disgusting, and I am only talking of politics.

Then I read this book. Now I can say our world has been messed up for longer than I thought. This book was published in 1951. It is, without a doubt, one of the most powerful and sadly disturbing books I have read in a long time. This is not an easy book to read. Hannah Arendt lays out how totalitarian rule come
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
What does it take to create a Hitler or a Stalin? More importantly can it happen in the USA as it has in Putin’s Russia? Arendt is a very intelligent writer. She’s not afraid to assume her readers really want to know and never talks down to the reader. The book was reprinted in the 1960s but mostly reflects her thoughts from 1950. There’s just something about a writer who assumes her readers have read Hobbes’ ‘Leviathan’, Kant, Jeremy Bentham and Utilitarian philosophy, and often quotes from Edm ...more
James Murphy
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I suppose I've always known of this book. I chose to read it 67 years after its publication because I thought it would give me some insight into the politics of our present. I was right. Arendt's main focus is, of course, the regimes of Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union, both established in the 1930s. The Origins of Totalitarianism was published before the advent of Maoism in China, but I feel she would've understood its totalitarian nature in the same lights, and just as well. This is ...more
It has taken me 9 months to finish this book. I am glad it took me so long because reading this should absolutely under no circumstance be an effort of racing your own self on its pages. This is a difficult book, both in its choice of subject and in its writing. In it, history, politics, economy, psychology and many other themes are discussed and analyzed, in order to attempt a description of the two main totalitarian regimes of Europe in the 20th Century, Nazism and communism. It is peppered wi ...more
Dylan Suher
Feb 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Her views on Anti-Semitism are mostly what my grandfather would have called "German Jewish thinking" and whenever she writes about America or Africa, it's frankly embarrassing. But when she's talking about European pre-war politics, she's absolutely on point. She has great insight into the basic human impulses at the heart of the great evils of the 20th century, insights which I found useful even when thinking about the Tea Party Movement. I found myself nostalgic (a blessedly rare mode for me) ...more
Conor Ahern
So I think it's pretty obvious why I read this, and pretty obvious why I had my first queue for a book older than a few years old: people are freaked, they are nervous, they want answers and our other institutions have utterly failed us, forget preparing us for any of what we should be expecting.

Arendt spends a lot of time tracing the origins of anti-Semitism, which seems appropriate except that she doesn't spill too much ink connecting that to the rise of Nazism. Overall this book was a bit too
Jana Light
Mar 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: thinking
Another book I feel somewhat impotent to review, this time because it is almost too powerful and too real. So many of Arendt's observations and analyses ring true to what I see today that I found myself tearing up multiple times (and this is not supposed to be an emotional book!). Her careful, detailed account of how two violently totalitarian regimes were able to come to power and flourish for a bit in the 20th century is valuable for those who do not want to be doomed to repeat history, and th ...more
Jay Green
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's been at least two decades since I read Arendt's book (three separate volumes in my edition: Antisemitism, Imperialism, and Totalitarianism). A remarkable work, the principal take-away of which, relying on my memory, is that it was the statelessness of Jews that made the Holocaust possible: once denied of citizenship or nationality, they had no one to protect them. It's an argument repeated (and tested) in Timothy Snyder's Black Earth and would help to explain the enthusiasm for the project ...more
Chris Chapman
...the constitutional inability of European nation-states to guarantee human rights to those who had lost nationally guaranteed rights, made it possible for the persecuting governments to impose their standard of values even upon their opponents. Those whom the persecutor had singled out as scum of the earth—Jews, Trotskyites, etc.—actually were received as scum of the earth everywhere; those whom persecution had called undesirable became the indesirables of Europe. The official SS newspaper, th ...more
Dec 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I found this at a used bookstore, knowing nothing about the book or the author, but willing to fork over $1.50 to learn more. It's been both a challenge and a delight to read, and in light of this election cycle, disturbingly apropos. Some reviewers recommend skipping the two sections on antisemitism and imperialism. Heed them not. Skipping the tough bits is for wimps, and you'll be thankful for the foundation when you get to those final chapters. ...more
11811 (Eleven)
Feb 06, 2016 rated it did not like it
This is so incredibly boring. Maybe anything with this many footnotes is supposed to be but I can't continue punishing myself with it. DNF at 40%. I did skim to the end and, spoiler alert, Hitler loses. ...more
Booze Hound
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: partially-read
Apparently I am too stupid to understand Totalitarianism, especially this bore fest. Which is scary considering I probably wouldn't have a clue if I was living in a Totalitarian system or not...whatever. I want a burger. And pizza. Burger pizza?

Anyways, I started reading the first few chapters and could not believe how mind numbingly boring and academic it is. I would much rather live under a Totalitarian regime than having to read another chapter of this. That's how bored I am! Give me the Gul
Mar 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This seemed like an uplifting book to read during the time of coronavirus social distancing...

Okay, maybe not. But its a pretty fantastic book. Not fantastic like "wow, this was an invigorating page-turner that I couldn't put down and loved so much," but fantastic like, "wow, this is incredibly thorough and dense and I'm not sure I can keep reading because the details are wearing on my eyes and mind yet I know I must press on." I mean, maybe at a different time and place, I would have experience
Mark Valentine
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I know this book (now that I have finally read it) to be, sincerely, a monumentally important non-fiction work of the 20th Century.

First, her writing style: She came to English late in life. Her native tongue was German and she learned to write philosophy under the tutelage of Heidegger. She also was fluent in Greek and Latin, then French, and only English when she emigrated to the U. S. in 1941. Here sentences have the Germanic richness; long, organic, fluid, full, meandering sentences that ca
Jul 09, 2014 rated it liked it
I had mixed feelings here. I learned things from the book -- it has a number of insights that strike me as interesting and important -- but I'm worried I also learned a lot that isn't true. Disclaimer: I skipped through most of the first two parts ("Anti-semitism" and "Imperialism"), to get to the part I was really interested in, "Totalitarianism".

I had expected this to be a work of analytic history, chronicling the rise and operation of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It is not. This is prim
Need to bump this up the reading list.

From an op-ed I happened to read…
In “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow.”
I’ve noticed that this isn’t just stuff created explicitly for propaganda — it’s everything about the out‑group. An acquaintance on Facebook believed th
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
This is essential reading for 2017, no question about it. Arendt is sharp, well researched and cutting in her assessment of the links between Antisemitism, Imperialism and Totalitarianism. This is not just an analyses of the Third Reich but also of the whole system of Russian Totalitarianism. Again just impressive how industry is linked in authoritarian regime, how extermination or prison camps are justified. In another section she mentions how Hitler's talent as a mass orator only made his oppo ...more
Jessica Keener
Aug 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book unequivocally helped me understand how things like genocide can and do happen. Timeless. One of the most important book of the last century.
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Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975) was one of the most influential political philosophers of the twentieth century. Born into a German-Jewish family, she was forced to leave Germany in 1933 and lived in Paris for the next eight years, working for a number of Jewish refugee organisations. In 1941 she immigrated to the United States and soon became part of a lively intellectual circle in New York. She held ...more

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“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. ... Mass propaganda discovered that its audience was ready at all times to believe the worst, no matter how absurd, and did not particularly object to being deceived because it held every statement to be a lie anyhow. The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” 264 likes
“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” 218 likes
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