Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Crowds and Power” as Want to Read:
Crowds and Power
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Crowds and Power

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,414 ratings  ·  106 reviews
Crowds and Power is a revolutionary work in which Elias Canetti finds a new way of looking at human history and psychology. Breathtaking in its range and erudition, it explores Shiite festivals and the English Civil war, the finger exercises of monkeys and the effects of inflation in Weimar Germany. In this study of the interplay of crowds, Canetti offers one of the most p ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published April 1st 1984 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan) (first published 1960)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.13  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,414 ratings  ·  106 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Crowds and Power
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Future Belongs to Crowds

An astounding book. It reads like a series of essays by Montaigne but all directed toward the phenomenon of human organisation. Each essay, which might include references as diverse as the anthropology of South American tribes to the history of European warfare, contains some comment which is not only arresting but revelatory of profound insight. Who knew that an apparently sociological treatise could be so creative, so enthralling, so literate? Crowds and Power is al
Elias Canetti, the Nobel Prize-winning author of this book, would be unhappy to learn that he's now best known as Iris Murdoch's one-time lover. I had heard that he was the prototype of the diabolical Julius King in A Fairly Honourable Defeat, and I'd also read various lurid accounts of their affair. Among other things, Canetti's wife used to greet Murdoch with a smile when she turned up for their trysts and then make lunch for all of them afterwards; as you can see, a cult leader kind of person ...more
A.G. Stranger
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Here's a quote to remember :" That’s what makes an unanswered question so powerful. Silence is a form of armor, a barrier that repels the questioner’s arrow-like queries. Power loves secrecy, and secrecy is vital to the exercise of power."
Mayim de Vries
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Canetti is a genius. The chapter on power and violence should be a must read for every aspiring politician (not to mention the ones already in office).
May 26, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a truly fascinating and perspective-altering examination of the phenomenon of crowds, and the power formations out of which various crowd configurations evolved, developed from a literary-mythological-psychological perspective. One of Canetti's principal explicatory methods is to describe custom and ritual amongst the modern remnant of hunting-gathering mankind - Australian aborigines and certain tribes of Southern Africa, for example - as well as using mystic religious ceremonial for il ...more
Jan 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
More literary than scientific, Canetti's anthropological investigation of crowd behavior will leave you looking both at human behavior and the natural world in new ways. Overstatements, stereotypes, all-too-tidy categories, and strained associations abound, yet the more one approaches the book as literature and less as a scientific treatise the more one can appreciate the insights throughout. An important book for better understanding oneself, religion, politics, sports fans, high school, and ju ...more
Sep 29, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“... In the crowd the individual feels that he is transcending the limits of his own person. He has a ser:se of relief, for the distances are removed which used to throw him back on himself and shut him in. With the lifting of these burdens of distance he feels free; his freedom is the crossing of these boundaries. He wants what is happening to him to happen to others too; and he expects it to happen to them. An earthen pot irritates him, for it is all boundaries. The closed doors of a house irr ...more
May 23, 2013 rated it did not like it
This is utter bullsht, or rather I should say I wholeheartedly believe it to be so. Because this is what annoys me to no end about books and people in general, when they present their obviously biased and very subjective opinions as the absolute truth emitted by the other worldy authority that they believe they are. To me, this is mister Canetti presenting his elaborate, pretentious, shallow, completely unsupported by research theories about crowds in the most patronizing and infurating way I've ...more
Brett Green
Jun 29, 2014 rated it liked it
probably too rooted in a post wwII world view to have more theoretical staying power than something less contemporaneously minded, Canetti's ultimate point - all of his wonderful cited primary source digressions aside (the real highlights of the book, imo) - is that we all need to learn how to think and act for ourselves. crowd behavior as rooted in ressentiment, political power as rooted in paranoia. misanthropic and entertaining. too anecdotal to be non-fiction. too documented to be fiction. n ...more
Feb 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Literature, poetry, English, and Behavioral Science students,
Recommended to Dan by: Saw it on a library shelf
I read and re-read this book from front to back numerous times. The second half of this book is powerfully insightful. If one approaches this work from the perspective of deeply involved humanness, as literature, rather than austere science with cut and dried methodology, one may come away with a deeper, more comprehensive, and much more circumspect feeling and understanding for the human animal. The insights in this book are raw, to the point, and so far, are the most accurate and imaginative d ...more
Jazzy Lemon
One of those books EVERYONE should read.
Ryan Louis
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
The best insights can sometimes come from meandering pathways. Elias Canetti (a Nobelate in 1981) seems to embody an interdisciplinary fervor in order to uncover patterns related to power and corruption. Armed with a lifetime of reading in anthropology, psychology, political science and rhetoric--and equipped with a life traversing totalitarian governments, two world wars and knowledge of numerous languages--he weaves together stories of ancient and all-but forgotten cultures (to me, at least) i ...more
Abner Rosenweig
May 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
All I hear is praise for this book. It's good but I feel not as good as it should have been. Its rambling, discursive style is somewhat disorienting. There is no introduction and the structure of the book is very loosely held together. There is no logical progression, just a meandering through ideas loosely related to the themes of crowds and power. The book is admirable for its erudition and scope, ranging through history, anthropology, mythology, psychology, politics, biology, and more to give ...more
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I thought this was amazing. Crazy crazy book that covers such an amazing range of the topics. All are essentially based about d the tic of crowds of humans mainly and the power associated with them. Highly recommended. Elias brings in a whole range of topics such as panic, rhythm, crowds of people and their types, the dead, hunting packs, native Indians, religious wars, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Muharram, European nationalities, the destruction of the Xhosas, monkeys, epidemics, questions, c ...more
I'll start by saying that I liked reading Crowds and Power, was deeply impressed by the concepts that Canetti develops and invokes, and entertained by the stories and myths he uses to buttress those concepts.

But this isn't scientific analysis at all-- it's literature above all else, and should be read in that light. Keep in mind that Canetti was writing in the structuralist heyday of the late '50s and early '60s-- this was a time when Marshall McLuhan was doing his thing with media, and when the
Jul 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I read about 1/3 of this during college days, oh so long ago, but in a very scattered manner, jumping from segment to segment. It had a large impact and I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately ... so it's time to go back and give it a more frontal assault.

Finally through this intellectual thicket ... though I cannot claim to have digested it. This is a dense, magisterial work ... vast erudition is on display, yet somehow worn lightly. His concerns are so human that the abstractions take r
Mark Johnson
Mar 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those philosophical works in which the author reimagines the world through one of the lenses of a compound eye. Here, Canetti considers the human tendency to gather into groups, packs, herds and large crowds. Having analyzed the different types of crowds, their functions in society, and their typical behaviors, Canetti considers a great many case examples, ranging widely through time, space, and cultures, in which the notion of 'the crowd' provides fresh insights. I found dazzling ...more
Apr 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books of all time -- perhaps even more so in recent years, with the West finally learning how to become a crowd once again. Canetti's is not a totally straight-forward scholarly account of the psychology of crowd behavior, if that's what you're looking for; but more of a mythological anthropology of its undercurrents and symbols. My favorite being that concerning fire. If you find the book, flip to the section called "Panic," and you will be treated to a history of the ...more
Feb 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
One of the seminal books of the 20th century -- a synthesis of anthropology, sociology, deep psychology, political science, and folklore as channeled by a brilliant Romanian Jew who witnessed the rise and fall of Hitler and Stalin. So much that seems inexplicable about human behavior makes sense after reading this book.
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: austria-and-k-k
Quite intriguing to bizare... Canetti's views on power and crods are convincing and his examples taken mostly from Australian and African anthropology are most insightful. When he becomes too esoterical and to vague, especially in the last third when taking about mutation etc., it becomes hard to follow. None the less, quite an inspiration.
Mar 13, 2008 marked it as to-read
A long-term dipping-into book. Recommended on a blog by Charles Lemos, at [now defunct] Goes deeper and wider than Hoffer's "True Believer."

Trivia: Canetti is thought to have been Iris Murdoch's model for The Black Prince.
Joseph Stieb
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: psychology
Read this because of my growing interest in totalitarianism, and I had heard Canetti's name thrown around in a bunch of lectures. I was mildly disappointed in the result, given the size of the book. It wasn't so much that I thought he didn't have anything interesting to say about crowd dynamics and psychology. The first 100 pages or so are very interesting in this respect as he explores multiple types of crowds.

However, what really turned me off for much of the book was the method. Much of Cane
Elgun Hasanov
Even though I did not understand this book entirely, it made a considerable change in my way of thinking and looking at matters concerning not only crowds and power, but also other human activities and behaviors. I hope I will reread this book after a few years with a more improved and developed mind, and will be able to grasp better the concepts explained by this Nobel winning author.
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown. He wants to see what is reaching towards him, and to be able to recognize or at least
classify it" (15)

"It is only in a crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched. That is the only situation in which the fear changes into its opposite. The crowd he needs is the dense crowd, in which body is pressed to body; a crowd, too, whose psychical constitution is also dense, or compact, so that he no longer notices who it
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-non-fiction
A book written with an individual, literary sense of research (power) backed up by a litany of references from ancient times to the 1950s (crowd), this book is a paradox of prophesy and outdatedness that strikes a chord due to Canetti's excellent writing. Some of the borrowed descriptions of rituals and events in different cultures are fascinating, while Canetti's writing is strongest when it is metaphorical and descriptive. On rare occasions in this monumental book the writing gets slow or old- ...more
John Eder
May 04, 2015 rated it liked it
Canetti won the Nobel Prize mostly because of this book about crowds and power and the things that drive civilization and human beings. It’s not a pretty picture. Canetti connects most behavior to the will to dominate and kill at best and survive at least and you come out of it, if you come out of it at all (I couldn’t finish it) just going, well, it’s a predatory universe and we’re all boned. But it is fascinating and written in a cool, weird, semi-mystical, very individual voice. I’d try to ge ...more
Nov 25, 2013 marked it as to-read
Fouad Ajami: "In trying to grapple with, and write about, the Obama phenomenon, I found guidance in a book of breathtaking erudition, "Crowds and Power" (1962) by the Nobel laureate Elias Canetti. Born in Bulgaria in 1905 and educated in Vienna and Britain, Canetti was unmatched in his understanding of the passions, and the delusions, of crowds. The crowd is a "mysterious and universal phenomenon," he writes. It forms where there was nothing before. There comes a moment when "all who belong to t ...more
Bảo Ngọc
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
what distinguishes a crowd from a pack;
• how command-giving evolved from a threat of death into a form of bribery; and
• why nation-state crowds rely on distinctive symbols to bind their members together.

Human history is defined by the crowds individuals enter into and the aims they pursue as members of those crowds. From prehistoric hunting packs to mass religions and the modern nation-state, our experience of the world has always been determined by our membership in large groups. The other part
Asails F
Jun 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read Crowds and Power when I was just entering high school. Recently after parusing the book again I realized that it spurred my interest in management. New theories of group management and group behavior don't dwell too far from the hypothesis of this book.
Aug 02, 2012 is currently reading it
I'm sure I'll never read the whole thing, but it is a lot of fun to sample randomly. Best lines so far: “To the crowd in its nakedness, everything seems a Bastille.”

“Everyone belonging to such a crowd carries within him a small traitor who wants to eat, drink, make love, and be left alone.”

« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Revolt of the Masses
  • Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga
  • The Origins of Totalitarianism
  • Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte
  • Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man
  • The Science of Intelligent Achievement: How Smart People Focus, Create and Grow Their Way to Success
  • Where Will Man Take Us?: The bold story of the man technology is creating
  • The Man Without Qualities
  • No Self, No Problem: How Neuropsychology Is Catching Up to Buddhism
  • Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments
  • The Latte Factor: Why You Don't Have to Be Rich to Live Rich
  • The Laws of Wealth: Psychology and the Secret to Investing Success
  • The Polymath: Unlocking the Power of Human Versatility
  • Let Love Have the Last Word
  • Q
  • The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
  • Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope
  • Endangered Species (Lost, #1)
See similar books…
Awarded the 1981 Nobel Prize in Literature "for writings marked by a broad outlook, a wealth of ideas and artistic power."

He studied in Vienna. Before World War II he moved with his wife Veza to England and stayed there for long time. Since late 1960s he lived in London and Zurich. In late 1980s he started to live in Zurich permanently. He died in 1994 in Zurich.

Author of Auto-da-Fé, Party in the

News & Interviews

Need another excuse to treat yourself to a new book this week? We’ve got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the day. To create our...
10 likes · 3 comments
“It is always the enemy who started it, even if he was not the first to speak out, he was certainly planning it; and if he was not actually planning it, he was thinking of it; and, if he was not thinking of it, he would have thought of it.” 25 likes
“The hand which scoops up the water is the first vessel. The fingers of both hands intertwined are the first basket. [p. 217]” 8 likes
More quotes…