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REVIEW: Cultish

"Or if you're like me, you know it when you hear it. The exclusive language was the biggest clue" (located at 9:34 of Track 8 out of 40 on LibroFM).


An iPhone displaying the audiobook CULTISH by Amanda Montell sits on a pile of open books.

I was immediately drawn to the premise of Cultish by Amanda Montell because of the promise of addressing the elephant in the room: the MLM. These Multi-Level-Marketing schemes are everywhere with their "get rich quick" mentalities and mantras. I'm sure you know of at least one off the top of your head. I realize this is a touchy subject, and I do not pretend to be immune. I have purchased items from a couple MLM companies myself in support of a dear friend or two. My personal issue with them is I never see anyone actually gaining what I would call "success." Instead, it seems like people (read: sometimes my friends) end up sinking their own funds into products because they didn't meet their selling quotas. For me, that's always seemed disingenuous at best. Linguist and scholar Amanda Montell dives into the definitions, similarities, and realities of cult-like behaviors and ideas. She briefly looks at harmful communities like Jonestown, but also at the every day instances we can't escape. Why can't we completely escape? Humans live in community. We were designed for it.


When reading, there were three things that stood out to me about what makes a cult a cult (which, ironically enough, sociologists do not use the word "cult" to describe these groupings of people):


1) Shared Language

2) Shared Merchandise

3) Shared Community


You can see how easy it is to broadly apply these things to just about anything you want. MLM's, your gym, where you work, and even a subscription box could all potentially fall into this category of being "cult-ish".


I spent a lot of time thinking through what might fall into Amanda Montell's definition of "cultish" in my own life. She definitely stepped on some toes as there are some aspects that fit. However, none of them seem to be leading me down a path to sink my money or life into something detrimental. Language itself is fascinating to me, and Amanda Montell presents this linguistic study in an engaging - and sometimes humorous - way. One aspect I will add is that it's fairly clear from the beginning Amanda Montell is predisposed to dislike any type of organized religion since her father escaped from a harmful cult during his high school/college years. As a result, she does lump them into one broad category. Don't get me wrong, I do think there are harmful religions and religious leaders out there. But I've also seen the positive side of a community with similar beliefs. Her closing plea is for all of us to analyze the language people around us use to know when we are being taken advantage of. And that is a message I can get behind.


If you do decide to pick this one up, I really enjoyed the audio. Amanda Montell narrates her own book, and it's great to hear her own timing and inflection on her words. I have also heard great things about the physical book, so if you're one to annotate I might take that route.

CW: suicide, abuse, gaslighting, murder, violence, rape

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