Three star review, originally posted here on January 27, 2021.
For a linguist, this author sure seems to use a lot of words to not really say much. Her core ideas are interesting enough. I enjoyed learning about language tricks used by charismatic leaders, and I enjoyed the idea of applying these concepts to other types of groups such as MLMs and Crossfit. But a lot of the book just felt like extra words used to describe the same concepts over and over again. There was also a lot of time spent just explaining what these groups were and giving examples of them that didn’t really have anything to do with language. Maybe if you’ve never heard of some of these organizations or concepts this background would be useful. But if you DO know about these groups, then so much of this feels like filler to make up for the lack of linguistics-related content. If the idea was to do a survey of cultish groups and compare them using various metrics including language, then the book should have been framed and avertised that way. But it wasn’t.
There are still plenty of interesting comparisons here. I particlarly loved the sections shitting on Crossfit, since I’m someone who has somehow wound up in a Crossfit gym despite my hate of crossfit (my personal training gym gradually changed its focus). And I appreciated Montell’s explorations of which kinds of people get sucked into cultish groups and why. I just wish the language stuff had been more prevalent and fleshed out.