Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry

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Losing Reality combines excerpts from Jay Lifton’s previous work with his new material. Covering Nazi Doctors, a Japanese subway-bombing cult, Communist China, Donald Trump, and the “Apocalyptic Twins” of climate change and nuclear war, this book offers a smorgasbord of historic and modern-day cultism. These easy-to-follow case studies show cultism in various scales, countries, and time periods. The book’s introduction (like a ‘Cult 101’ class) familiarizes the reader with the basic foundations and terminology of cult studies that Jay Lifton uses throughout this thin volume.

If you are looking for a history or encyclopedia of cults, look elsewhere. Though the book contains much fascinating material, there are other books on the subject more capable of providing a comprehensive overview. To be fair, this book does not seem intended as “Cults for Dummies.” It has a clear motivation to inform readers of cultism in the past while urging them to be wary of its manifestations in the present. The purposeful arrangement of the chapters presents the reader with historic examples so they may better view modern-day nationalism and Trump himself through a cult-colored lens.

Despite agreeing with the author on many of his insights into the psychology of the current president and on the similarities between nationalism and cult mentalities, I cannot help but think the author and publishers could have been more opaque with their purposes. I’d picked up the book hoping to learn about cultism more generally as the title seemed to indicate. Instead, the chapters on Trump (though again, I found them well-argued) felt like tacked-on political opinions. I was jarred by the change from the earlier academic excerpts to more speculative commentary on the modern political climate.

This reviewer feels it important to point out my own political biases and sympathies with the author’s point of view. While I found this book informative and interesting, I would not recommend it to readers looking to learn about cultism divorced from contemporary politics. Additionally, readers should be prepared for the academic writing style and possibly unfamiliar subject matter (to those without prior study of communism, Chinese history, or theology).

Even if you disagree with Jay Lifton’s accusations of Trump, there is much valuable and intriguing information here for anyone wanting to learn about cultism.

Reviewed By:

Author Robert Jay Lifton
Star Count /5
Format Hard
Page Count 240 pages
Publisher The New Press
Publish Date 2019-10-15
ISBN 9781620974995
Bookshop.org Buy this Book
Issue April 2020
Category Current Events & Politics


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