Crowds and Power Book Summary - Crowds and Power Book explained in key points
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Crowds and Power summary

Elias Canetti

A new way of looking at human history and psychology

4 (49 ratings)
26 mins

Brief summary

Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti explores the dynamics behind human behavior in crowds, from ancient rituals to modern politics. It examines the relationship between individuals and the group, and how power is found and used in collective actions.

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    Crowds and Power
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    There are five different types of crowd that can be distinguished by their emotional content.

    If you’ve ever been running late for work on a crowded commuter train that suddenly grinds to a halt, you might have experienced something like this:

    As the train stops, there’s a shift in people’s behavior. Just seconds ago, everyone was immersed in their own small world; now, as frustration mounts, there’s suddenly a sense of togetherness. Everyone’s anger is directed at the same target and everyone wants the same thing – to get the train running again.

    That’s a great example of how a crowd forms.

    A crowd isn’t just a large number of people – it’s a mass in which members identify with one another. When that happens, people enter into something that’s greater than the sum of their individual parts: a crowd. In that moment, there’s a sense of equality. Every member enjoys the same standing, regardless of previous differences.

    Those are the general traits of all crowds, but there are also specific types of crowds. In fact, there are five different kinds of crowd according to their emotional content.

    Let’s start with the baiting crowd. This crowd has a clear objective – to kill its chosen target. A classic example is the crowd that called for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

    Then there are flight crowds. These are formed when a group of people is faced with a common threat. Once the danger passes, however, the crowd dissolves.

    Next are prohibition crowds. Their purpose is refusal – think of striking workers manning a picket line.

    Reversal crowds are also rebellious, but their aim is to overturn existing power hierarchies. They form when slaves revolt against their masters or soldiers turn their weapons on their officers.  

    Finally, there are feast crowds. Their purpose? Common and equal indulgence, typically in the form of lavish food-based festivals.

    Let’s get back to what all these types of crowd have in common. There are four attributes that define all crowds.

    The first is growth. Once a crowd exists, it tends to expand; it “wants” more people to join it.

    Second is equality. As soon as a crowd has formed, all its members are equal.

    Third, crowds are typically dense. Bodies are pressed up against each other, and nothing can stand in the way of this proximity or divide members from one another.

    Finally, every crowd has a goal. Without a purpose, the crowd disperses and people become individuals concerned with their personal affairs once more. Once Jesus had been crucified, for example, the crowd that had been baying for his blood left the scene, and its members returned to their normal lives.

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    What is Crowds and Power about?

    Crowds and Power (1960) is a troubling, prophetic and erudite analysis of human groups and their interaction with power. Written by Nobel laureate Elias Canetti, it asks why humans who prize individuality seek out membership in crowds and how rulers exploit that desire. This study is as wide-ranging in the sources it draws upon as it is thought-provoking in the conclusions it reaches.

    Crowds and Power Review

    Crowds and Power (1960) by Elias Canetti explores the nature of crowds and their influence on human behavior, making it a book that should not be missed. Here's why this book is a remarkable read:

    • Examining the power dynamics within groups, it reveals how individuals are shaped and transformed when they come together in crowds.
    • Through captivating case studies and astute observations, Canetti uncovers the hidden forces that drive human interactions and shape societies.
    • Canetti's exploration of the desire for power and the fear of being dominated makes this book both thought-provoking and insightful, challenging our understanding of collective behavior.

    Best quote from Crowds and Power

    It is certain that man, as soon as he was man, wanted to be more.

    —Elias Canetti
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    Who should read Crowds and Power?

    • Readers of classic books
    • Sociologists, historians and philosophers
    • Anyone with an interest in the dynamics of crowds and power

    About the Author

    Elias Canetti (1905-1994) was a German-language novelist, sociologist, memoirist and playwright. Born in Bulgaria, Canetti moved to Austria with his family before fleeing Nazi persecution and settling in England. His best known works include the novels Auto-Da-Fè and The Human Province; his memoir, The Torch in My Ear; and his sociological study, Crowds and Power. Canetti received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1981 for his unique achievements as a writer.

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    Crowds and Power FAQs 

    What is the main message of Crowds and Power?

    The main message of Crowds and Power is the exploration of the dynamics and psychology behind human crowds and the power they possess.

    How long does it take to read Crowds and Power?

    The reading time for Crowds and Power varies depending on the reader's pace. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Crowds and Power a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Crowds and Power is a captivating read that delves into the fascinating nature of human crowds and their influential force. It is definitely worth exploring.

    Who is the author of Crowds and Power?

    Elias Canetti is the author of Crowds and Power.

    What to read after Crowds and Power?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Crowds and Power, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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