The True Believer Book Summary - The True Believer Book explained in key points
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The True Believer summary

Eric Hoffer

Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements

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12 mins

Brief summary

The True Believer by Eric Hoffer explores the nature of mass movements and why certain people are drawn to them. He identifies the characteristics of true believers and analyzes how they can become part of a group.

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    The True Believer
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    Mass movements are spurred on by a belief in change and the hope for something better.

    If you had a job you loved with flexible hours and a good salary would you go looking for another one? Probably not. But what if your job was so bad that you dreaded waking up in the morning? Finding a new one would be a top priority.

    People who are discontent or lack hope want change and so are open to messages that promise it. In Germany after WWI, for instance, people were at the end of the line; after losing the war, they felt, the future held nothing. And it was from this fertile soil that the Nazi movement grew.

    In fact, the biggest cause of despair among the unemployed isn’t a lack of money but a lack of hope. Unemployed people are more likely to follow someone who gives them hope than someone who offers them money. When you have hope – even just a shred of it – you start feeling self-efficacy.

    That’s why all mass movements start by making people feel that a better future is within their grasp – to inspire hope. Consider the French Revolution, which was sparked by the idea that man has an infinite capacity for reason and is not soaked in sin. By spreading this new, more upbeat vision of mankind, the revolution instilled in people a new sense of power and fueled the engine that drove democratization.

    But hope isn’t the only thing that makes people desire change. Knowing what it means to have something has a similar effect. For example, “the new poor” (people who used to have money but lost it) are the most powerful force for change, because they know what can be achieved. Just look at the Puritan Revolution that catalyzed the English Civil War; it was started by people who’d recently been driven from their property so that landlords could turn the fields into grazing land. People who’ve lost something will fight to get it back.

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    What is The True Believer about?

    The True Believer (1951), published in the aftermath of World War II, is an exploration of mass movements and the means by which they attract followers. These blinks will take you on a walk through history – showing how, under certain circumstances, be they right or wrong, anyone can become a true believer.

    Best quote from The True Believer

    The true believer, no matter how violently he acts, is basically an obedient and submissive person.

    —Eric Hoffer
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    Who should read The True Believer?

    • People wanting to learn about the history, logic and component parts of mass movements
    • Those interested in group psychology
    • Anybody with an interest in politics and how change is affected

    About the Author

    Eric Hoffer was a working-class American autodidact who authored a variety of treatises on moral and social philosophy. After writing his first book, The True Believer, he went on to publish over ten others. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in February, 1983.

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