An interesting and fun dive into one of the most recognizable and damaging aspects of cults- their language. I thought that what Cultish did well, it did very well, but I also felt like it missed the mark in some aspects.
A book about cultish language is going to be a little controversial, especially when you’re discussing common MLMs or popular fitness classes, but at times it felt like Montell tip-toed around tougher topics or actually asserting damaging cultish influence. Although Montell chooses to focus on the language of cultish organizations rather than their actual cult status, she occasionally will say outright that something is a cult (like Heaven’s Gate or in the MLM chapter) while treading very lightly around or almost totally failing to mention other organizations (like certain religions). It felt a little inconsistent to (rightfully) go so hard against MLMs like Amway, but then almost completely fail to mention religions outside of Scientology or the other well-known and obvious religious cults, and with just as little mention to business or tech cults outside of Bezos and Amazon. For a book dissecting language and examining cultish organizations, I kept waiting for more of a controversial crackdown that didn’t come.
I also think that a book about cults is a bit remiss if the author doesn’t explicitly and clearly state why cults are damaging and dangerous. At times, Montell shares experiences of specific individuals she knows who were harmed by cults or cultish experiences (like losing money in an MLM or being preyed on by wellness gurus), but I didn’t find a larger assertion often enough about why cults really are so bad to stay in and why you need to leave. I could see myself recommending this book to affected people I know, but I worry that they would recognize the cultish language they’re involved in… but then be given no impetus to change. Maybe I’m looking outside the scope of this book, since its focus really is just on language (and the same repeated thesis), but I would have liked a bit more of a hard-hitting expose about why it’s important to not only recognize cultish language but then take the next step of removing its influence from your life.
Overall, a very engaging read, but not quite a home run.
Minor: Suicide, Religious bigotry, and Emotional abuse