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The Captive Mind (1953)

by Czesław Miłosz

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0201015,335 (4.17)38
The best known prose work by the winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature examines the moral and intellectual conflicts faced by men and women living under totalitarianism of the left or right.
  1. 30
    Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (br77rino)
    br77rino: Milosz expresses in The Captive Mind the supreme astonishment, as so many eyewitnesses have, that Orwell's fictional 1984 could have laid out so well what life was like where they were, Stalinist Eastern Europe. He says it was a book that was passed around just like the Goldstein book in the novel.… (more)
  2. 20
    Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (br77rino)
    br77rino: Darkness at Noon is a famous fictional view of life behind the Iron Curtain, and was written around the same time. The main character is a prisoner.
  3. 10
    Red Plenty: Industry! Progress! Abundance! Inside the Fifties Soviet Dream by Francis Spufford (lewbs)
    lewbs: One is a fiction about the economics of communism, the other is a non-fiction about mental processes in communism. Complementary books.

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» See also 38 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
A thought-provoking, morally rigorous book about freedom of thought, fascism, Stalinism, and literature, among other things. I've read and admired Milosz's poetry for a long time without fully understanding the world-shattering experiences that birthed it. I was particularly interested in the way Milosz addresses Pablo Neruda in the final pages. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 18, 2021 |
This was an excellent work of nonfiction. Milosz describes the state of Eastern Europe, and the ramifications that follow it, in poetic and sublime detail. His observations, hypotheses, and examples permeate to the whole conceptualization of Eastern Europe.

This is a great book. I recommend it to everyone. ( )
  DanielSTJ | Dec 17, 2018 |
I bought this last year in an effort to widen my reading. I hadn’t realised when I purchased it that it wasn’t fiction. It’s a political diatribe written by someone who survived both WWII and the Soviet takeover of Poland, but managed to resist the blandishments of both the Underground during WWII and the Soviet occupiers afterwards. As a writer, an intellectual, with acceptable political credentials, he ended up as cultural attaché in Washington but, disgusted by the responses of his peers to the new regime, he chose to exile himself. Miłosz first points out that intellectuals were a peculiar class of their own in Central and East European countries, and this particularly applied to writers, one that had no equivalent in Western European – or American – societies. After discussing “ketman”, which seems to be a a misunderstanding of an historical Islamic term (now known as “taqiya”), Miłosz describes four writers of his acquaintance and their response to Soviet occupation – and this is where The Captive Mind comes into its own. I’ve no idea who the writers are he describes, although it probably isn’t difficult to figure out, but his dissection of their character and ambitions in light of Polish history during and after WWII is fascinating stuff. I don’t think for an instant that The Captive Mind is a warning against “totalitarian culture” as the book is often described. It is specific to a time and place, and I suspect some of the tactics described by Miłosz are triggered more by an institutional drive for survival than by an y kind of coherent political thought. The Captive Mind was intended to make for scary reading, but its teeth have long since been pulled – first by Solidarność, then by glasnost, although both of course were the end result of long and dangerous campaigns. On the other hand, in 2018 we seem to be staring down the throat of full-blown fascism, despite everything our parents and grandparents fought against last century, despite the clear benefits to all and sundry that progressivism and regulated economies bring… The Captive Mind is an important historical document, but its remit is too narrow, its lessons are too focused, and the passage of time has rendered its general sense of alarm both moot and badly aimed. However. Worth reading, if you’re interested in the subject. ( )
  iansales | Jul 21, 2018 |
In broad respects, this serves as a sharp critique of Marx's "dialectical materialism", a belief in a kind of scientifically determined state of man. From this common reader's position, however, I discovered here a remarkable thinker, a man who survived the raging, soulless infernos of Nazism and Stalinism, and left to us in his prose and poetry an emotional record of the carnage. This book was written in 1953, very soon after his defection to the West, and is a real-time analysis of the contradictory play-acting that intellectuals in particular are forced to enter into to survive in the totalitarian state. Having left his beloved Poland (to which he would not return until after his receiving the Nobel Prize in 1980), you can feel his despair, even as he tries to reconcile his decision to leave with choices made by several fellow writers, who have in varying degrees become duplicitous scribes for their Stalinist masters. (Suggested read: Adam Kirsch's May 29 '17 piece in The New Yorker about a newly translated biography of Milosz, as a solid introduction to him) ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Aug 7, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (40 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Czesław Miłoszprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bērziņš, UldisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Birzvalka, IrēnaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blumbergs, IlmārsCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jaspers, KarlForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Loepfe, AlfredTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rand, PaulCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stembor, LisettaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zielonko, JaneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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When someone is honestly 55% right, that's very good and there's no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it's wonderful, it's great luck, and let him thank God. But what's to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he's 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.

-An old Jew of Galicia
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It was only towards the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.
Capitalism created scientific thinking and dealt a powerful blow to religion in Europe by removing the best minds from the confines of theology.
They stammer out their efforts to explain: "The dreadful sadness of life over there"; "I felt I was turning into a machine."
Naked fear is unlikely ever to be inclined to abdicate.
One must always keep in mind the eventual goal, which is the melting down of all nations into a single mass.
I think they are wrong, that their knowledge in all its perfection is insufficient, and their power over life and death is usurped.
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The best known prose work by the winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature examines the moral and intellectual conflicts faced by men and women living under totalitarianism of the left or right.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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