Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements explained the rise of Communism and Fascism, and predicted the renewed strength of Islam. This book, which offered a cautionary view of the modern alternatives to the faith preached by Peter and Paul, may have fallen out of favor with the intelligentsia, but it remains among the twentieth century’s most notable works of social reflection. That it has the further virtue of being short, clever, and readable should make it even more of a canonical work.

Central to Hoffer’s thought was the concept of self-esteem. Hoffer’s understanding of the term was almost the reverse of most contemporary intellectuals’, however. For Hoffer, a meaningful sense of self-worth is only attained by actual accomplishment and through adult rites of passage. Anything else, he believed, leaves people in states of delayed adolescence in which they are the...

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