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Publisher's Summary

Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best seller!

Have you heard that language is violence and that science is sexist? Have you read that certain people shouldn't practice yoga or cook Chinese food? Or been told that being obese is healthy, that there is no such thing as biological sex, or that only White people can be racist? Are you confused by these ideas, and do you wonder how they have managed so quickly to challenge the very logic of Western society?

In this probing and intrepid volume, Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay document the evolution of the dogma that informs these ideas, from its coarse origins in French postmodernism to its refinement within activist academic fields. Today this dogma is recognizable as much by its effects, such as cancel culture and social-media dogpiles, as by its tenets, which are all too often embraced as axiomatic in mainstream media: knowledge is a social construct; science and reason are tools of oppression; all human interactions are sites of oppressive power play; and language is dangerous. As Pluckrose and Lindsay warn, the unchecked proliferation of these anti-Enlightenment beliefs present a threat not only to liberal democracy but also to modernity itself.

While acknowledging the need to challenge the complacency of those who think a just society has been fully achieved, Pluckrose and Lindsay break down how this often radical activist scholarship does far more harm than good, not least to those marginalized communities it claims to champion. They also detail its alarmingly inconsistent and illiberal ethics. Only through a proper understanding of the evolution of these ideas, they conclude, can those who value science, reason, and consistently liberal ethics successfully challenge this harmful and authoritarian orthodoxy - in the academy, in culture, and beyond.

©2020 Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay (P)2020 Pitchstone Publishing

What listeners say about Cynical Theories

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I am Afraid

I am really afraid what would become of our children and pets once these critical theories evolve further. I am afraid that child abuse and animal abuse would be legitimized.

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Mandatory Reading

Critical Theory explained in such a perfect and fair manner that a reader might be excused in thinking the authors are advocating for it; followed by equally lucid deconstruction of the same. A mandatory read for our times.

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  • P. Jackson
  • 23-10-20

Vast Amount of Jargon Lost Me

First let me say that I consider both Pluckrose and Lindsay brilliant, and have listened with appreciation to many of their presentations and interviews online. I anxiously anticipated the release of this book. I’m well-educated and intelligent, but have no academic background in gender or race studies, or post-structuralism. No worries because Helen explains at the start that this book is meant to explain these things to the average person, exactly what I wanted.

I made it to chapter 6 before very reluctantly giving up. The vast amount of highly technical jargon, history and concepts were like a dense college lecture. I did learn some things, but kept hoping it would transition to more practical examples and less dense academic language, and be more like the way she speaks in presentations I’ve watched. (And maybe it does get easier after chapter 6.) Also, so many of the excerpts Helen wrote to make her case were the ridiculously convoluted, dense, and contradictory (and often outrageous) claims made by various proponents of critical theory. It’s good to know this stuff, but the bizarre nature of the stupidity does wear on you after a while. That’s not the author’s fault.

Helen has a most pleasant voice, and there’s no problem with her British accent at all. Her reading is a bit monotone, but in a nice way that unfortunately made me so relaxed I kept drifting off. However, I’m keenly interested in the topic and her views.

This is important, valuable, very well-researched information - I wish there was a “for dummies” version for non-academics. Also, the book might work better for me in the print version, where I can put it down, ruminate or ponder or make notes. Not sure if I will try again later or exchange it.

32 people found this helpful

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  • Computer Guy
  • 01-12-20

Not for the average reader

I couldn't understand anything the author was talking about. I spent as much time trying to understand the high level of vocabulary as I spent trying to comprehend the mesaage of the book.

Everything was so abstract that it was hard to find to relate what was being said with actual events in the world around us.

12 people found this helpful

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  • MarshallP1991
  • 04-11-20

This Conservative Agrees (mostly)

A very insightful critique of critical theory, from a liberal point of view. Pluckrose and Lindsay offer powerful counters to the latest manifestation of postmodern philosophy, Theory. Their analysis is clear, cogent, and penetrating. A conservative myself, I still found much to affirm. There really isn't much to say by way of a analysis that Pluckrose and Lindsay have not said here. Conservatives and Liberals agree; Critical Theory is lethal poison to our civilization. We also agree, that we must not allow CT to continue evading rational interaction in the marketplace of ideas.

Conservatives will doubtless not sign off on every jot and tittle, but nevertheless, this work is a contribution to our current conversation of inestimable value.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Mitch Cowart
  • 16-11-20

A “Must Listen”

Comprehensive. Rigorous. Scholarly. This is a thorough and well documented analysis of postmodernism and critical theory. Recommended for anyone who is interested in understanding people 16 - 32 years old.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-11-20

A necessary pursuit of reason amid the postmodernist chaos of the 21st century

This comprehensively researched and eloquently written book pushes back against far-left pseudoscientific postmodernist theory which has overwhelmed popular culture and the media in the 21st century. Despite the pernicious nature of the subject at hand, the authors present a fair and objective critique of postmodernism and offer liberalism as an antidote to this chaos.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-11-20

Great content.

Very insightful content. I would appreciate more practical examples in the last chapter.

Helen's narration however is too ASMR and I had trouble concentrating. Some sections were badly edited later (obvious voice difference between words within a sentence) and about 3 or so sentences repeated. I suggest a professional narrator and a better audio book production because this book certainly deserves both!

7 people found this helpful

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  • Mao Dom
  • 06-11-20

Read this!

To understand and defend yourself against the left now. They may seem serious or seriously crazy, but they are a danger to democracy and just basic decency. Pluckrose and Lindsay break down leftist nonsense to a manageable mess ready to be swept into history’s dustbin.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Nathan Parker
  • 05-11-20

Totally fascinating

Totally engaging from start to finish. But if you have no exposure to the subject matter, you might get hopelessly lost, as one reviewer did. Very understandable, because the terms come fast & furious; while the author does a good job defining them, your memory can quickly become overwhelmed.

While this book is a great resource, if you hope to help combat the various Social Justice ideologies, you'll need to come up with an argument that can fit on an index card. That means this book isn't likely to persuade any SJW to mitigate their views.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Adam Krueger
  • 04-11-20

Brilliant

A must read to understand our strange times.
spoiler, social justice scholarship is not what it pretends to be.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Aaron Miaullis
  • 22-11-20

Helen Pluckrose has an EXQUISITE Voice!

Bought and read the paperback version of this audiobook. It was a solid B effectively. Helen Pluckrose has a voice that made the audiobook an A+.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Oxfordians
  • 04-12-20

Outstanding scholarship and eloquent arguments

This book is most timely. Just as the self-serving outlandish claims of applied post-modernist Woke-ism were reaching new heights of absurdity and navel-gazing, these two scholars have come together to present an eloquent dismantling of the Woke claims and arguments. They have undertaken an extraordinary amount of reading and deep research. They do not simply stand on the sidelines and take pot-shots without having read their targets, though this would be understandable (how does any sensible interrogator of the work of Robin DiAngelo or Ibram X. Kendi manage to read more than one or two chapters of their racist drivel: it's like reading "Mein Kampf" to the bitter end in order to discuss its outrageous premises and arguments). On the contrary, Pluckrose and Lindsay have delved deeply and - Herculean task as it must have been for them to wade through the dog-piles of writing that have filled the Augean Stables of Woke-ism - have read very closely the work of many perpetrators of "Social Justice" scholarship and in their close analyses of that work they have thoroughly cleansed the Stables. Meticulously researched, with hundreds of references and quotations - many of them jaw-dropping examples of Woke "scholarship" at its most outrageous - they illustrate the absurdities of the arguments and explain their genesis and dismantle the arguments. This book should be required reading in all university courses where identity politics has a stranglehold on the minds of both lecturers and students.

Pluckrose reads the text articulately and intelligently, with superb voice and diction, and the technical quality is good, though there are occasional changes in studio ambience, volume and pacing, as phrases and sentences are either inserted or re-recorded. That is a minor quibble. This is work of outstanding quality.

27 people found this helpful

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  • mr a g parkinson
  • 09-11-20

essential reading

Learn the shallow intellectual foundations of terrible people.

tyrannical wokeists taking each individual by turns in its powerful hands and kneading him as it likes, the wokeist extends its arms over society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of small, complicated, painstaking, uniform rules through which the most original minds and the most vigorous souls cannot clear a way to surpass the crowd; it does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Tom
  • 06-11-20

A necessary book, with a well articulated message.

Well researched, compiled and presented. this is what so many need to read, but are scared to act upon.

10 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-11-20

An aid to sanity in an increasingly insane world.

Finally, I understand where all this rubbish came from, why it makes absolutely no sense, and what the sane alternative is.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Olly Buxton
  • 31-10-20

Excellent, brave, necessary book

With the populist right on manouevres, the raving-mad left has been given a clear pass by those in the liberal mainstream and they've used it to bust out of their usual ivory tower and flood the mainstream under cover of social causes of undoubted value and urgency. Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, who both identify with the traditional liberal left, patiently and thoroughly trace the history and intellectual underpinnings of this movement from their origins with the French postmodernists in the late 60s, and the waves of postmodernism that have wound up with intersectionality, standpoint theory, queer studies, critical race theories and their equivalents for disabled and obese. I found this absolutely fascinating and enlightening (ahem) though I have a general interest in philosophy and epistemology: if you don't you might find this section rather dry. But what it does do is lay out extremely clearly the rather arch intellectual techniques used to defuse criticism and argument - including that traditional criticism, reason and argument are, in and of themselves, illegitimate expressions of male, white power which should be suppressed.

If you buy that, all hope is lost. Pluckrose doesn't and, really rather heroically, makes the case for a return to traditional liberal modernity which has vouchsafed so much social progress to exactly those groups most animated by this new militancy.

It isn't tolerant, pluralistic or openminded at all: it is coercive, intolerant and nasty and, unlike Foucault and Lacan, it has escaped the academy and is infecting thinking in human resources departments, in media organisations, and on social media. We should be worried about this. Real people are getting hurt by it, and other real people are being disgusted by it and are thus being driven towards, not away from, far less desirable forms of populism.

Pluckrose narrates in a measured and patient tone, but, in her understated way, delivers some zinging invective along the way.

Well recommended.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Ciaran
  • 14-12-20

Good overview of postmodernism

Good overview of postmodern schools of thought and how they influence social justice movements.

This book certainly isn't a light read or as entertaining as Douglas Murray's Madness of crowds but it's essential read if you want a much deeper understanding of what's going on with race/gender/etc activism.

Highly recommended

5 people found this helpful

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  • joseph osborne
  • 10-12-20

Read before you judge.

A lot of the criticism I'd read about the book seems to have come from people who clearly haven't read it, or rather, made up their mind before reading it.

summarises the main issues in activism and academia really well for the lehmann.

it seems to have had some who argue the book is too simplistic, but I'd argue this is only true to the extent it needlessly repeats the definitions it uses and breaks down complex jargon in sometimes too simple terms.

Overall, brilliant book and altogether very useful to understanding the wider issues at play.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Barry Gormley
  • 17-01-21

A must read for anyone interested in this topic.

You’ve likely encountered the disciples of critical theory; online, in school, or perhaps even at work. You may even have followed the debate that’s been raging around “SJWs” on social media for many years now. But if you want to understand the ideological roots of these activist groups, or the true danger they pose to open discourse, then Cynical Theories is a book you can’t afford to overlook.

The book takes an academic rather than ideological approach toward explaining Critical Theory and its role in modern political debate. The authors are not right-wing pundits playing to their base, but serious researchers with legitimate concerns over what these ideas are doing to our universities.

At the same time, their commitment to liberal democratic principles shines through in every chapter, as does their opposition to any groups (left or right) who oppose these principles. It is precisely this commitment which makes Cynical Theories an invaluable contribution to the fight against authoritarian ideology, as well as the defence of true standards of scholarship within universities.

5/5 stars.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-01-21

Hard work, but rewarding

Not as much fun as The Madness of Crowds, but very rewarding and necessary. Lots of "oohh I see now" moments.

The book presents the theories and 'work' that underpins many modern, highly-destructive approaches to understanding human societies. It then compares them to the sounder and more practical approaches of old-skool liberalism. It presents a dire warning to institutions that they are painting themselves into a corner and probably screwing up some very hard-won territory in the fight for a productive egalitarian society. The book is kinder and fairer to postmodern, ivory tower-dwelling malcontents than they deserve... which I suppose adds to the book's power.

I found it hard going and will need to re-read. The audio is bad, but not terrible. Highly recommended.

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  • Trevor Durnford
  • 02-01-21

Illuminating and insightful

I confess to having been pretty unaware of post modernism, theory and woke prior to reading this powerful book. I genuinely hope it strengthens liberalism, from right to left, as a way of growing and developing humanity (as opposed to post modern dogma). Many thanks to the authors for this pivotal and enriching work.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anthony
  • 18-11-20

An excellent primer on a pernicious ideology

Pluckrose and Lindsay have done the reading so you don't have to. Do you ever wonder why Hollywood is in a woke delusion? Why diversity quotas and implicit bias training have infected HR departments of companies as big as Google? It can all be traced back to Post-Modernism and it's antecedents, Critical Theory and Woke-ism. This book is an excellent treatise on this poisonous nonsense.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Cris
  • 03-12-20

A must read in 2020

This book is very informative and provides a solid knowledge base into critical theories and the way they’re currently applied.
It’s really well written and easily digestible.
Narration is really nice too.

2 people found this helpful

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  • roger lewis
  • 10-12-20

brilliant

this is a brilliant reasonable book that talks common sense through out I absolutely loved it

1 person found this helpful

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  • emma
  • 25-11-20

Struggled to engage

Really interesting subject matter but the narrators voice was so monotone I just couldn't stay attentive

1 person found this helpful

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  • N. Stafford
  • 05-11-20

Grateful

Wow such a clear, concise and important rebuttal to social justice scholarship, and a reaffirmation of liberal ideals

1 person found this helpful

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  • Paul
  • 14-04-21

This is the most amazing book I have ever read

Honestly, this book took my mind to a place it has never been before.

Anybody who is concerned about the state of the world and why all this crazy stuff is happening in society generally must listen to this book. Listen two or three times to absorb its rich content. listening the first time is hard, there is so much to absorb, but you will not want to stop listening once you start. A must for parents!!!!!

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  • Johan Westerdahl
  • 08-04-21

Very relevant and accessible

The subject matter is obviously very dry, but the authors have made a great job making it accessible and "understandable" (as far as it can be) for an audience outside the initiates of this cult(s).

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  • Neil Swann
  • 22-02-21

A must read!

A must read for everyone who is trying to understand the decline of Western civilisation.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-02-21

An important read for the current cultural moment

Articulate, accurate and unassailable account of the current popularisation of post modern theory that captures why it's so attractive right now, where it came from, where it's heading and why that's dangerous in a truly liberal society. A great read, recommending to friends.

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  • Darren
  • 04-02-21

absolutely worth the read but buckle in

sound a book to have some really important points and food for thought, but I will say it's not easy reading, you have to be engaged in the text otherwise the words can bombard you, which I know has to happen because of the subject but can make it slow goimg