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A New History of Thought Control

The front cover of the book 'Brainwashed' by Daniel Pick

A frankly brilliant book.

The Guardian

‘Brainwashed’ is a brilliant and mind-bending exploration of brainwashing and thought control.

In 1953, a group of prisoners of war who had fought against the communist invasion of South Korea were released. They chose – apparently freely – to move to Mao’s China. Among those refusing repatriation were 21 American GIs. Their decision sparked alarm in the West: why didn’t they want to come home? What was going on?

Soon, people were saying that the POWs had been “brainwashed”. Was this something new or a phenomenon that had been around for centuries?

The belief that it is possible to marshal scientific knowledge to govern someone’s mind gained enormous attention. In an era of Cold War paranoia and experimentation on “altered states”, the idea of brainwashing flourished, appearing in everything from critiques of CIA research on LSD to warnings of corporate groupthink, from visions of automaton assassins to conspiracy theories about “global elites”.

Today, brainwashing is almost taken for granted – built into our psychological and political language, rooted in the way we think about minds and societies. How did we get to this point – and why?

Psychoanalyst and historian Daniel Pick delves into the mysterious world of brainwashing in the 20th and 21st centuries, from ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ to ISIS, TV advertising to online algorithms. Mixing fascinating case studies with historical and psychological insights, ‘Brainwashed’ is a stimulating journey into the mysteries of thought control.

An extraordinarily engrossing and wide-ranging analysis of a word and a concept. I fell under its spell immediately.

Simon Garfield

Read an extract from the book

Date published
368 pages

About the author

Black and white photograph of Daniel Pick

Daniel Pick

Daniel Pick is a psychoanalyst, historian, university teacher, writer and occasional broadcaster. He is Professor of History at Birkbeck College, University of London, a fellow of the British Psychoanalytical Society, and author of several books on modern cultural history, psychoanalysis, and the history of the human sciences.