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They draw you in with the promise of empowerment, self-discovery, women helping women. The more secretive those connections are, the more exclusive you feel. Little did you know, you just joined a cult. Sex trafficking. Self-help coaching. Forced labour. Mentorship. Multi-level marketing. Gaslighting. Investigative journalist Sarah Berman explores the shocking practices of They draw you in with the promise of empowerment, self-discovery, women helping women. The more secretive those connections are, the more exclusive you feel. Little did you know, you just joined a cult. Sex trafficking. Self-help coaching. Forced labour. Mentorship. Multi-level marketing. Gaslighting. Investigative journalist Sarah Berman explores the shocking practices of NXIVM, a global organization run by Keith Raniere and his high-profile enablers (Seagram heir Clare Bronfman; Smallville actor Allison Mack; Battlestar Galactica actor Nicki Clyne). Through the accounts of central NXIVM figures, Berman unravels how young women seeking creative coaching and networking opportunities found themselves blackmailed, literally branded, near-starved, and enslaved. With the help of the Bronfman fortune Raniere built a wall of silence around these abuses, leveraging the legal system to go after enemies and whistleblowers. Don't Call It a Cult shows that these abuses looked very different from the inside, where young women initially received mentorship and protection. Don't Call It a Cult is a riveting account of NXIVM's rise to power, its ability to evade prosecution for decades, and the investigation that finally revealed its dark secrets to the world. It explores why so many were drawn to its message of empowerment yet could not recognize its manipulative and harmful leader for what he was—a criminal.


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They draw you in with the promise of empowerment, self-discovery, women helping women. The more secretive those connections are, the more exclusive you feel. Little did you know, you just joined a cult. Sex trafficking. Self-help coaching. Forced labour. Mentorship. Multi-level marketing. Gaslighting. Investigative journalist Sarah Berman explores the shocking practices of They draw you in with the promise of empowerment, self-discovery, women helping women. The more secretive those connections are, the more exclusive you feel. Little did you know, you just joined a cult. Sex trafficking. Self-help coaching. Forced labour. Mentorship. Multi-level marketing. Gaslighting. Investigative journalist Sarah Berman explores the shocking practices of NXIVM, a global organization run by Keith Raniere and his high-profile enablers (Seagram heir Clare Bronfman; Smallville actor Allison Mack; Battlestar Galactica actor Nicki Clyne). Through the accounts of central NXIVM figures, Berman unravels how young women seeking creative coaching and networking opportunities found themselves blackmailed, literally branded, near-starved, and enslaved. With the help of the Bronfman fortune Raniere built a wall of silence around these abuses, leveraging the legal system to go after enemies and whistleblowers. Don't Call It a Cult shows that these abuses looked very different from the inside, where young women initially received mentorship and protection. Don't Call It a Cult is a riveting account of NXIVM's rise to power, its ability to evade prosecution for decades, and the investigation that finally revealed its dark secrets to the world. It explores why so many were drawn to its message of empowerment yet could not recognize its manipulative and harmful leader for what he was—a criminal.

30 review for Don't Call It a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of Nxivm

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest I remember following the NXIVM story on my phone after work. On packed buses and trains, I'd read the BuzzFeed articles that seemed to be "breaking" every day. It came as a huge blow because I used to be a huge fan of Allison Mack and Smallville, and I couldn't help feeling that instinctive betrayal you feel as a fan when someone whose work you used to admire and admire ends up showing to you, their now ex-fan, that they aren't exactly a Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest I remember following the NXIVM story on my phone after work. On packed buses and trains, I'd read the BuzzFeed articles that seemed to be "breaking" every day. It came as a huge blow because I used to be a huge fan of Allison Mack and Smallville, and I couldn't help feeling that instinctive betrayal you feel as a fan when someone whose work you used to admire and admire ends up showing to you, their now ex-fan, that they aren't exactly a model human being. DON'T CALL IT A CULT is an investigative journalist's story on the NXIVM cult, headed by Keith Raniere. Even though the involvement of B-list celebrities and the Seagram heiresses ended up blowing up the story and providing a hook for many, the focus of the story is primarily on Raniere and the women he abused. We see the origins of NXIVM and Raniere's more aggressive tactics at recruiting and ill-treatment of the women he took into his fold, closing with the court case and prosecution of Raniere and those in his inner-circle. I'm not really sure what to say about this book. It was fascinating and I read through it in just a few hours (once again, this review is dedicated to my cat; I wouldn't get as much reading done if she weren't there to make it so I can't get up), but it was also a really difficult read because of what some of these women had to endure. I guess I find it hard to get into the mindset of someone for whom a cult would be appealing-- but I guess that's almost the point. Cults appeal to people who are vulnerable and impressionable and made to feel as if they don't belong. I definitely appreciate all the work that went into putting together this story. If you want the deets on NXIVM, this is a pretty cohesive story. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 3.5 to 4 stars

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ellen Gail

    Unputdownable and fantastically written. Easily five stars and likely one of the best nonfiction reads of 2021. "NXIVM was all about teaching people how to be more honest, honorable, forthcoming, and genuine. So nobody ever expected that the leadership were all liars." Nonfiction written by investigative journalists is pretty consistently at the top of the pack. (See Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, and Unputdownable and fantastically written. Easily five stars and likely one of the best nonfiction reads of 2021. "NXIVM was all about teaching people how to be more honest, honorable, forthcoming, and genuine. So nobody ever expected that the leadership were all liars." Nonfiction written by investigative journalists is pretty consistently at the top of the pack. (See Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, and The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder, among others.) I also find cults fascinating - I mean, who wouldn't? So I knew just from a glance at the cover of Don't Call it a Cult that I was in for something great. If you haven't heard of Keith Raniere and / or NXIVM, I'm not going to try to summarize it here, because I can't really. It's an expansive organization that grew across years and continents, and involved everything from leadership seminars and tax evasion, to abuse and slavery. And that's just scratching the surface. There's really no way for me to write an easy, readable review detailing what you're in for. I think that's why this book felt so necessary to me; a case this complicated and multifaceted is hard to reduce down to a catchy narrative or a quick summary. This story needed to be able to stretch out across over 300 pages, to give voice to Rainere's many victims and dimension to the trauma so many both suffered and inflicted. It's wonderfully written, both in style and technicality. I love the number of primary sources Sarah Berman was able to include. I also really liked how balanced the narrative was. There were plenty of times when Berman had to drop her 'voice' so to speak, and just let the facts speak for themselves. This would smoothly transition into sections where Berman was an active participant in the story, detailing the intricacies of interviews and fighting paranoia. It also doesn't ignore the larger context these events happened in. You can't talk about NXIVM and Rainere without also looking at the Weinstein case that crashed into public awareness almost simultaneously, along with the #metoo movement in general. The story itself can't be separated from the wider concepts of consent and compliance, white romanticization of slavery, and our universal psychological need for inclusion. Don't Call it a Cult isn't a light read, but it's one that feels honest and important. It's not here to shock the reader or exploit the victims, giving the so-called "gory details" with a careful deftness and sensitivity that I appreciated. It's completely compelling without having to be sensationalist. If you enjoy true crime, cults, or just thoroughly researched, well written nonfiction, Don't Call it a Cult needs to be on your radar. Quote taken from drc and may appear differently in the final version. Big thanks to Edelweiss and Steerforth Press for the review copy!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Helen Power

    Don't Call It A Cult provides a comprehensive overview of the case of Keith Raniere and NXIVM. There is a lot of information packed into this 320 page book. While I’d been following the case on the news, the story is presented in such a way that someone could easily enjoy it even if they didn’t know anything going into it.  There is a lot of background information provided in order to help set the stage for NXIVM. We get backstories for every person involved, which helps to humanize the Don't Call It A Cult provides a comprehensive overview of the case of Keith Raniere and NXIVM. There is a lot of information packed into this 320 page book. While I’d been following the case on the news, the story is presented in such a way that someone could easily enjoy it even if they didn’t know anything going into it.  There is a lot of background information provided in order to help set the stage for NXIVM. We get backstories for every person involved, which helps to humanize them and provides just enough information for us to understand just how they could get involved in a cult. Most of us think: I would never join a cult. But sometimes it isn’t quite so black and white, and the insidious underpinnings of an organization such as this one aren’t obvious to everyone.  Just as there is a lot of backstory for the “cast of characters”, there is also a lot of historical information provided that an information junkie like myself ate right up. For instance, Berman doesn’t just casually mention or even define what a pyramid scheme is. She provides that historical information about the first ever pyramid scheme to be prosecuted. I learned about Holiday Magic, an organization whose crimes went far beyond that ridiculous name. Don’t Call It A Cult also has a lot of content on the psychology and the thought processes behind Raniere’s teachings. His subtle manipulations are eerie and insidious and oh-so fascinating. Berman dives deep into his teaching on “disintegration”, “suppressive”, and other terms that sent chills down my spine. They are quite simple, yet creepy. The ways that he gradually gaslighted his victims is incredibly subtle and I can completely understand how someone wouldn’t realize what was happening until it was too late... Berman at times frames the story with her own investigation into NXIVM, which reminds me a little of Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark . I love this approach to telling a true crime story. Let’s not focus on the bad guy, but the reporter/investigator who’s researching them. That said, this angle isn’t continuously presented, possibly because of how much this story differs from that of the Golden State Killer--when he hadn’t been caught by the time of the first publication of that book.  We also don’t get a full picture of who Sara Berman is--is she just a reporter fascinated by cults? Does she have a personal connection to the case? She mentions going to the trial, but was that out of pure professional interest, or was there another reason at play? What drove her to spend two years of her life following this story? Was it just a job for her, or something more? We’re provided with a little more personal connection to Sara Berman towards the end of the book, but I would have liked for that to have been at play throughout. All in all, this book provides a comprehensive overview of Keith Raniere, NXIVM, and DOS and should be read by any true crime junkie who is fascinated by cults.   *Thank you to NetGalley and Viking for the ebook to review* This review appeared first on https://powerlibrarian.wordpress.com/ Instagram | Blog | Website | Twitter My 2021 Reading Challenge

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    3.5 stars. If you've kept tabs on NXIVM in the news and pop culture, you will still find a huge trove of information here that hasn't been included in a lot of other reporting. And it's not so rudimentary that people who watched THE VOW or other shows won't be bored. I sped through it in a fury. At first this was the kind of book where you want to tell the person next to you all kinds of little tidbits. But as time passes it becomes more and more overwhelming and more and more focused on such dee 3.5 stars. If you've kept tabs on NXIVM in the news and pop culture, you will still find a huge trove of information here that hasn't been included in a lot of other reporting. And it's not so rudimentary that people who watched THE VOW or other shows won't be bored. I sped through it in a fury. At first this was the kind of book where you want to tell the person next to you all kinds of little tidbits. But as time passes it becomes more and more overwhelming and more and more focused on such deep trauma and manipulation that it gets too heavy for it. I was, to be honest, relieved when it was over. Huge piles of content warnings for rape, and basically every other thing that can happen to you without consent. All that said, I still felt like there was so much to dive into that the book didn't address. It would toss out a sentence that would lead me to a ton of questions but then never spend any time with it. There felt like so much more room for deep dives here. The focus is mostly on testimony from the trial itself, with some other supporting documentation and interviews, but even though it's a much fuller picture than any other presented so far I still ended with so many questions and feeling like there were pieces missing that I still didn't understand. I don't know if it was a rush to publish (understandable given the media frenzy) but I would have liked a more deeply reported version of this book that does dive into all those little tangents that tie back to the big story. This is written in a semi-chronological way, but it does jump around a lot. I suspect readers who already know the basics of NXIVM will have an easier time with it than those who come to it knowing nothing.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    The publisher provided me with the opportunity to read this in exchange for providing feedback. (via Edelweiss+) 4.5 stars. I've watched a couple of the documentaries on NXIVM (Seduced, The Vow. Side note: I recommend watching The Vow first lol.) and still found this to be a good read. It was well written and provided more information that was new to me. The publisher provided me with the opportunity to read this in exchange for providing feedback. (via Edelweiss+) 4.5 stars. I've watched a couple of the documentaries on NXIVM (Seduced, The Vow. Side note: I recommend watching The Vow first lol.) and still found this to be a good read. It was well written and provided more information that was new to me.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Fascinating and terrifying look into a twisted story. Even if you have watched the recent documentaries or listened to the podcasts, there's much that is added to the puzzle. Fascinating and terrifying look into a twisted story. Even if you have watched the recent documentaries or listened to the podcasts, there's much that is added to the puzzle.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bonnie G.

    This is a good piece of true crime that takes on specific acts and events and contextualizes them. It lays out how much of what Keith Raniere did in plain and was sometimes celebrated for simply reflected larger societal views of women's bodies (especially the bodies of young and pretty women) and men's power. (view spoiler)[I loved that after all the indignities the women suffered, after being denied food and being locked up and denied compensation for work the men in their lives were spurred t This is a good piece of true crime that takes on specific acts and events and contextualizes them. It lays out how much of what Keith Raniere did in plain and was sometimes celebrated for simply reflected larger societal views of women's bodies (especially the bodies of young and pretty women) and men's power. (view spoiler)[I loved that after all the indignities the women suffered, after being denied food and being locked up and denied compensation for work the men in their lives were spurred to action only when Raniere branded his initials beside their vulvas. He was essentially pissing on their property. That was the catalyst to end their devotion to NXIVM;, a challenge to men's dominion over their women's vaginas.. (hide spoiler)] This book does a good deal more than The Vow did to explore Raniere's methods for securing power and money and covers more than the wholly sensationalistic elements of this cult. (I am not immune to the excitement of the sensational, and it is here, but I want more too.) She also writes about events and practices that are worse than what we saw on The Vow, and that set the bar pretty high. Many questions were not answered of course, and I am not sure they can be. Why did people allow this to happen to them? We do come to understand the brainwashing, which is very similar to that employed by Scientology, especially the tools of building up blackmail material. In Scientology that is done within auditing and in NXIVM less throgh liturgy than thriugh an ongoing series of transactions requiring more damaging info about members and their loved ones simply to move up in the organization. We see that for many (Mark Vicente is the clearest example of this) it was pure vanity -- the desire to be a confidant and advisor to "the smartest man in the world." (Vain and rather dim it must be said. Who calls themselves the smattest man in thr wirld, and who believes them?) But for so many of these people their motivations are still as clear as mud. Someone says tell us your deepest secrets so that if we feel you have moved against us we can blackmail you, actually says that thing, no pretenses, who says yes? Are people that desperate to belong? I guess the answer is yes. In the end this was fascinating and illuminating. It is not perfect, there is too much editorial in several portions and she raises certain things, particularly about an underage victim, where she does not have real information to share. I think the book Going Clear set the standard for me in covering true crime and cults, and it does not reach that level, in part because as crazy as this is it is not as crazy as the rise of Scientology. Still its pretty great, really engrossing, and a good foundation to think about who we are and how we made NXIVM possible.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Henk-Jan van der Klis

    Although I missed the verdict of Keith Raniere, leader of NXIVM to 120 Years in Prison in October 2020 entirely, learning about this sex trafficking, modern slavery cult built around a very strong personality, is good. Think back to Scientology Church (1953) and their courses, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practices that can do harm if conducted with wrong intentions, and the many Ponzi schemes and multi-level marketing (MLM) initiatives that have been around for decades. Investigative journ Although I missed the verdict of Keith Raniere, leader of NXIVM to 120 Years in Prison in October 2020 entirely, learning about this sex trafficking, modern slavery cult built around a very strong personality, is good. Think back to Scientology Church (1953) and their courses, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practices that can do harm if conducted with wrong intentions, and the many Ponzi schemes and multi-level marketing (MLM) initiatives that have been around for decades. Investigative journalist Sarah Berman interviewed women that fell for Keith Raniere, read documents, articles, rare video interviews to unearth the Raniere's youth, claims to be super intelligent, the early years of the organization that was founded in 1998, its inner workings, the perverse abuse of women, money, and power. "They draw you in with the promise of empowerment, self-discovery, women helping women. The more secretive those connections are, the more exclusive you feel. Little did you know, you just joined a cult." "How is it that our brains can allow for one person to see sex trafficking and another to see self-actualization? Can concentrated social influence really change what a person thinks, feels, experiences?" The book, which takes 5-7 hours to read entirely, is responding confirmative. Only in 2018, Raniere was arrested, one year later Allison Mack, NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, Clare Bronfman, and bookkeeper Kathy Russell pleaded guilty to various charges. And, true to nature, the cult leader continued his practices even from behind prison bars, still holding tens of followers very loyal. Don’t Call It a Cult expresses that individual defense of loyalty and recounts very thoroughly the shocking story of Keith Raniere and the women of NXIVM. Unfortunately, this is nonfiction. 

  9. 4 out of 5

    Beth Chats Books

    This is a fantastic companion document to read alongside the Sky documentary The Vow about the Nxivm organisation. This included extra content and information that wasn’t discussed explicitly in the TV documentary such as Allison Mack’s and Lauren Salzman’s deeper connections and influences in the DOS element of the organisation. As well as the wider and more damning influences of the Bronfman sisters and their roles in the organisation as a whole. I was also shocked to learn about Keith Ranieres This is a fantastic companion document to read alongside the Sky documentary The Vow about the Nxivm organisation. This included extra content and information that wasn’t discussed explicitly in the TV documentary such as Allison Mack’s and Lauren Salzman’s deeper connections and influences in the DOS element of the organisation. As well as the wider and more damning influences of the Bronfman sisters and their roles in the organisation as a whole. I was also shocked to learn about Keith Ranieres promiscuity within the organisation and his sexual relationship with Camila who was a minor at the time. This organisation has been so interesting to learn about through the documentary released onto Sky in 2020. I was fascinated to learn how men and women were indoctrinated into this organisation and why they went to the extent of allowing themselves to be branded and to be controlled by Raniere and his teachings. This book was very informative and well researched. The author had a very close relationship with key members that were whistleblowers on the organisation like Sarah Edmondson. This made the book feel more authentic and closer to the victims and their testimonies which I found powerful. I really enjoyed this Non-Fiction and if you are interested in learning more about Nxivm, I would highly recommend picking this book up! Thank you to author Sarah Berman,Steerforth Press and Edelweiss for a free downloadable ebook copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Christen

    If you have seen The Vow, then this book is easy to understand. If you haven't watched any of the documentaries or haven't been following along, this book does explain well, but it feels like reporting and not telling the story. It's full of information not mentioned in the documentaries and from what I haven't read, so I found that interesting. It was the stories about Mexico. I wished the author spent more time building the backstories, so some of the things she wrote about were vague. This is If you have seen The Vow, then this book is easy to understand. If you haven't watched any of the documentaries or haven't been following along, this book does explain well, but it feels like reporting and not telling the story. It's full of information not mentioned in the documentaries and from what I haven't read, so I found that interesting. It was the stories about Mexico. I wished the author spent more time building the backstories, so some of the things she wrote about were vague. This is an ARC, so perhaps the author will finesse it a bit before publication. But overall, an easy to read but quick history and downfall of NXIVM. I received an ARC from Edelweiss and Steerforth.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    wow such a good book and so detailed with information about this cult. I didn't know what to expect from it. liked the pictures in the book. I happened to be a fan of allison mack from smallville and to see what happened to her and her choices . OMG . It actually led to read leah about scientology . wow such a good book and so detailed with information about this cult. I didn't know what to expect from it. liked the pictures in the book. I happened to be a fan of allison mack from smallville and to see what happened to her and her choices . OMG . It actually led to read leah about scientology .

  12. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    Absolutely solid and captivating investigative journalism here. Berman has so clearly done incredible research and sticks to the points she has been able to substantiate and delve into. The number of layers to this scheme was such a huge rabbit hole for me and it makes me so intrigued to learn more. I had heard bits and pieces about NXIVM in the news and through cult documentaries and such, but there was so much here I had absolutely no idea about. The layers of coercion and manipulation far exc Absolutely solid and captivating investigative journalism here. Berman has so clearly done incredible research and sticks to the points she has been able to substantiate and delve into. The number of layers to this scheme was such a huge rabbit hole for me and it makes me so intrigued to learn more. I had heard bits and pieces about NXIVM in the news and through cult documentaries and such, but there was so much here I had absolutely no idea about. The layers of coercion and manipulation far exceeded the complexity I had anticipated. The treatment of women described in this book is mindblowing sadistic--both physically and especially psychologically--and yet there is much that is also glossed over. The biggest thing about this book that stood out to me is that Berman's descriptions of cult members are respectful and dignified. Berman talked to women involved in NXIVM, not to further exploit them for the a story, but to truly understand what they experienced and tell the whole truth. She talked about how they were duped and always at a disadvantage, rather than portraying them as gullible or desperate, as is often the case in discussing members of cults. She also did highlight how young a lot of these women were and how vulnerable that made them. Don't Call it a Cult is also not a profile of Raniere (although he is obviously discussed at length throughout). He is not the main character and it's not about trying to understand him; it's about understanding what these women went through and how sickening this abuse was. In a world where Raniere has constructed himself at the center, Berman disrupts that dynamic in a really refreshing way as she recounts the horrors he imposed on these women. She focuses on how women got sucked into participating in and perpetuating this abuse on other women, and how damaging that was to everyone involved. She also doesn't focus at length on white celebrities like Allison Mack, and instead dives at length into atrocities against undocumented Latina immigrants like "Daniela" and her family. The second-biggest thing that I appreciated about Don't Call it a Cult is the way Berman situates her story in the broader social context. She discusses NXIVM in the context of #MeToo and the way Raniere could get away with crimes like these for so long because of bias in our justice system (although I think the latter was practically a throwaway comment and should have been explored in more depth). She makes a point of highlighting the discretion of the judge during Raniere's trial to interrupt misogynistic and sadistic dynamics in his courtroom that were employed in the name of giving Raniere a fair trial. There is one reference to the Milgram experiment (which I guess is kind of a requirement for discussing a cult), but the rest of the book is situated in a very contemporary way, which to me seemed very important because these are such recent events. My only complaints are that there were moments where I was really left wanting more information, and that it was chronologically difficult to follow at times. By the end, I understood a lot better what had happened and when, but as I was going through I was constantly confused about what year it was and which woman's perspective I was getting. And it just leaves me with an overall feeling that there is so much more to this story. Much thanks to NetGalley and Steerforth Press for the eARC!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. Don't Call It a Cult is a well written journalistic examination of the often lurid and sordid facts surrounding Keith Raniere and NXIVM. Due out 20th April 2021 from Steerforth Press, it's 336 pages and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. I vaguely remember reading about the various trials surrounding NXIVM and Raniere. I have never been much of a true-crime reader, so I came into this read mostly ignorant of the situation, b Originally posted on my blog: Nonstop Reader. Don't Call It a Cult is a well written journalistic examination of the often lurid and sordid facts surrounding Keith Raniere and NXIVM. Due out 20th April 2021 from Steerforth Press, it's 336 pages and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats. I vaguely remember reading about the various trials surrounding NXIVM and Raniere. I have never been much of a true-crime reader, so I came into this read mostly ignorant of the situation, background, and facts of the cases. Sarah Berman is very capable and writes simply and convincingly. Although the book is meticulously annotated and supported with references throughout, it's accessible and understandable. I didn't feel that the author had an agenda and she didn't sensationalize the facts of the case (which are pretty shocking on that scale). To me, NXIVM was even more remarkable for the vast scope of all the intertwined aspects and arms of the organization and also for the wealth and resources of its adherents. It's sobering to think that no matter how intelligent, well educated, or self-sufficient we are, no matter what economic advantages we have, we can all be manipulated and hoodwinked by charismatic and unscrupulous people/media. The author presents the material factually and baldly, without flowery language or overemphasis. In my case that made the subject matter even more forceful: "It was uncomfortable imagining the words What was it like being branded? coming out of my mouth, but I knew I had to get there somehow". Many of the interviews which she relates make for uncomfortable reading and were related in such a direct way that it took my breath away. The book includes a dramatis personae at the front to keep the primary players straight. The author has also done a good job with the annotations and the chapter notes and bibliography will keep readers busy for a long time. Well done book. Uncomfortable reading in places though. Potential trigger warnings for sensitive readers: discussions on psychosexual torture and manipulation. Four stars. Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Meghan PageUs

    I have a long standing fascination with cults and this is the first time I have taken the time to read a non fiction book on one. I had not expected such richness in examination of the patterns, behaviors, and relationships that were a part of this cult and as I read I felt I had a strong understanding of the years of events that lead to the much more recent media attention to Nxivm. I think most astonishing (or not), or at least what I reflected on the most with friends, was how many women were I have a long standing fascination with cults and this is the first time I have taken the time to read a non fiction book on one. I had not expected such richness in examination of the patterns, behaviors, and relationships that were a part of this cult and as I read I felt I had a strong understanding of the years of events that lead to the much more recent media attention to Nxivm. I think most astonishing (or not), or at least what I reflected on the most with friends, was how many women were involved in recruitment of other women, their involvement in emotional and other abuse towards other women and victims/slaves; the capacity of people to hurt others is a theme I was left to ponder as I stepped back from what was uncovered in this investigation and in other legal proceedings. I found the in depth investigative examination of Nxivm to be highly engaging and to have the depth, and external analysis, I thought was lacking in documentaries and long form reporting on this cult. As a lecturer in psychology I also found the examination of underlying themes with cults, the "Mega Society IQ test, and recruiting/gaslighting and manipulation to be a really necessary and useful aspect of the book; I can see myself perhaps even using some of the material on the IQ test to explain a concept or two in a class I teach on measurement issues (nerdy but true statement). Though academically I valued this aspect to the writing, as I reader I also appreciated the inclusion of more than just interviews as it allowed the reader to also step back from just participants and victims, to see how to place these people and this group as a whole in a larger context of pathological and harmful behavior and to appreciate that research and theory can also help understand, intervene, and assess cults. As I finished reading the book I found myself wondering, in response to how long Raniere got away with his harmful behaviors, what is happening now, who is the next person I will be reading about in another investigative piece in five or ten years? Who right now is being victimized?

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Bayer

    I am definitely in the minority but I just could not get into this book. That really surprised me since it was such a bizarre real life story and I was especially drawn to it since my kids and I had watched 9 1/2 seasons of Smallville (star Allison Mack was heavily involved in NXIVM). To my surprise, I found it incredibly dull. Another reviewer described it as "unputdownable" but I found it "unpickupable." I kept telling myself to just open it and read one more chapter to get closer to finishing I am definitely in the minority but I just could not get into this book. That really surprised me since it was such a bizarre real life story and I was especially drawn to it since my kids and I had watched 9 1/2 seasons of Smallville (star Allison Mack was heavily involved in NXIVM). To my surprise, I found it incredibly dull. Another reviewer described it as "unputdownable" but I found it "unpickupable." I kept telling myself to just open it and read one more chapter to get closer to finishing it and being done with it. Why was it not a hit with me? First off, there's an incredibly long cast of characters who were nearly impossible for me to keep straight. There were so many women who were business partners or financial backers or girlfriends or whatever, and I felt like I needed Cliff notes to remember who she was ever talking about. Secondly, it's incredibly heavy on details. This goes all the way back to the beginnings and tells you everything that happened, starting with Raniere's college days and the start of the company as some sort of MLM company. Thirdly, there are no photographs at all. Berman frequently went to great lengths to describe people, and I found myself hopping out of Kindle to just google them and try to find out what they looked like. It would have been made so much better with copious photographs, news clippings, etc. Lastly, it just read like the world's longest article. It was all terrible stuff that happened to people, and it was just chapter upon chapter of details about it. Ultimately, this wasn't a book that I enjoyed or would read again. If you want to know the full history of this *sshole and all the awful stuff these people did, then this will definitely give it to you. I read a temporary digital ARC of this book for review.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Archer

    This is the in depth story of the women of the NXIVM organization. Over last summer HBO and Starz both released in-depth documentaries on NXIVM, both focused mostly on the same players that brought the cult down. This book has a similar focus, with a much more in-depth look at the sub-group DOS. When I first started learning about them, they identified as Executive Success Program which businesses would invest in their methods for their employees. I could totally see why people would want to inve This is the in depth story of the women of the NXIVM organization. Over last summer HBO and Starz both released in-depth documentaries on NXIVM, both focused mostly on the same players that brought the cult down. This book has a similar focus, with a much more in-depth look at the sub-group DOS. When I first started learning about them, they identified as Executive Success Program which businesses would invest in their methods for their employees. I could totally see why people would want to invest more time in them. Then this group quickly moves into what I think is completely deranged, because their leader is now serving a 120 year sentence for sex-trafficking. What these women were subjected to, is nothing but vile, having to take nude pictures of themselves, engage in sexual acts with multiple partners, call themselves slaves, and brand themselves is just the start of all the issues that occurred. Sarah Berman is slightly late to the game with this story. For me, this did not add much that I was not already aware of. For people that have not engaged in the documentaries, this book definitely gives justice to what occurred to the women by being members of this cult. This book lays everything out there, and is extremely graphic, but it is an important story to tell. Thank you NetGalley and Steerforth Press for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    Thank you to NetGalley and Viking for an advanced copy of this book, Below is my honest opinion. I remember vague mentions of NXIVM in the news a few years back, but I didn't follow the headlines closely. I knew there were some actresses, unknown to me, who were in trouble for some type of cult-like activities. And while I am always fascinated by cults, the sixty-second news clips as the story is unfolding aren't enough. When I saw this book was coming out I knew I wanted to read all about what a Thank you to NetGalley and Viking for an advanced copy of this book, Below is my honest opinion. I remember vague mentions of NXIVM in the news a few years back, but I didn't follow the headlines closely. I knew there were some actresses, unknown to me, who were in trouble for some type of cult-like activities. And while I am always fascinated by cults, the sixty-second news clips as the story is unfolding aren't enough. When I saw this book was coming out I knew I wanted to read all about what actually happened inside the supposed self-help group. This book was fantastic. Sarah Berman effortlessly pulled me in with her easy-to-follow writing. The book starts out with a lengthy cast of characters, which can be intimidating at times. I worried I wouldn't be able to keep the various people involved straight but it didn't wind up being a problem. Berman almost never inserted herself into the story unless absolutely necessary which I appreciate so much in a true-crime book. The research was thorough and the writing was engaging. I would recommend this book for fans of true crime or readers who are curious about what happened to make so many smart, successful women get involved with an organization that ultimately did more harm than good. Beware that some of the content is difficult to read, however. There was a good amount of abuse, manipulation, and harm that occurred. The subject matter may be triggering to some readers but is also necessary to the story.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Straightforward but devastating account of Nxivm, from Keith Raniere's early days as a multilevel marketing scheme con man to his later role as the sadistic, sociopathic leader of Nxivm and the hundreds of individuals, mostly women, whom he ensnared along the way. I had read a NY Times article about a "weird sex cult" that involved women branding each other, but I had no idea that Raniere was literally trafficking young girls and controlling them through intimidation, blackmail, and the eager co Straightforward but devastating account of Nxivm, from Keith Raniere's early days as a multilevel marketing scheme con man to his later role as the sadistic, sociopathic leader of Nxivm and the hundreds of individuals, mostly women, whom he ensnared along the way. I had read a NY Times article about a "weird sex cult" that involved women branding each other, but I had no idea that Raniere was literally trafficking young girls and controlling them through intimidation, blackmail, and the eager collusion of other Nxivm members. He was also bankrolled by two heiress sisters, so for many years he was able to avoid any legal repercussions for his actions by suing anyone who left his orbit. The horrifying, compelling story doesn't require any embellishments. Even so, I wish Berman had delved a little deeper and explored why so many rich, successful women were taken in by this waste of human flesh. But I guess there is no simple answer to that question. I haven't watched either of the documentaries (on HBO and Starz) that recently aired about Nxivm, but to me there's nothing more chilling than reading the words, and imagining for myself what these women endured in the name of self-improvement. What the hell is wrong with our society that evil can flourish unchecked for so long?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jamele (BookswithJams)

    If you have not read this one, OR if you love the genre, OR if you love cults, then you NEED this book. The audio is phenomenal, I devoured this in one day, literally could not get enough I was so fascinated by this mess. I have been meaning to learn more about this NXIVM cult, and so I was not that familiar with it prior to reading this and I am SHOOK. The things that Raniere was able to get these women to do is just mind blowing. Like any other cult, it is a slow build until you are so far in t If you have not read this one, OR if you love the genre, OR if you love cults, then you NEED this book. The audio is phenomenal, I devoured this in one day, literally could not get enough I was so fascinated by this mess. I have been meaning to learn more about this NXIVM cult, and so I was not that familiar with it prior to reading this and I am SHOOK. The things that Raniere was able to get these women to do is just mind blowing. Like any other cult, it is a slow build until you are so far in that you don’t know what is happening, the main culprit here being mentorship and then eventually gaslighting, blackmail, enslaving, and omfg literal BRANDING. I could not believe this stuff, and in some extreme cases, families were involved and convinced these actions were nbd. It is always fascinating to me how individuals such as Raniere get their start and their power, and how so many fall victim to them. Berman does a fantastic job of explaining this, and the entire book is riveting. You have to read it for yourself to believe it, and even then it doesn’t seem real. Such a wild read, you don’t want to miss it, trust me. Thank you to Edelweiss and Viking for the e-galley to review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    Thank you Netgalley for this ARC of Don't Call it a Cult by Sarah Berman. If you enjoyed The Vow, or Seduced, then get yourself comfy and hunker down with Berman's other deep dive into the history of the NXIVM cult, founded by Keith Raniere. I honestly can't get enough about this cult. It absolutely blows my mind, and maybe the fascination with cults in general is how we see ourselves, and our own potential to get pulled into a high control group without being able to see the obvious harms that it Thank you Netgalley for this ARC of Don't Call it a Cult by Sarah Berman. If you enjoyed The Vow, or Seduced, then get yourself comfy and hunker down with Berman's other deep dive into the history of the NXIVM cult, founded by Keith Raniere. I honestly can't get enough about this cult. It absolutely blows my mind, and maybe the fascination with cults in general is how we see ourselves, and our own potential to get pulled into a high control group without being able to see the obvious harms that it is perpetuating. Keith Raniere has years and years of fraud, grifting, predatory behavior, sexual assault, and emotional abuse/manipulation under his belt. It's amazing how one man can get away with so much when he surrounds himself with strong women who believe in him so strongly. It's patriarchal abuse and narcissism as it's very worst, and it makes me sick. Yet somehow, I just can't look away. A giant "brava" to Berman for her story telling skills, and ability to shine a glaring light on things that were kept in the dark for far too long. I don't care what anyone says, journalism has definitely saved people.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mary Reagan Richardson (prescribedreads)

    Don't Call it a Cult takes a deep dive into the inner workings of NXIVM, Keith Raniere, and those closest to them. The book follows the story from the beginning of Keith Raniere's career in multi level marketing campaigns all the way through his downfall and trial. This book may be one of the best well done nonfictions I have ever read. The flow and organization of the facts made it so effortless to follow the story in a very linear way. It was so easy to follow the facts and, even though there Don't Call it a Cult takes a deep dive into the inner workings of NXIVM, Keith Raniere, and those closest to them. The book follows the story from the beginning of Keith Raniere's career in multi level marketing campaigns all the way through his downfall and trial. This book may be one of the best well done nonfictions I have ever read. The flow and organization of the facts made it so effortless to follow the story in a very linear way. It was so easy to follow the facts and, even though there were a lot of players in the story, the organization made it easy to follow who was who. I went into this book thinkin that I knew a lot about NXIVM. Turns out I did. However, there was so much more that I did not know. I kept looking up from reading and looking around the room trying to wrap my brain around how just truly abusive, coercive, and wrong this whole thing it. The fact that there were women at the top encouraging it too is just baffling to me. I was mortified, intrigued, floored, and disgusted all at once. Few books have ever made me feel that way. This is a must read nonfiction for anyone interested in group think, cults, abuse, or just learning about the worst things humans can do to one another.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Carol Campbell

    "They draw you in with the promise of empowerment, self-discovery, women helping women. The more secretive those connections are, the more exclusive you feel. Little did you know, you just joined a cult." In Don’t Call It A Cult, Sarah Berman provides readers with a fascinating yet frightening and sometimes unimaginable account of NXIVM. Before reading this book, I had read a brief news article or two about NXIVM but nothing that would prepare me for what I learned by reading this book. I was com "They draw you in with the promise of empowerment, self-discovery, women helping women. The more secretive those connections are, the more exclusive you feel. Little did you know, you just joined a cult." In Don’t Call It A Cult, Sarah Berman provides readers with a fascinating yet frightening and sometimes unimaginable account of NXIVM. Before reading this book, I had read a brief news article or two about NXIVM but nothing that would prepare me for what I learned by reading this book. I was completely blown away by the levels of manipulation and coercion as it seemed to permeate the entire organization. The fact that Raniere’s strategy was getting women in the organization, making them ‘his’ and then when he had complete control over them, he was able to have them perpetuate the abuse on other women – is sickening and psychologically damaging to all of the women. Don't Call it a Cult is an easy read but not necessarily a light read. Well-written and thoroughly researched. Highly recommended if you enjoy cults or true crime. #DontCallitaCult #NetGalley

  23. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    I highly recommend this book! It was a real page-turner and I had trouble putting it down. I had watched the recent documentary series about NXIVM and thought I knew a lot about the inner workings of this frightening organization, but Berman's book provides a lot more information which helps round out the rest of the story. This book is meticulously researched including first-hand accounts by women and men who were caught up in this organization. Women were victimized the most (and unfortunately I highly recommend this book! It was a real page-turner and I had trouble putting it down. I had watched the recent documentary series about NXIVM and thought I knew a lot about the inner workings of this frightening organization, but Berman's book provides a lot more information which helps round out the rest of the story. This book is meticulously researched including first-hand accounts by women and men who were caught up in this organization. Women were victimized the most (and unfortunately were also part of perpetuating the abuse against women). Women who joined the secret society (DOS) were ordered to hand over embarrassing personal collateral and give a life time of servitude in exchange for membership. I wondered who would join such an organization and Berman wonders if it's a sense of "personal exceptionalism" that attracted people -- meaning, want to succeed in their life, their career, their art. It makes you realize anyone could potentially fall prey to this type of organization and that is the scariest thought of all. Highly recommend!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    5 stars Don't Call it a Cult by Sarah Berman This is an incredibly well-written and remarkably in-depth researched look at the horror of what was NXIVM. The insidiousness of Keith Raniere and even Mack is hard to fathom. Is Allison Mack really sorry or just sorry she got caught? Why and how are people still following this man? The atrociously horrific things he got parents to do to their own children and women to other women is mind-boggling. This is a book that I will not soon forget. If you ever wa 5 stars Don't Call it a Cult by Sarah Berman This is an incredibly well-written and remarkably in-depth researched look at the horror of what was NXIVM. The insidiousness of Keith Raniere and even Mack is hard to fathom. Is Allison Mack really sorry or just sorry she got caught? Why and how are people still following this man? The atrociously horrific things he got parents to do to their own children and women to other women is mind-boggling. This is a book that I will not soon forget. If you ever wanted a look at the inner workings of a cult then, this is the book for you. Berman has written an incredible, readable and utterly unputdownable book. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the NXIVM story is Raniere is how he made himself out to be some sort of all-powerful guru yet this is not a religious cult in any way. I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    Wow. Just wow. This book is chock full of all the craziness you ever wanted to know about NXIVM & Keith Raniere, the mastermind behind the cult. Wait. You can't call it a cult, though, or you could get sued. Or have your life ruined. Or your finances. Or be deported. Or any number of things that seem too unbelievable to have happened to normal people. It seems strange how people can even get roped into something like this. It all started as a MLM (multi-level marketing) scheme and went from ther Wow. Just wow. This book is chock full of all the craziness you ever wanted to know about NXIVM & Keith Raniere, the mastermind behind the cult. Wait. You can't call it a cult, though, or you could get sued. Or have your life ruined. Or your finances. Or be deported. Or any number of things that seem too unbelievable to have happened to normal people. It seems strange how people can even get roped into something like this. It all started as a MLM (multi-level marketing) scheme and went from there. And Keith Raniere doesn't seem like someone who could get thousands of people to believe in him and his malarcky. But he did. They did. There was even a "sorority" that branded his initials onto their bodies. Crazy. This book was fascinating and I don't even understand how the author/journalist sleeps at night after researching something like this subject. *Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the e-ARC.*

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amy Dufera - Amy's MM Romance Reviews

    When I saw the cover for Sarah Berman's Don't Call it a Cult, I knew I needed to read this book. If you haven't heard of Keith Raniere and the NXIVM cult, where have you been? Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with this cult, as I am from the area. The rumors about the dangers were rampant for years. As well, I watched HBO's The Vow and learned ever more about the details. This book gave me even more of an insight into this insane cult. I am still in shock. If you've heard of NXIVM and want to When I saw the cover for Sarah Berman's Don't Call it a Cult, I knew I needed to read this book. If you haven't heard of Keith Raniere and the NXIVM cult, where have you been? Unfortunately, I am all too familiar with this cult, as I am from the area. The rumors about the dangers were rampant for years. As well, I watched HBO's The Vow and learned ever more about the details. This book gave me even more of an insight into this insane cult. I am still in shock. If you've heard of NXIVM and want to learn more, read this book. If you are interested in how people fall into cults, read this book. The author gives an in-depth recounting of how NXIVM started and how it all evolved, as well as how it unraveled and details of the trials. This is a heavy read that is not easy to consume. But it's all too realistic and riveting. Don't Call it a Cult is a fascinating read. I know I'll be recommending this book to many of my friends and family.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jarrah

    Investigative journalist Sarah Berman has written an absolutely gripping, thorough, unflinching look at NXIVM, Keith Raniere's cult that masqueraded as a personal empowerment program before the criminal activities of Raniere and some key associates brought it all crashing down. Berman doesn't take a strictly linear approach to the narrative but smoothly guides the reader through themes and individuals' stories that illustrate Raniere and NXIVM's most insidious and disturbing practices. Even if y Investigative journalist Sarah Berman has written an absolutely gripping, thorough, unflinching look at NXIVM, Keith Raniere's cult that masqueraded as a personal empowerment program before the criminal activities of Raniere and some key associates brought it all crashing down. Berman doesn't take a strictly linear approach to the narrative but smoothly guides the reader through themes and individuals' stories that illustrate Raniere and NXIVM's most insidious and disturbing practices. Even if you've already listened to the CBC podcast and watched both documentary miniseries, Berman's book will improve your understanding of the NXIVM case immeasurably. Her attention to detail clarifies key events and interpersonal dynamics and her journalistic distance gives her what feels like a more clear-sighted view into the players. She approaches former cult members with empathy and doesn't downplay what they went through, but she also doesn't pick out heroes for us.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Valerity (Val)

    This book turned out to be very thorough on the subject, which has been bouncing around the news for quite a few years now. It seemed that no matter how much I tried to ignore it at first, it still managed to capture my attention with the more and more bizarre stories that kept coming out. I thought I knew quite a bit for an interested reader, but I found that there was much more to it as I got further into it. I think most are fairly familiar with the Executive Success Program, which later becam This book turned out to be very thorough on the subject, which has been bouncing around the news for quite a few years now. It seemed that no matter how much I tried to ignore it at first, it still managed to capture my attention with the more and more bizarre stories that kept coming out. I thought I knew quite a bit for an interested reader, but I found that there was much more to it as I got further into it. I think most are fairly familiar with the Executive Success Program, which later became NXIUM. When stories started coming out at long last, they were almost afraid to go after the story too hard and make them angry because of the money and power that had been amassed. They were known for suing those who didn’t please them, or running a campaign of harassment. But the more that was found out and then confirmed, about rumors of cult-like behaviors behind the secrecy, and worse, drove it to become a huge story. After a couple of insiders left the group and compared notes, it became clear that there was a serious problem. For anyone with an interest in this group and what happened, this is an excellent source of information to learn about it. It’s amazing, the amount of details that seemed to have come out at the trial, and all of the craziness that was going on. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Sarah Berman, and the publisher.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Paperwitch

    This book is an in depth look at cults, and how they are able to present themselves to people as positive forces in the world. I was hooked on each page, and completely aghast at the actions of human beings. Overall this has been added to my list of favorite nonfictions. It is made up of interviews, personal accounts, and factual reports. I have previously not read anything on this particular cult, and was completely taken aback at the extremity of a cult that had penetrated the rich and famous. This book is an in depth look at cults, and how they are able to present themselves to people as positive forces in the world. I was hooked on each page, and completely aghast at the actions of human beings. Overall this has been added to my list of favorite nonfictions. It is made up of interviews, personal accounts, and factual reports. I have previously not read anything on this particular cult, and was completely taken aback at the extremity of a cult that had penetrated the rich and famous. This novel was written with taste and sensitivity, and did not victim blame or hold any obvious opinions. It is a factual account, and a complex one at that. I would recommend this book highly! I want to sincerely thank Netgalley and the publisher for giving me chance to review this ARC. I will be purchasing it!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tai

    Wow. Just wow. I was aware of NXIVM, but this situation is considerably deeper than I thought. Sarah Berman does a wonderful job of weaving the story in a way that isn't overwhelming. If you were to look at the history of Keith Raniere, it would not be what would be called linear. He was weaving lies on top of lies and building a very large web. In this Berman compares him to a spider luring prey in and trapping it. That couldn't be more accurate. I'm glad that the author did such a good job rep Wow. Just wow. I was aware of NXIVM, but this situation is considerably deeper than I thought. Sarah Berman does a wonderful job of weaving the story in a way that isn't overwhelming. If you were to look at the history of Keith Raniere, it would not be what would be called linear. He was weaving lies on top of lies and building a very large web. In this Berman compares him to a spider luring prey in and trapping it. That couldn't be more accurate. I'm glad that the author did such a good job representing the victims and their many stories. There's a consistent theme between the victims but she makes sure to make all the victims people. This was very well written and put together. There is ample information and resources cited. I loved reading this, honestly. It gives off the true crime/cult vibes but has considerably less murder.

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