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Don't Call It a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of NXIVM

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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 labor. Mentorship. Multi-level marketing. Gaslighting. Investigative journalist Sarah Berman explores the shocking practices of N 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 labor. 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 labor. Mentorship. Multi-level marketing. Gaslighting. Investigative journalist Sarah Berman explores the shocking practices of N 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 labor. 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

    Diane S ☔

    My TV viewing is usually minimal, sports and nature, history documentaries in the main. So, I knew little of this cult, case nor of the famous people that were involved. I do remember hearing that Raniere received 120 years as the leader. I do, however, have an interest in cults, or rather the psychology of the people who fully embrace this mindset. I think it's doubly important now, as it is my opinion and many others, that a part of our country is now embracing a cultist mindset, believing thi My TV viewing is usually minimal, sports and nature, history documentaries in the main. So, I knew little of this cult, case nor of the famous people that were involved. I do remember hearing that Raniere received 120 years as the leader. I do, however, have an interest in cults, or rather the psychology of the people who fully embrace this mindset. I think it's doubly important now, as it is my opinion and many others, that a part of our country is now embracing a cultist mindset, believing things that rational people can truly see as lies. This book and the reporting on this case was well done and informative. Telling the stories of the people involved brought home how insidious the tactics used brought them slowly into a net from which they found not escape. How Raniere used his supposed magnetic personality to convince each woman they were special to him. Branding them with an iron to mark them, unbelievable that this didn't send them running. It would for me. Unbelievable the extent some will go for power over others, and that so many would allow themselves to become victims. ARC from Edelweiss

  3. 5 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. 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!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Johann (jobis89)

    4/4.5 stars. I knew a little about NXIVM but now my eyes have been opened entirely!! This was wild.

  6. 4 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 4 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 the evil Keith Raniere did, and was sometimes celebrated for, simply reflected larger societal views of women's bodies and men's power. (This is especially true for the bodies of young and pretty women.) (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 live This is a good piece of true crime that takes on specific acts and events and contextualizes them. It lays out how much of the evil Keith Raniere did, and was sometimes celebrated for, simply reflected larger societal views of women's bodies and men's power. (This is especially true for the bodies of young and pretty women.) (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.) Berman also writes about events and practices that are worse than what we saw on The Vow, and that series 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 through liturgy than through 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 smartest man in the world, 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 and you comply? 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 Berman 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. This book 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 4 out of 5

    George Ilsley

    This group was very active in Vancouver, and traded on the success of certain famous people in the acting field to market their business. Those famous connections also made the downfall of this organization all the more newsworthy when the scandal hit the fan. Like many self-help groups, or self-esteem or empowerment workshops, etc. there can be elements of value to the participants and the challenge is knowing when the boundaries are being pushed—too far, in a good way? or in a bad way? If you've This group was very active in Vancouver, and traded on the success of certain famous people in the acting field to market their business. Those famous connections also made the downfall of this organization all the more newsworthy when the scandal hit the fan. Like many self-help groups, or self-esteem or empowerment workshops, etc. there can be elements of value to the participants and the challenge is knowing when the boundaries are being pushed—too far, in a good way? or in a bad way? If you've followed the story at all in the news, you probably know most of this book already. Three hundred pages was a bit of a slog. There is such a disconnect between people on the outside and people on the inside of this unfolding drama. For people on the inside, now relating their stories, it becomes tedious and inexplicable why they continued to cooperate. Of course there were people who just took one workshop and said, this is not for me, and they don't feature in the extended narrative. Only those who became the most committed and devoted rode this train to the end of the line. And also, the leaders demanded "collateral" which were confessions or naked pictures that they used as a means of controlling insiders. On the outside, in retrospect, it seems like such obvious extortion and crude blackmailing that one wonders how it all went as far as it did. As often is the case, I was left with the question — how did this leader and his coterie of enablers manage to be so charismatic, so charming, so compelling? To me, on the outside, this question is still unanswered. The book is well-written but does drag, bogged down with repetitive details about patterns of behaviour that go on and on and are not fun or interesting. There is an emptiness at the centre of this book, and perhaps that —sadly— reflects the subject matter.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Erin Kelly

    Sometimes when I walk my dog, he does number-two in the grass and there’s this one tiny piece of poop that hangs there for a while before falling. That little piece of crap dangling out of my dog’s butt is worth more than ten Keith Ranieres. This is a thorough and well-researched work of NF about a child molester, serial abuser, and rapist who claimed to be the smartest man in the world but was actually a piece of human garbage.

  12. 5 out of 5

    ABookwormWithWine

    Don't Call It a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of NXIVM by Sarah Berman was utterly fascinating and if you are a fan of true crime, I highly recommend it. I listened to the audiobook which is narrated by Ewa Wolniczek and was rather disappointed Berman didn't choose to narrate it herself, but Wolniczek was still fantastic. I don't know if it was the speed I was listening at, but sometimes she seemed to end chapters very abruptly and that was my only complaint about the a Don't Call It a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of NXIVM by Sarah Berman was utterly fascinating and if you are a fan of true crime, I highly recommend it. I listened to the audiobook which is narrated by Ewa Wolniczek and was rather disappointed Berman didn't choose to narrate it herself, but Wolniczek was still fantastic. I don't know if it was the speed I was listening at, but sometimes she seemed to end chapters very abruptly and that was my only complaint about the audio. It could definitely just be a 'me' thing though, and I loved her voice and completely enjoyed listening to it even when that would happen. Going into this I really knew nothing at all about Raniere or NXIVM and this was such an informative read. I feel like I learned a ton about both the cult and the man behind it, and it blows my mind he was able to get away with that crap for so long. Even though I listened to the audio, I also grabbed a physical copy from the library, and I am really happy I did. Berman helpfully includes a cast of characters list at the beginning of the book, as well as a few photos of various members in the middle. I loved being able to look at the important people from the book in the list and also being able to reference that list when looking at the pictures, so I highly recommend getting a physical copy for that reason. Berman included a short description of who each person was in the list and basically what they were 'known for' having to do with NXIVM and it was so helpful. Don't Call It a Cult is packed full of information about the women of NXIVM and I basically love anything having to do with cults, so I was completely sold on that aspect. This was an addicting read and probably one of the best nonfiction books I have read besides memoirs. I love reading books from investigative journalists and it is clear that Berman really did her research here.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jojo

    Don’t Call it a Cult is definitely about a cult. It is so well written, piecing together interviews, paper articles and court testimonies, and turning it into a full breakdown of how this cult developed and transformed over them. It’s so much information packed into 292 pages, I found myself re-reading parts in an attempt to keep up. Over all if it’s a non fiction book you’re after, this is the book. If you are intrigued by Scientology, no worries, there are some mentions in here too. And most i Don’t Call it a Cult is definitely about a cult. It is so well written, piecing together interviews, paper articles and court testimonies, and turning it into a full breakdown of how this cult developed and transformed over them. It’s so much information packed into 292 pages, I found myself re-reading parts in an attempt to keep up. Over all if it’s a non fiction book you’re after, this is the book. If you are intrigued by Scientology, no worries, there are some mentions in here too. And most importantly, if you want to be in the know of the sex cult of the 2000s, well here it is. ENJOY

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jonelle

    This book was a bit of a slog. I think possibly it is targeted toward people who already know a fair bit about NXIVM and are looking for a really deep dive behind the scenes, but as someone who knew almost nothing about it, I felt that it spent a lot of time on details I didn't care about and almost no time at all on things I did want to know more about. More info about the classes themselves would have been great. I understand that they were meant to appeal to people who wanted to become the be This book was a bit of a slog. I think possibly it is targeted toward people who already know a fair bit about NXIVM and are looking for a really deep dive behind the scenes, but as someone who knew almost nothing about it, I felt that it spent a lot of time on details I didn't care about and almost no time at all on things I did want to know more about. More info about the classes themselves would have been great. I understand that they were meant to appeal to people who wanted to become the best versions of themselves, but what made these classes stand out from all of the other self-help programs out there? What was the "hook" that drew people in so effectively? A lot of time was spent explaining how the classes were actually thinly veiled attempts to program compliance, but what always fascinates me about cults is pinpointing the aspects of them that would appeal to the average person. I think possibly the author herself struggled to understand the appeal, so the book did not really convey this very well. I also wanted to hear more about the "average" NXIVM student. The book focuses heavily on the inner circle but also alludes to the fact that most NXIVM students and coaches believed that Keith Raniere was living a life of celibacy and self-denial, so clearly these people were having a completely different experience of NXIVM. What kept these people coming back? Were they also being brainwashed, but to a lesser extent? Was NXIVM actually benefiting them in some way? And for all the details we get about the NXIVM inner circle, I really wanted a different angle there as well. There are hints that a lot of these women were going through specific circumstances that made them particularly susceptible to the message of NXIVM, but I wanted to hear a lot more about that. I think there has to be more going on there than just, "These actors/financial advisors wanted to be more successful in their careers." And how did we get to Mexico in the prologue?? The book never really circled back to that, so it was super unclear to me what the sequence of events was that led to Raniere hiding out in Mexico. Did NXIVM disband during this time? Did Raniere's entire inner circle follow him down there? The arrest also seemed to be what broke the illusion for Lauren Salzman and possibly Allison Mack, so I would have loved to hear more about that. And what about Barbara Bouchey and Kristin Keeffe? The book mentions that they banded together to take down NXIVM but doesn't really say how. I do think this is a really interesting and tragic story, but for as long as this book was, I was kind of left with more questions than answers. I'm planning to watch The Vow on HBO because I think seeing footage of some of the videos that are referenced and hearing firsthand accounts may help connect some of the dots for me in a way that this book didn't.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    Cults gonna cult. No matter how many non-fiction cult explorations I read, I continue to be fascinated by how they start, grow, and continue. Berman seems to have done a meticulous job researching and laying out all of the people and details associated with Nxivm. I appreciated the attention to detail on the criminal investigation and results, but felt this could have been greatly improved with more personal stories to help link the move from fact to fact to fact, especially since it lacked a ti Cults gonna cult. No matter how many non-fiction cult explorations I read, I continue to be fascinated by how they start, grow, and continue. Berman seems to have done a meticulous job researching and laying out all of the people and details associated with Nxivm. I appreciated the attention to detail on the criminal investigation and results, but felt this could have been greatly improved with more personal stories to help link the move from fact to fact to fact, especially since it lacked a timeline or a section to help keep all of the major players straight. It reads more like Berman's extensive notes in sentence form rather than a well told narrative of events. Interesting deep dive into a current cult but was left wanting for a more personal connection to people's experiences.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Sarah Berman was incredibly thorough in her detailing of Keith Raniere’s manipulative tactics and facade. I found the information in Don’t Call it a Cult fascinating and disturbing, although never wholly shocking. One of the most frightening things, on a personal level, is that some of what Raniere said and did was familiar. I’ve known a few like him, pillars of their own community - arrogant and controlling, nonetheless. Anyone who questions them becomes the outcast, while others stand by their Sarah Berman was incredibly thorough in her detailing of Keith Raniere’s manipulative tactics and facade. I found the information in Don’t Call it a Cult fascinating and disturbing, although never wholly shocking. One of the most frightening things, on a personal level, is that some of what Raniere said and did was familiar. I’ve known a few like him, pillars of their own community - arrogant and controlling, nonetheless. Anyone who questions them becomes the outcast, while others stand by their side, squelching any unsettling notion that bubbles in their gut. I think cult leaders, bullies, and abusers are all one in the same, although individuals like Raniere have such a wide reach with the people they cause indelible harm to. I learned something very valuable from this book: When encountering people like Raniere, many do have their doubts, but no one is voicing them, and fear is a prominent factor in this. Those doubts, when stifled by silence, can make it easier for manipulation to take place. It makes sense that these women were afraid. Raniere lured them in with false promises of betterment and weaponized their vulnerable secrets. It seems following his lead was a method of self-preservation, although it was contradictingly destructive - slowly, painfully. There was a lot of deeply distressing information to digest in Don’t Call it a Cult and it could easily be triggering for anyone who has experienced abuse or sexual assault. Please keep that in mind before you pick it up. Berman did a fantastic job delving into the cult dynamics of NXIVM, making it easy to understand how people were absorbed by it. She shines a light on our own crippling blind spots in the process, helping readers identify the red flags of a narcissist, the alluring disguise of toxic positivity, and the ease with which weapons are created out of our own silent shame.

  17. 5 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.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex Gruenenfelder

    This book is a disturbing and intense dive into the NXIVM cult. What was introduced first to viewing audiences as a sex cult with B-list celebrities is revealed in its full form. NXIVM was a sexual assault and coercion-driven cult, built on top of a pyramid scheme, and shielded from the law through power, privilege, and money. For those who are survivors of sexual violence or trafficking, this book could prove triggering. The story of NXIVM is the story of Keith Raniere, a textbook manipulative p This book is a disturbing and intense dive into the NXIVM cult. What was introduced first to viewing audiences as a sex cult with B-list celebrities is revealed in its full form. NXIVM was a sexual assault and coercion-driven cult, built on top of a pyramid scheme, and shielded from the law through power, privilege, and money. For those who are survivors of sexual violence or trafficking, this book could prove triggering. The story of NXIVM is the story of Keith Raniere, a textbook manipulative psychopath from childhood and a career con man. Going unpunished for so long, this book traces his life and his crimes until his unavoidable comeuppance. With the women of NXIVM being largely white and wealthy, and with BDSM and polyamory being more accepted in the present, one on the surface could try to dismiss this case. It is important to acknowledge it, however, precisely because it brings up these important questions for our society. Gaslighting, plural relationships, and consent are all tackled and the audience is left grappling with this window into a cultish mirror of our society. It is also important to acknowledge that this was not just a small, petty scheme: tens of millions of dollars were thrown at Raniere's scams. The members were not just fringe weirdos: some of them were powerful, and others just hung on the peripherals of privilege through wealth. It was rooted in financial crimes as well as sexual ones, with the victims being both adults and children. It's a really sad true crime saga, with more time spent on legal capers and weaponized psychology than typical violent activity. The lines of criminal and victim blur in this story. The audience is sucked into what it was to be part of this cult, and in the process is forced to question a wide range of topics that made it possible. True crime readers will enjoy this story, cult lovers will rave about it, and everyday people will find it continuing to gnaw at their brains unceasingly. I recommend it to all three groups.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Rousselle

    4.5 stars 🥲 For a non-fiction book, this read a lot like fiction (which is credit to the author but also sad that so many of these events seemed to insane to be true). I knew nothing about NXIVM going in and now I feel like I honestly might know too much. A frank portrait of privilege, extreme gaslighting, and sexual manipulation — would recommend to anyone who likes true crime (or even just mystery/thrillers) and is interested to learn about the fucked up things a “genius” is willing to do to v 4.5 stars 🥲 For a non-fiction book, this read a lot like fiction (which is credit to the author but also sad that so many of these events seemed to insane to be true). I knew nothing about NXIVM going in and now I feel like I honestly might know too much. A frank portrait of privilege, extreme gaslighting, and sexual manipulation — would recommend to anyone who likes true crime (or even just mystery/thrillers) and is interested to learn about the fucked up things a “genius” is willing to do to very powerful women

  20. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Earle

    Great explanation of what happened in the cult. Liked how the book didn’t focus on just on person. Compulsively readable

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sheena

    I’ve never heard of the NXIVM case which is actually quite surprising as how messed up Keith Raniere is. There’s a Ponzi-scheme business where women are seeking creative coaching and networking opportunities but leads to sex trafficking, abuse, enslavement, and so much more horrific events. I thought this was interesting and heart breaking, as true crime usually is. I think hearing about the people who were affected by it really puts things in perspective. That being said, I thought that this ki I’ve never heard of the NXIVM case which is actually quite surprising as how messed up Keith Raniere is. There’s a Ponzi-scheme business where women are seeking creative coaching and networking opportunities but leads to sex trafficking, abuse, enslavement, and so much more horrific events. I thought this was interesting and heart breaking, as true crime usually is. I think hearing about the people who were affected by it really puts things in perspective. That being said, I thought that this kind of veered off topic sometimes so I found myself getting bored at times. I do wish there was a little bit more background with some of the cases because I feel like they were they were introduced and then quickly moves onto a new topic. Thank you Netgalley for an advanced copy of the book!

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 4 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.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    A detailed, through and meticulously researched book of investigative journalism about the infamous NXIVM cult. Riveting reading indeed. Clearly and accessibly written, it kept me absorbed – and often horrified – throughout. Avoids sensationalism – just presents the facts. A compelling book – and an important one as it explores how such cults become so successful in duping the people who get caught up in them.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    This is a comprehensive explanation of what NXIVM was (I hope "was" is an accurate word for this cult), how it came to be, and how Keith Raniere was ultimately revealed to be the perverted self-indulgent coward that he is. When I first heard about NXIVM I thought it was something that had to have happened "a long time ago", but it happened recently and to people who were (mostly) adults, many of them even educated and successful, and living good solid lives. This kind of trickery can happen to a This is a comprehensive explanation of what NXIVM was (I hope "was" is an accurate word for this cult), how it came to be, and how Keith Raniere was ultimately revealed to be the perverted self-indulgent coward that he is. When I first heard about NXIVM I thought it was something that had to have happened "a long time ago", but it happened recently and to people who were (mostly) adults, many of them even educated and successful, and living good solid lives. This kind of trickery can happen to anyone ... and does (Scientology for one example). Which blows my mind, but who doesn't like improving themselves? I was able to see how the sneaky deception could creep up on people. Whenever an example of someone who just couldn't continue due to their bullshit meter going off, I wanted to cheer for them. This begins with a "cast of characters", which I found to be helpful to refer back while reading. It ends with explaining the court proceedings and sentencing, which I also appreciate so much. ...and now maybe someone needs to research and write about how these liars and abusers find lawyers who will actually defend them.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mike McAdam

    I basically hung on every word. Investigative journalism is my favorite genre and this is the perfect example why. This story was RIVETING from the very beginning to the very end. I also watched THE VOW on HBO (too long - 9 episodes that easily could have been told in 4 but still fascinating) and SEDUCED: INSIDE THE NXIVM CULT on STARZ (by far the better show). Those 2 shows and this book all had information that the other 2 didn't have and watching both of those while listening to this audioboo I basically hung on every word. Investigative journalism is my favorite genre and this is the perfect example why. This story was RIVETING from the very beginning to the very end. I also watched THE VOW on HBO (too long - 9 episodes that easily could have been told in 4 but still fascinating) and SEDUCED: INSIDE THE NXIVM CULT on STARZ (by far the better show). Those 2 shows and this book all had information that the other 2 didn't have and watching both of those while listening to this audiobook was very comprehensive and I am ready to move onto a different subject. I can't think of any gripes I have about this audiobook. I absolutely loved it. HIGHLY recommended.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Claire Bernacki

    All I can say is, Keith Raniere is such a trash individual who deserves his 120 years in prison. As someone who has read and studied this podcast, this brought new details to light.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I don't know if any one book can completely capture the full scope of NXIVM, but Berman does a good job of presenting the rise and fall of Keith Raniere. We read this for true crime book club, and most of us also dived deep into the documentaries and podcasts about the cult (I definitely recommend The Vow), which added to the discussion. If you don't know anything about NXIVM, basically Raniere stole the set up from Scientology and added in sex slaves and branding (I mean, as far as I know Scien I don't know if any one book can completely capture the full scope of NXIVM, but Berman does a good job of presenting the rise and fall of Keith Raniere. We read this for true crime book club, and most of us also dived deep into the documentaries and podcasts about the cult (I definitely recommend The Vow), which added to the discussion. If you don't know anything about NXIVM, basically Raniere stole the set up from Scientology and added in sex slaves and branding (I mean, as far as I know Scientology doesn't do the branding, not sure about sex slaves).

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sofia Sofia

    Absolutely gripping, fantastic writing, fantastic narrative and a lot of terrible, awful details I will wish I could forget for a long time. I hope Daniela and Camile and the rest of the women abused by Keith Raniere are able to somehow recover and live long, happy, healthy lives.

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