The Power Elite, Paperback
4.5 out of 5 (4 ratings)


First published in 1956, The Power Elite stands as a contemporary classic of social science and social criticism.

C. Wright Mills examines and critiques the organization of power in the United States, calling attention to three firmly interlocked prongs of power: the military, corporate, and political elite.

The Power Elite can be read as a good account of what was taking place in America at the time it was written, but its underlying question of whether America is as democratic in practice as it is in theory continues to matter very much today.

What The Power Elite informed readers of in 1956 was how much the organization of power in America had changed during their lifetimes, and Alan Wolfe's astute afterword to this new edition brings us up to date, illustrating how much more has changed since then. Wolfe sorts out what is helpful in Mills book and which of his predictions have not come to bear, laying out the radical changes in American capitalism, from intense global competition and the collapse of communism to rapid technological transformations and ever changing consumer tastes. The Power Elite has stimulated generations of readers to think about the kind of society they have and the kind of society they might want, and deserves to be read by every new generation.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 448 pages, 2 tables
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Society & culture: general
  • ISBN: 9780195133547



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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

Excellent sociology. Somewhat detailed and overwhelming near the middle but the ending is worth the wait.

Review by

4 stars because it's a classic in the field and it's well written. Pinko commie propaganda! The afterword by Alan Wolfe is worth reading. C. Wright Mills was well known in the 1950's as a sharp critic of the power structures of American Societies. I read this book because I really liked his "The Sociological Imagination," another classic in the field.

Review by

Perhaps one of the best, most detailed analyses of the power holders and power structure of the United States I've read so far. C. Wright Mills spares nothing in his description of the various groups that play a role within the power elite--the upper class (top 2%), the government, the military, the corporations--and how they take advantage of their positions and interactions with one another to reduce the public to a politically empty mass and to circumvent the Constitution and Law for their own gain. It is a weighty tome and does not lend itself to be read quickly. I marked much in this book, seeing uncanny similarities between the political world Mills described in 1956 and the one we see today. Nothing really has changed, only the names of the players are new. His deep and logical processing of information demonstrates quite clearly how the People, who are supposed to be the political "backbone" of this nation and the true inheritors of its political and economic power, have been unwittingly manipulated into a position in which the only "power" they retain is that of creating and maintaining a stalemate with other mid-level political blocs which, in turn, vie for their own slice of the ever-shrinking political and economic pie. Although not necessarily done deliberately, the power elite have used mass media, advertising, public relations, Hollywood celebrity and other propaganda tools to relegate the public to a position of powerlessness. The masses may believe they have a say in the policy decisions that the government enacts, but in most cases these decisions have already been made and it is simply the work of PR consultants and corporations to maneuver the public into accepting them. What is so frightening about The Power Elite is how so little has changed for the better. Rather than becoming more aware of this situation because of the increase in media resources, we have become more blinded by the ever-present barrage of media images, sounds and glamour. As Mills rightly assesses, the masses have bought into the neo-liberal rhetoric co-opted by the conservative factions to legitimize their authoritarian position without having to actually reveal their intentions or the glaring flaw in their position: they have no basis in any real American tradition, and rely on the ever-changing present to keep the masses constantly off-guard and confused in order to obscure the fact that there is no real conservative ideology based on the same kinds of tradition found in Western European feudalism.I also found the afterword by Alan Wolfe unrepresentative of Mills's work. It was meant to somehow give a contemporary critique of this work in light of our time, but unfortunately much changed in 2001 and with these changes we can now see what our predecessors could not. In times of prosperity, people find comfort in their caves--why venture too far beyond when the benefits inside are so satisfying? Yet, with economic uncertainty and global instability (climate change, war, uprisings, etc.) we are now having to face squarely what we tried to ignore the decade prior. Mills offers us a way to view the power structures of our nation with clear eyes and no illusions. It's a book everyone should read.

Review by

Lucid explanation of American 'aristocracies'. Slightly outdated, but not nearly as much as I had anticipated. Simplistic, but still insightful.