Book Review: Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky

Thomas Reddy By Thomas Reddy, 7th Jul 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Books>Society, Politics & Philosophy

Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals teaches the lessons any community organizer needs to learn to understand how to effect social and political change through tactics and fundamentals in community organizing. Tactics used by the Clintons and the Obamas

Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky

Published in 1971 during one of the most explosive times in the history of the United States, it was the time of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the desegregation of education, woman’s rights movements. In the tumultuous decade of the 1960s, we saw the assassinations of leaders from both the political and civil rights movements: John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. Mr. Alinsky was inspired to write this book that serves as the playbook for many organizers and politicos today. It was born from Mr. Alinsky's 40 years as a community organizer. Before we get into the aspects of the book, we need to know the background of the author.

Who was Saul Alinsky

Saul Alinsky was born in 1909 and died June 12, 1972, one year after Rules for Radicals was published. He was one of the founders of modern community organizing and perfected his craft over four decades. Mr. Alinsky was a champion of the poor and a leader in the African-American ghettos becoming their champion fighting to improve their living conditions and opportunities for employment and betterment. His focus in his early days were the ghettos in Chicago but soon took his fight on the road to major cities across the country focusing again on the ghettos in Michigan, California, and New York City. His work has been commended many people and adopted by many in the mainstream as well as counter-culture organizers.

Testimonials to Alinsky and his thoughts on organizing

Time magazine once said about Alinsky, “ American democracy is being altered by Alinsky's ideas." Both Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama have both said that they were indirectly influenced by the doctrines of community organizing that Alinsky preached. Conservative pundit and author William F. Buckley once said, “Alinsky is very close to being an organizational genius." In Hillary Clinton's 1969 college Political Science Thesis, she wrote it on the 1946 Saul; Alinsky book, “Reveille for Radicals.” Her thesis title was “There is only the fight...” An Analysis of the Alinsky Model. This totally refutes Hilary Clinton saying that Alinsky was only an indirect influence.

Life thru the eyes of Saul Alinsky

Alinsky saw the United States fight two World Wars, Korea and the Vietnam War. He saw the country change from peace time to war time and back again many times over. He experienced the Great Depression as a 20 year old man and even though he was an archaeologist by education, he found his way naturally to become a leader and a person that changed the mindset of a nation for the betterment of entire classes of people thru community organizing.

“Rules For Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer For Realistic Radicals”

The book is an amazing look at the times of a community organizer that effected change for 40 years of his life. The book is a how-to for modern organizers to follow to effect change. The tactics used in the book are the playbooks that many have used to change political elections to effecting change for better health, laws giving people equal rights, and recently seen in the legalizing of gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana. The 2008 Presidential election saw the Alinsky rules laid out in the book used effectively for the second time in political history with it's fundamentals in grassroots political campaigning. Bill and Hilary Clinton used these rules the first time when Bill was elected President and Obama used the same playbook when he ran and successfully became President of the United States even though he had such limited political experience. Barack Obama has always been a community organizer and follower and practitioner of Alinsky rules for organizing. Companies use Alinsky's rules everyday to get support of their bad business practices like: lack of medical plans for their employees, justification not to raise the minimum wage above poverty levels, fracking, tax loopholes, and government tax credits and subsidies that afford them the opportunity not to pay any federal corporate taxes, etc.

The Basic Ideas of Rules for Radicals

Saul Alinsky laid out his Rules for Radicals very simply. He stated that there are three classes of people: “The Haves,” “The Have-Nots,” and “Have-a-Little, Want Mores,” they are the rich, the poor and the middle class, respectively. In the book, each chapter has one lesson to teach a rule to empower a community to organize and effect social and/or political change. All of these rules have been used successfully by labor unions, governments, politicos and community organizations.


Rules for Radicals and Mr. Alinsky have been criticized and demonized as a brand of socialism and communism. It's funny to me, the people that do this demonizing are actually taking a page straight out of Alinsky's book and trying to influence people by making Alinsky the evil party. A great tactic and Mr. Alinsky would be the first to applaud them. Some say the Alinsky movement is akin to a “movement without morals,” but I think it is a pragmatic dogma of realism. All things have a duality. The discovery of nuclear energy was a great day for mankind, it gave us a source of clean energy and allowed us to move away from oil and coal as our primary methods for generating electricity and power. But at the same time, some genius figured out that the splitting of the atom could be used to kill millions of people at a touch of a button. Mr. Alinsky's words have the same duality of purpose. Some will use it to fight the good fight. They will use his ideas for noble thoughts to help mankind. Others will use the same thoughts for evil. This duality of man has nothing to do with Alinsky but is a barometer of the human spirit and that can't be changed.

My opinion

I feel empowered everytime I read the book. I have read it a least 10 times, re-discovering many new ideas as I re-read certain chapters. I look at some of the political and social organizing today and as a “graduate” of the books of Alinsky, the tactics they use amuse me as they are readily identifiable to any student of Alinsky, which I am. I don't of course agree with Alinsky on all points and I am NOT affiliated with any political party nor have I ever been. I have voted both sides of the aisle and see intelligence and stupidity in both party's rhetoric. I see myself as a fiscally responsible libertarian on some issues and a conservative on others. I am torn on many political issues like gun control. I respect that all people have a right to be treated equal but am also realistic to understand that even though some may say it is okay to behave a certain way, that doesn't make it so. I love the book, Rules for Radicals, and think that it should be a mandated read in high school. Every American should want to read it to understand when they are being played for a sucker by some slick community organizer or corporation. Read the book and become educated. It is a short book, 244 pages in total length and under $8.44 at Amazon. You will have a knowledge but few possess in the general populace of he United States.

Sources: Hilary Clinto College Thesis, Best of Beck, Crossroad, Nuke Gingrich, Townhall, Front Page Mag


Book Review Rules For Radicals By Saul Alinsky, Hilary Clinton And Saul Alinsky, Political And Social Organizing, President Barack Obama And Saul Alinsky, The 2008 Presidential Election And Saul Alinsky

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author avatar Thomas Reddy
Thomas is a freelance writer for various websites. A professional football bettor and poker player. Consultant/trainer for automotive dealerships throughout the United States. Has lived

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author avatar Joyce Singha
10th Jul 2014 (#)

This was a very objective review although I wouldn't go as far to actually read this book. From excerpts, it seems a perfect narrative for radicals, for those who look at society in very black and white colors; this or that not somewhere in the middle. Obama certainly seems to have been influenced by Alinsky thinking but I wonder why he was so reluctant to acknowledge this, especially when he was running for president or even people around him who influenced him, the latter completely thrown under the bus!
But you did a good job by stating as many points as you could.

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