Review: Do As I Say by Sarah Steel


Title: Do As I Say: How Cults Control, Why We Join Them, and What They Teach Us About Bullying, Abuse and Coercion

Author: Sarah Steel

Published: 28th June 2022, Macmillan Australia

Status: Read July 2022 courtesy PanMacmillan


My Thoughts:

Sarah Steel, the creator and host of the popular ‘Let’s Talk About Sects’ podcast, examines the dynamics of cults and the people involved with them in Do As I Say: How Cults Control, Why We Join Them, and What They Teach Us About Bullying, Abuse and Coercion.

The definition of a cult is not always clear, but most of us are certain we would recognise one, so I found it interesting that many of the former members (who weren’t born into one) interviewed by Steel claim they didn’t join a cult, they joined ‘a group’ or ‘a movement’ or’ a community’, and it was only much later, some not until after they’d left, that they recognised they had been recruited into a cult. They’d often been vulnerable at the time, not because they were naive or unintelligent as people are wont to think, but because they were at a turning point in their lives and searching for purpose or a sense belonging.

Toxic cults, Steel demonstrates, are incredibly adept at promising to have the answers for those seeking them, and irrespective of country, culture or belief system, share similar unhealthy traits designed to impose control on their followers. Steel explores the tactics they exploit to recruit and keep members, and why people, especially women, find it so difficult to leave once they become enmeshed. It’s far more complicated than you might think and Steel, sharing fascinating firsthand accounts and meticulous research, provides thoughtful insight into the issues.

Steel also addresses the elements of cultic behaviour that can be found in a range of societal organisations including mainstream religion, MLM companies, political groups, fandoms, and street gangs. There is some discussion about conspiracy theories including those that have arisen due to the pandemic. I appreciated the focus on cults operating in Australia, somewhat surprised to how many have a foothold here, though often these are an offshoot of North American or British groups imported via the global reach of the internet, and disappointed to learn that Australia’s weak whistle-blower laws offer them so much protection.

Written in an almost conversational tone, Do As I Say reads well. I particularly like that Steel allows for individuals to share their personal stories. I do think the book could benefit from some boxouts to highlight or summarise points made in the narrative though.

Do As I Say is an interesting, thought-provoking read that should suit a range of readers interested in the topic. In her conclusion, Steel suggests transparency, empathy, bridging and education, especially in regards to understanding coercive control, is a way to not only combat unhealthy cults, but will also help those caught in abusive intimate relationships. Certainly something needs to change as society increasingly veers towards absolutism.


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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. WendyW
    Sep 07, 2022 @ 13:38:09

    I’ve always been interested in cults, and why people join, so this is fascinating to me.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Mystica
    Sep 07, 2022 @ 22:20:33

    I dont think I’ve read a book revolving around cults as yet. Sounds intriguing.



  3. cleemckenzie
    Sep 08, 2022 @ 00:57:21

    There’s nothing more terrifying to me than cults and cult following mentality. I’m fascinated by why these things exist and why people follow mindlessly.



  4. Laurie+C
    Sep 08, 2022 @ 20:02:33

    I read a book about cults recently, but this one sounds good, too. I can see how it would be easy to get caught up in something cultish without realizing it at first!

    Liked by 1 person


  5. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out
  6. Helen Murdoch
    Sep 12, 2022 @ 05:29:51

    Cults are fascinting and I think one of the things that draws us to learn about them is wondering “how could those people have joined?!” but the leaders are very clever and play on people’s weaknesses.

    Liked by 1 person


  7. laurareadingbooksagain
    Sep 16, 2022 @ 21:41:38

    It’s pretty awful that people have enough emotional pain to get sucked into these cults.

    Liked by 1 person


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