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Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds [Paperback]

Charles Mackay , Andrew Tobias
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 25 1995
A complete repackaging of the classic work about grand-scale madness, major schemes, and bamboozlement--and the universal human susceptibility to all three. This informative, funny collection encompasses a broad range of manias and deceptions, from witch burnings to the Great Crusades to the prophecies of Nostradamus.

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Why do otherwise intelligent individuals form seething masses of idiocy when they engage in collective action? Why do financially sensible people jump lemming-like into hare-brained speculative frenzies--only to jump broker-like out of windows when their fantasies dissolve? We may think that the Great Crash of 1929, junk bonds of the '80s, and over-valued high-tech stocks of the '90s are peculiarly 20th century aberrations, but Mackay's classic--first published in 1841--shows that the madness and confusion of crowds knows no limits, and has no temporal bounds. These are extraordinarily illuminating,and, unfortunately, entertaining tales of chicanery, greed and naivete. Essential reading for any student of human nature or the transmission of ideas.

In fact, cases such as Tulipomania in 1624--when Tulip bulbs traded at a higher price than gold--suggest the existence of what I would dub "Mackay's Law of Mass Action:" when it comes to the effect of social behavior on the intelligence of individuals, 1+1 is often less than 2, and sometimes considerably less than 0. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Charles Mackay (1814-1889) was born in Perth, Scotland. His mother died shortly after his birth, and his father, who had been in turn a Lieutenant on a Royal Navy sloop (captured and imprisoned for four years in France) and then an Ensign in the 47th foot taking part in the ill-fated Walcheren Expedition where he contracted malaria, sent young Charles to live with a nurse in Woolwich in 1822. After a couple of years' education in Brussels from 1828-1830, he became a journalist and songwriter in London. He worked on The Morning Chronicle from 1835-1844, when he was appointed Editor of The Glasgow Argus. His song The Good Time Coming sold 400,000 copies in 1846, the year that he was awarded his Doctorate of Literature by Glasgow University. He was a friend of influential figures such as Charles Dickens and Henry Russell, and moved to London to work on The Illustrated London News in 1848, and he became Editor of it in 1852. He was a correspondent for The Times during the American Civil War, but thereafter concentrated on writing books. Apart from Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, he is best remembered for his songs and his Dictionary of Lowland Scotch. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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The personal character and career of one man are so intimately connected with the great scheme of the years 1719 and 1720, that a history of the Mississippi madness can have no fitter introduction than a sketch of the life of its great author John Law. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Classic! And It's over 160 Years Old! Feb. 17 2004
Format:Paperback
Some fine reviews here, but my main point is how relevent this amazing book is even after 16-plus years! It's so well-written and current (up to the 1840's anyway), you could almost think it was written today! The tulip hysteria in 1640's Holland is so famous some recent novels have been written about it! But the 2 best parts are the Crusades, and the Witchhunting sections, both religious-based mass hysteria. In the author's introduction ,he states that religious hysteria and delusions are so numerous he can barely scratch the surface! And think what's happened since 1842! The book is a bit dense at times, but you'll be amazed at the mass delusions described, sometimes resulting in mass slaughter, notably in the "Crusades" chapter. But this book should be familiar to every educated person, and will always be a classic!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
While this book is somewhat difficult reading, being written in Dickensian Olde English (and you certainly don't have to read all of it to get the point) it should be required reading for every college student. Enron employees, who sunk their entire life savings' into one stock, would've also benefited from a thorough reading of this. Luckily, if you're young and you haven't read this yet, you don't have to join the ranks of the 401k-less ninnies who bought into all the hype of the late nineties.
If you are like most of us, you probably had a cube-mate who fashioned him/herself as a "Wall Street wizard" at some point in 1998; you probably had a good laugh as you watched an E*Trade commercial from around that era where the TV-addled couch potato chooses his stock picks based on what's being marketed to him on TV. Personally, I recall one example where a co-worker invested the entire contents of his children's college fund on a single stock purchase, bragging about his profits from said transaction to everyone! Never mind the fact that he could have very well left Johnny and Jenny putting themselves through the local community college and living at home; this was 1998, after all - the "New Economy" was going to transcend all of the limits that 'unprogressive' thinkers had ascribed to all earlier versions of the economy. The question is: are you going to believe the mucky-muck hack/establishment economist at _Barron's_, or learn lessons from history? This book is for those who prefer the latter.
This book is really a classic in critical thinking. Having read this around age 19, I couldn't help but think that the "New Economy" was mostly a bunch of balderdash and that nothing can permanently transcend fundamental economic principles. In fact, the .
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good history book Dec 28 2003
Format:Paperback
I bought this book primarily for the chapters on financial delusions, the first 120 or so pages of 740 page book. The finacial manias are well covered, and provided very valuable historical information for anyone who owns any investmensts of any kind. The themes behind these delusions are very interesting, and you can see these problems repeating today.
The rest of the book provides some very good historical information about various other manias. It was interesting, and I read most of the other chapters which were very interesting, but it is a 740 page book and I found myself skipping over portions of some of the later chapters.
I really liked that this book was written over 160 years ago. It focused on parts of world history I did not know enough about and I am glad I own this now.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Folly on parade Dec 28 2001
Format:Paperback
Mackay's catalogue of the human comedy,aside from the 1840 language,reads like any litany of contemporary idiocy.The book is long and sometimes dry,but the human,all too human desire to see our fellow mortals in their ignorance compels you to read on to the end.The obvious conclusion to be drawn from this book(or any book of history)is that the irrational is an unvanquishable aspect of the human psyche.Most of humankind can be likened to a windsock-led wily-nily by the latest fad,hype,consensus and collective madness whose outbreak is as inevitable as the turning of the globe.I wonder what Mackay would think of our mass media and pop culture,which lend themselves to massive hysteria,distortions and misinformation on an instantaneous and massive scale.The book is both funny and poignant.It makes you want to pity the human race for its inherent silliness.As many wise men have pointed out,humankind doesn't really change.The name of the fools who play the jester change;the fads,fashions and mass hallucinations change;the wallpaper and trinkets of life change,but the farce pretty much continues as before.If I didn't know any better I'd have to say the future holds much the same.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive book of manias Oct. 25 2001
Format:Paperback
This is it. If you want to know how many times the world has been gripped by madness then look no farther than the reprinted edition of MacKay's classic. Written in that wonderful Olde English style of the early 19th century, MacKay takes us on a tour of the world's most horrifying manias - up to about 1840 anyway.
I particularly liked the chapter on witchcraft and witch hunts since it told me everything I'll ever need to know on why seemingly intelligent groups of people band together to banish or murder innocent members of society - just because they are different. Another engaging chapter deals with millennialism - the fear and dread that grips society at the end of each millennium. If you thought the end of the last one brought turbulence, you should read what happened a thousand years ago.
This book is often quoted by stock market pundits and talking heads as if it were a treatise on irrational behaviour in the financial markets. In fact, it is much more than that. It deals with irrational behaviour and mass stupidity in all walks of life. Five Stars.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Understand The Global Warming Movement
The financial manias discussed in the book, are the areas most often referred too. The South Sea Bubble, The Mississippi Bubble, and the Tulip Mania, are financial episodes that... Read more
Published on June 24 2009 by Patrick Sullivan
5.0 out of 5 stars An brilliant work
This is a very good book, and it serves as a reminder to all that humans are in general , taken as a whole.. quite stupid.The chapters are amusing,terrible and apt. Read it now!!! Read more
Published on Sept. 15 2006 by D. J. Lane
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for the Average Reader
I read a lot of history books and I am a big fan of books dealing with the history of science and economics. Yet, I could not bring myself to finish this gargantuan book. Read more
Published on April 26 2004 by RV
5.0 out of 5 stars The Antithesis of Religious Reverence
Although the Bible teaches that where more than one person gathers, (supposedly in His name), the recognition of the more likely result is that where more than two persons is a... Read more
Published on March 2 2004 by Patricia B. Ross
5.0 out of 5 stars The free ebook versions are great too
Project gutenberg's free ebook versions are wonderful too.
Published on Feb. 29 2004 by Mark Guzowski
3.0 out of 5 stars For history buffs
An interesting book for history buffs.
For those interested in the history of financial manias, only the first three chapters are of interest. Read more
Published on Oct. 1 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars A casebook of human folly
This is a famed work. The reprint comes with a forward by Bernard Baruch.
John Law was born in 1671. Read more
Published on Sept. 17 2003 by Mary E. Sibley
5.0 out of 5 stars Great history, reminder for society
Despite the age of this book, it continues to be current as ever, especially after the dot-com bubble. Read more
Published on Feb. 17 2003 by Denis Benchimol Minev
2.0 out of 5 stars This book is an example of a popular delusion...
This was recommended by some famous people as a "must read" for serious investors. The people who rant and rave about how great this book is must have only read the... Read more
Published on Feb. 9 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read Classic
Kenneth Fischer at Forbes Magazine turned me onto this book some years back, and I quickly gobbled it up over a weekend. Read more
Published on Jan. 3 2003
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