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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 the Hardcover 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
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 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understand The Global Warming Movement June 24 2009
By Patrick Sullivan TOP 500 REVIEWER
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 many people study. However, MacKay also discusses other silly episodes in human history. The entire reason MacKay wrote the book, was to help people identify the madness of crowds. The mass movements of stupidity, seem to be a part of the human experience. MacKay is trying to warn the reader, about how not to get swept up in all the excitement. There always seems to be some sort of silly mania that is occurring in our lives. They also tend to vary in size and degree. In the late 1960s, people talked about the return of the Ice Age. In the 1970s people assumed the world was going to run out of food and oil. In the 1980s acid rain was the big trend. Today of course, the Global Warming movement has become one of the biggest manias of all time. Charles MacKay would be adding a chapter on Global Warming, to his timeless book, if he were still alive.
This book is a very slow read. The financial mania stories are worth owning. The other chapters you may want to just chop off one at time at the library, and spread it out over many visits.
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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
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for the Average Reader April 26 2004
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. Before you buy this book be aware that it was written in 1841, and in my opinion it did not age very well. If you are a casual reader of history books, this book is probably not for you.
Of the book's 740 pages, the first 100 or so deal with economic bubbles - these initial chapters are relatively engaging and easy to read. In comparison, the following 150 page are simply a LIST of famous alchemists, with a few brief anecdotes about each one. The other subjects covered later on, prophecies, fortunes telling etc. suffer from the same problem. The book contains no analysis, it merely offers a collection of anecdotes, some amusing some not.
The book is written in archaic language, with Latin and French phrases interspersed throughout it. Occasionally, entire Latin paragraphs are used with no English translation. I read a lot, and this is the first book in many years that I was not able to finish.
There is one positive thing I can say about this book: it is a fascinating example of 19th century writing. The approach to the subject matter, the narrative tone and the language used were very instructive and interesting for me. Nevertheless, I was only able to make it to page 323 before giving up. For the casual reader I would suggest more modern books on the topics covered. For example: Tulipomania by Mike Dash is a great book about the Tulip trade Bubble of 1636.
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Most recent customer reviews
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
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. 4 2003
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