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95 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A small voice of reason
From the first page this book promises a great deal: Francis Wheen sets out to show how society, both Western and Islamic, has determinedly squandered the benefits of the Enlightenment and has developed an astonishing hostility towards contemporary science and rational thought.
Wheen paints a picture that is both amusing and chilling: our citizens and leaders are in...
Published on 17 Mar. 2004 by Timothy De Ferrars

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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More funny than informative.
I thought long and hard about this review before making up my mind. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing since it appealed to my nihilistic nature, but it left me somewhat disappointed. It pokes fun at all the right targets - lefties without any discernable critical faculty, self-serving politicians, the relious dingbats, heartless big business, philosophers with all the...
Published on 12 Jan. 2008 by Iphidaimos


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Easy targets missed, 18 Jun. 2012
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C. CARBERRY "Coleshill Col" (Warwickshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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I'd previously read "Strange Days Indeed", having heard rave reviews on the radio, but came away disappointed - it read more like a good essay by a 6th former from a decent school than a "proper" book by an accomplished writer. Having decided it must be me that was wrong and not all the esteemed reviewers (and also being a bit of a mug), I went out and bought "Mumbo Jumbo", only to find my reaction was pretty much the same. Mr Wheen pulls together some absolutely excellent and fascinating source material, then succeeds in reducing the content to sheer mundanity, owing to the turgid nature of his prose and lack of imagination. It's a great shame, because the topics he covers are intriguing, yet he succeeds in reducing them down to, as I said above, the standard of a decent sixth-form essay. I'd love to see the same topics covered by a less intellectually rated, not as well-connected, but, in my opinion, more talented wordsmith such as, say, Bill Bryson. The subject matter is tremendous and deserves a more skilled writer.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent in parts but has serious flaws, 2 May 2006
By 
Marshall Lord (Whitehaven, UK) - See all my reviews
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There is no doubt that, despite the huge advances which have been brought by reason and science, an alarming number of people, many of them highly educated, have turned away from reason in favour of new age nonsense or the most simplistic forms of old-established religions. Although Francis Wheen's book has some very serious flaws, it does provoke a great deal of thought about why.

Let's get the negative comment out of the way first. Francis Wheen is a Guardian journalist and allows his left-liberal prejudices an entirely inappropriate degree of latitude given the sort of book this is supposed to be. It completely fails to make any distinction whatsoever between mainstream views which the author does not happen to agree with and the genuine 24-carat nonsense which the book claims to be about. For example, the entire first chapter of the book is a Guardianista polemic against Thatcherism and Reaganism, during which he attacks Nobel prizewinning academics like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek in similar terms to those which he uses to dismiss the views of the American presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan.

My problem with this is not that Wheen disagrees with Friedman and Hayek - I don't share all their views myself. My problem is that, in a book which is supposed to be about the flight from rationality, he writes about highly rational people who arrived at their views by scientific sifting of the evidence on subjects which they have studied far more intensively than he has, as if they were in the same league as the nutters, fraudsters and snake oil salesmen of whom his criticisms are far more justified.

At a risk of labouring the point, Friedman's study of the economic causes of the Great Depression which won him the Nobel Prize, and his speech in 1967 correctly predicting that the relationship between unemployment and inflation which had worked for the previous century was about to collapse, are recognised as brilliant by many economists including plenty of left-wing or Keynsian views. Friedman had previously said that "we are all Keynsians now" and one of the world's leading economists, a prominent Keynsian, meant it as a complement to Milton Friedman when he said in response "we are all monetarists now." My first economics tutor, a left winger, once started a critique of Friedman the remainder of which Francis Wheen would have entirely agreed with, with the qualification that he thought Friedman richly deserved his Nobel Prize for Economics.

For Francis Wheen to write of Friedman and Hayek in the same way as he writes of anti-rational religious fanatics like William Jennings Bryan does not enhance his case. This has nothing to do with whether you agree with them, it is that they don't belong in a book about the flight from reason. I would make exactly the same criticism of any right-wing author who wrote a similar book, began it with a chapter suggesting that all lefties are irrational, and included equivalent misplaced criticisms of the late John Kenneth Galbraith.

I am not sure why Francis Wheen does not present any distinction between views that a rational person could hold but he doesn't and views which could only be held by someone seriously adrift from reality. I hope it is because he did not think it necessary.

I came very close to throwing this book in the bin towards the end of the first chapter, which gave me the impression that I can been conned into wasting money on a bog-standard left-wing denunciation of all views to the right of Roy Hattersley (including New Labour) rather than the critique of new age irrationalism promised on the cover.

However, I am glad I persevered, because after the first chapter Mr Wheen starts to present a more balanced approach, cover a much wider range of material, and produce evidence to back up his charges of irrationality which I found far more convincing. From this point the book does begin to qualify as a serious attempt to chart some of the irrational views which have emerged or re-emerged over the past 20 years on both left and right. Subjects covered by the book include fundamentalist attempts to prevent the teaching of evolution, management gobbledegook, astrology, academic fads like "deconstructionism," flying saucers and Alien abduction, and quack medicinal ideas such as Homeopathy.

An example of one of the many good sections in the book is that which considers the development and influence of "The X files". Apparently this TV programme is frequently quoted as a source by American university students, and when their tutors point out that it is fiction they reply "Yes, but it's based on fact." The programme's creator, Chris Carter, is quoted as saying that he originally intended that the programme would have episodes that exposed hoaxes and that "I wanted Agent Scully to be right as much as agent Mulder." But going with the paranormal explanation every time got better ratings.

As Richard Dawkins pointed out, if you had a detective series which had a white suspect and a black one every time, and the black person always turned out to be the guilty party, if would be totally unacceptable, and you could not excuse by saying this was just entertainment and that result produced better ratings.

If Scooby-Doo, a humorous cartoon show, can be a big hit with children when the "supernatural" events always get exposed as a hoax, why can't the X files ? Are the people who make that show less talented than the creators of Scooby Doo ? Possibly yes.

Taken as a whole I would recommend this book to anyone interested in trying to understand why so many people have turned away from reason. Readers to the left of Gordon Brown will enjoy the beginning of the book, readers from Tony Blair and rightwards will lose nothing but a boost to your blood pressure by starting at Chapter Two.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very lucid and coherent argument..., 28 Aug. 2007
...but there are holes.

Yes, the author does pick some easy targets - but, then again, the King was an easy target when he was riding up the street in the buff.

I'm an Enlightenment junky and a firm believer in liberal democracy and once I heard the interview with Wheen on Resonsance FM's Little Atoms this book was an absolute must-have. And its good. Very good. So why the 4 stars? My main gripe has to do with political affiliation. In the first part of the book one is left wondering how on earth Thatcher came to power in the UK. Why on earth did anyone vote for what she was about to do to Britain (close down coal mining, stop school milk, destroy manufacturing industry, get rid of park keepers, &tc, &tc)? The answer is simple and it's one Wheen avoids:- she wasn't Labour. Let's just remind ourselves that 1970s Britain was a dire place to be in and that was thanks to Labour (believe me all you young strident left-wing politics/sociology/media studies students from De Montfort because I remember it and it wasn't nice).

In 1979 Britain would have elected a sock puppet called Bob rather than have another Labour government. The Liberals were not even on the radar. Yup, for our sins we got Margaret Thatcher. And the same argument holds with Reagan in the US. The US wanted to be led by anyone but a Democrat, given the disastrous time the States was having of it in the late 1970s (culminating, I suppose, with the Iran hostage crisis, or was it energy, or a whole host of other issues???). Interestingly Wheen acknowledges the reason why the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran is clearly because the Shah was so corrupt (the Ayatollah, like Thatcher, provided the alternative).

I also take strong issue with the author's support of conventional medicine. I do not agree that society's flight from conventional medicine is somehow purely irrational. I would suggest that society is taking a flight from drugs and not conventional medicine as a whole. And who could blame us? If I am feeling a bit down is it irrational not to pop a pill when all the scientific evidence gathered by those good people at GlaxoSmithKlyne or Eli Lilly says it is good for me. Erm... no, I'm afraid I'm going to be unscientific and irrational and stick to feeling fed up.

Life just isn't this simple. But this is what makes Wheen's argument so darn good. A good argument should sound simple. And an argument laced with humour is pretty deadly.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Provocative but unsatisfiying, 13 Feb. 2006
By 
Mr. P. J. Kimberlee (shrewsbury) - See all my reviews
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Wheen creates an interesting well written read that rightly attacks many of the follies and delusions that abound in modern life. The fuzzy and uncritical thinking that is ever present in our society needs this criticism. Unfortuantely the attacks are often superficial. Choice examples are used to denigrate his opponents, sadly, at the expense of accurate analysis. I agree with other reviewers who note Wheens delight in imposing his impressive and well developed intellect on others. If you want an amusing attack on subjects you already disagree with then you will enjoy this. If you are looking for properly informed critical thinking on controversial issues you will be dissapointed. The final irony is that the book partly adds to modern mythology therefore somewhat missing the point.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but a bit diffuse., 24 Feb. 2005
In this polemic, Wheen attacks "modern delusions" with gusto. Astrology, creationism, supply-side economics and alternative medicine are just some of the beliefs he pours scorn over. The book is always readable and frequently hilarious. The only problem for me is the sheer variety of his targets. While I can't help admiring the sheer range of subjects he covers (Wheen must be very widely read), the book would be better if he had concentrated his fire on fewer targets. Dating the start of much of the mumbo-jumbo he complains of to the election of Margaret Thatchet and the Iranian Revolution of 1979 also struck me as a bit bizarre - the 60's counter-culture would probably have been a better place to start. For me, a polemic should also have a few "recommendations for action" at the end - there are none, apart from a plea to return to the rationalism of the Enlightenment.
To sum up, very readable, but unfortunately, not a plan of action (however difficult to put into effect) for banishing the tide of stupidity that frequently threatens to engulf us.
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51 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars about time, 18 Feb. 2004
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This review is from: How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (Hardcover)
To criticise Wheen's book for straying from a targetted attack on mumbo jumbo is to miss the point. Wheen's problem is with irrational thought in all its guises and on that he is spot on. The great blubfest of diana and the banality of self-help books are the easy targets, but media friendly empty phrases such as "the third way" etc are equally deserving. Sure he gets carried away. He has a 2 page diatribe against Professor John Gray which amounts to not much more than: "he is wrong because he keeps changing his mind" (Gray's argument isn't against rationalism, it is against the unthinking humanistic belief in progress), but Wheen can be forgiven the occasional vitriol. I'm sure he wouldn't want you to accept all his conclusions verbatim. After all, that's what he is telling you. Think for yourself. Don't follow the herd. A simple epiphet, worthy of a self-book perhaps...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A voice of reason., 6 Mar. 2015
Ever wondered why broadsheets have astrology pages?...or why homoeopathy still gets to enjoy so much coverage and support in spite of the glaring lack of scientific evidence?...

Wheen pulls on his waterproofs and wellies and wades deep into the murky world of the fey, futile and the filthy liars. This is an enjoyable read and will have you nodding your head along or shouting in support at the many salient points made here.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars read it and wheep, 16 Jan. 2007
By 
Paul Tapner (poole dorset england) - See all my reviews
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A magnificent look at how belief in strange new age cults has supplanted rational thinking over the past century. Detailing everything from 'new age' medicine to holocaust denial to fundamentalist religion, the writer looks at how people rush to believe these things, regardless of the facts. You will despair for humanity when you read it, but you'll enjoy the book while you do
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good debriefing after a thirty year insanity roleplay!, 30 Mar. 2006
By 
Mohammad Tahir Amaan "Darren Wilson" (Batley, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Francis Wheen's book is difficult to categorise. It is at one and the same time a piece of social comment, a cultural history, a philosophical polemic and a discussion on current affairs. His argument is straight forward enough however, seeking to demonstrate how people great and small who live within the Cosmopolitan centres of Modernity have sold out the noble aims of the enlightenment by trading the sovereignty of Reason and a healthly regard for empirical evidence for bizarre, irrational beliefs and practices. Sold out is the appropriate idiom because as he demonstrates in a thoroughly entertaining way, there is apparently a lot of money and power to be had from re-branding and reformulating the same old 'Mumbo Jumbo'.
Whilst it is a case of shooting fish in a barrel at times, the examples he selects provide their own raison d'etre. The bizarre and foolish behaviour of prominent political leaders, market speculators and captains of industry are surely worthy of attention. Perhaps it is my age and life experience but I have encountered a lot of the risible beliefs and predilections that he targets and many of them I have had an instinctive aversion to. Nevertheless there are also some cringe worthy examples of mumbo jumbo that I can honestly claim to have subscribed to at some point in my past. It was therefore an opportunity to laugh at my own pretensions and to understand how, and on occasions why, postmodernist theory, new-age management and medicine, and market ideologies are unlikely bedfellows. I particularly appreciated the attack on new age management theory which is probably the funniest section of the book. His critique of post-modern and Frankfurt School ideas, is similarly entertaining and as a former post-structuralist I found his debunking of what had once held to be fashionable and cool to be a salutary lesson. If I could change anything about the book it would probably be the addition of a few more paragraphs covering the idiocy of epistemological and cultural relativism such as characterises the thinking of Francois Lyotard, Richard Rorty and a whole host of intellectuals who claim to be proponents of equality and diversity. I would also like a little more on the rise and associated dangers of creationism as this trend nicely dove tails with philosophical relativism.
At the end of the 312 pages I was still engaged and could easily have read another couple of hundred which is probably a ringing endorsement.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightenment vs. Postmodernism, 10 Mar. 2005
By 
Mark Warren (Biebesheim Germany) - See all my reviews
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The underlaying thesis of the book is the clash that Mr Wheen sees between the ideas of the Enlightenment (or Age of Reason), and those of philosophical relativism, or what has evolved into todays postmodernism. This is a clash that has a long history in philosophy. One of the best descriptions of relativism is that given by Aristotle: "Fire burns in Hellas and in Persia; but men's ideas of right and wrong vary from place to place." I'm not doing justice to Mr Wheen's beautiful prose but he argues that the fact that we live in a postmodern world is the reason that things are in such a mess today. Mr Wheen has nailed his colours firmly to the Enlightenment mast. The antics of Margaret Thatcher and Ayatollah Khomeini are seen as knee-jerk reactions to postmodern decadence. We can understand Mr Wheen because the crazier the world gets the more we feel compelled to find a cure, something that makes sense of this madness.
But here's a question: if the Enlightenment didn't catch on the first time round, are we going to get it a second time? My own view is that the Enlightenment did catch on and that it is still with us today. We don't recognize it because it has morphed into areas that are not traditionally Enlightenment-like in nature. Also Colin MacCabe in his review of Mr Wheen ("Mumbo-jumbo's Survival Instinct" Open Democracy website) points to the fact that a lot has happened in philosophy since the Enlightenment. The logical positivists whose roots have a direct link with the Enlightenment are really a part of philosophy that is now, well, history; whereas the later Wittgenstein, (relativism), is still alive. All this seems to suggest that there is no universal empirical structure that we can pin our hopes on. In other words, the Enlightenment gave birth to a child that looks nothing like its parents. This is reflected in physics too; classical science has given birth to the new science to quantum mechanics and string theory. This is easily the West's greatest achievement, it has changed the 'shape' of science so that it no longer fits the traditional Enlightenment mold. It goes beyond what the traditional Enlightenment philosophers conceived. And its all been done here in Old Europe. So the Enlightenment did bear fruit - a fruit admittedly we didn't expect. Mr Wheen seems to want to go back to its beginning, a philosophical, "back to basics". He likes the idea of the Enlightenment but not what the Enlightenment has produced.
One also notices that Mr Wheen's admiration for the Enlightenment extends to the country where its political principles have been preserved in formaldehyde, namely America. I'm not sure if most people in Europe share Mr Wheen's admiration. Although he does criticise America's famous double standards of preaching a free and open market economy, while at the same time quietly subsidizing their farmers and private business. He even argues for the American way of life being taken over by Muslims of all people! I know this is a thought experiment, but I find it very doubtful that Muslims would accept anything from America, and many Americans would argue that their famous Bill of Rights no longer exists, and even though Europe is a "godless continent" it still happens to be the most tolerant continent, precisely because its NOT religious. This last point is also a direct result of the Enlightenment.
Mr Wheen found it necessary to criticise John Pilger and Chomsky. On page 249 he writes: "To Pilger, Chomsky and countless others it is axiomatic that the West can never be right. . ." Well, that may be so, but who are these "countless others"? He sounds like a Republican warning his "fellow Americans" about the dangers of the "countless" liberals just waiting to harm America. If Mr Wheen likes America so much, perhaps he should move there. But most people in England have never heard of Pilger, and most people in America have never heard of Chomsky. And do all those people in England and America who disagree with Washington's foriegn policy belong to the left? I don't think so.
On page 311, Mr Wheen quotes Jefferson; "Truth is great and will prevail." Well, that is very reassuring to know. The only problem is, truth has had 2,000 years in which to "prevail" and it still hasn't. If it had, there wouldn't be so much "mumbo-jumbo" today. But then we wouldn't enjoy reading Mr Wheen's book, and watch as he takes another sharp needle to another gas balloon full of mumbo-jumbo. We need more books like this, very good indeed. There is so much in this book.
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