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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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95 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A small voice of reason, 17 Mar. 2004
By 
Timothy De Ferrars (France) - See all my reviews
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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 the thrall of hocus and spin; educated people consume with gusto the diet of drivel served up in the media; an entire nation loses its grip after the death of a Sloaney princess; and post-modernists conjure with words to question the reality of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.
This would have been a better book if Wheen had built on its early momentum and resisted the lure of diatribe, but there is such a surfeit of material to support his thesis, and so much nonsense routinely peddled by famous people who should have known better, that he seems unable to stop. The result is erudite and funny, but in the end this is a string of good journalism, rather than the serious manifesto that it might have been.
I recommend this book, and I hope that Wheen will soon produce another edition that not only updates us on the progress of this human ship of fools (which seems daily to surpass itself in its vainglorious stupidity) but also lingers more on the questions why, and what needs to be done.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More funny than informative., 12 Jan. 2008
This review is from: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (Paperback)
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 common sense of a dead whelk and vacant-minded new agers - but somehow it seemed to miss the bulls eye. I suppose because it fails to offer any answers. Yes, mankind is superstitious, ill-educated and, for the most part, incapable of original thought, but the question remains - what can be done about it? My own feeling is that the answer is nothing, but if you're going to write a book on the subject then some sort of conclusion should be attempted. All we get is a sort of advertisement of Mr. Wheen's availability as an after-dinner speaker. I kept thinking about Robert Heinlein's character Lazarus Long in his novel "Time Enough for Love" - the story of an immortal who spends much of his time getting as far away from his fellow man as possible. Anyone want to sign up for the first colony on Mars?
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A much better book than its title suggests, 15 Jan. 2010
This review is from: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (Paperback)
The title and the unhelpful "hilarious" quote from Paxman on the cover suggests this is all laugh a line, "news quiz" level of frippery.

Well it ain't. It's a fierce and cogent defence of enlightenment values and should be mandatory reading for this dim-witted age.

To be fair to Paxman - it is also hilarious, it's just that's not the point of this splendid work.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Satire passed off as a scholastic work., 22 Feb. 2011
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This review is from: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (Paperback)
I bought this book after listening to Wheen speak at the Melbourne writer's festival and I was interested to learn more. As other reviews have stated, Wheen starts off well, targeting quacks, snake oil merchants, post modernists and the like to much amusement. The first half is entertaining but it loses its way about half way through and ends up failing to answer the main question. After it all, you'll have some glib remarks but you won't know how mumbo jumbo conquered the world, just that Wheen says it did.

The trouble with the book is 2 fold. Firstly, Wheen gets into areas about which is passionate but no expert and makes a lot of very smart remarks about men like Noam Chomsky & others which are clearly the result of cherry picking isolated statements. These comments don't stand up to any scrutiny if you've read their works or follow Wheen's own references. By the end of the book he was just firing shots at anyone and everyone who happened to have two sound bites which could be shown to be at odds if you ignored the context. Some of it is accurate (Thomas Friedman gets some scrutiny) but much is just satire passed off as logical argument. He's clearly a sharp journalist rather than a scholar deconstructing an argument.

I say he's no scholar as the second issue is that the book does not at all say HOW mumbo jumbo conquered the world, just that in Wheen's view it did. If he submitted it in support of a PhD the very academics he derides would throw it out. Not for failing to use high sounding language which doesn't mean anything, but for the simple fault of not pulling it all together and answering the question that it proposes. It leaves the book with no thread and you'll be no wiser about how we let our leaders get away idiocy or as a society fall for homeopathy, just that we do. I had hoped for some idea, given the title.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good fun, and often spot on, but a bit patchy, 28 May 2013
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Francis Wheen is a left wing journalist and columnist who here sets out with gusto to slaughter several sacred cows of both the right and left. The main targets are New Age/Alternative spirituality, cultural relativism, knee-jerk anti-Americanism, and - repeatedly - the Free Market as some sort of holy source of all good. It's a bit like reading a left-wing Jeremy Clarkson, but Wheen's a far more informed and rhetorically superior writer. He demolishes his targets with a cool precision reminiscent of Christopher Hitchens - whom he admires - at his meanest and best. Ultimately, he is making the argument for thinking for yourself, not accepting woolly arguments, and challenging orthodoxies.

The let down is that he isn't always scrupulously fair and reasonable himself. In the chapter on post-modernism he frequently quotes people out of context to make them look even sillier than (admittedly) they are. For example, he excoriates Luce Irigaray and Julie Kristeva for not making sense, missing the point that both of them were actually quite honest about their arguments not making sense: they were activists who believed the academic discourse was so contaminated by masculine positions that it was impossible for a woman to make a point without abandoning reason and logic. Can't help feeling that Wheen could have written just as good an attack on that sort of highly questionable thinking, and it would have been far more honest than ignoring their justification, as he has done, and taking them wholly out of context in the same sort of way the Sun or Daily Mail might when mocking the `Loony Left'.

It is not an isolated incident. He seems at various times either to be somewhat ignorant on particular topics or deliberately to ignore certain facts. He seems totally ignorant of Iran-Contra when defending US policy in general, and then suddenly very aware of it when attacking Reagan personally. He often seems to want to have his cake and eat it. He can get away with it in book form but you can't help feel that some of his assertions would be shot down by a capable opponent in a debate. I found the evasion quite frustrating and ended up frantically scribbling notes in the margins where his flights of rhetoric were particularly questionable.

Why give such a flawed book a four star review, then? Because when it's good, as it is on the ascendancy of free-market economics over Keynesianism, it is very, very good. There aren't many entertaining books this serious, and the experience of having your prejudices questioned whilst also having a good laugh is to be encouraged. I suppose what I'm saying is I would encourage you to read this and take Wheen's advice to be more questioning, but I'd also advise you to make sure you start with being questioning of some of his own arguments!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Expose of the Silly Aspects of Modern Life, 1 May 2012
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (Paperback)
I had to stop reading this book on the Tube as I was laughing so much at times that people must have thought I was mad! Having had to endure quite a bit of mumbo jumbo myself at various times in my life - from a couple of young lecturers at university who informed us earnestly that they were going to 'deconstruct the canon' and that 'value was all relative so one couldn't make any value judgements or say one piece of music was better than another', and from various people in the performing arts world addicted to self-help books with pastel or violently pink or blue tinted covers, including one who informed me that 'everything' in 'Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus' was correct and that the only reason I didn't like the work of Eckhart Tolle was because I was 'unenlightened', to name two instances - I fell on this book eagerly. It doesn't disappoint. Wheen provides a deft, well-written analysis of modern culture and politics, showing quite how much silliness and charlatanry there is in our times. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the Post Structuralists (above all Lacan's pronouncement that his sexual desire - or something similar- equalled the square root of minus 1, and the hoax played by mathematician Robert Sokal on various French theorists when he wrote a paper claiming that he was inventing a new Post Structural gender based mathematical thinking), the chapter 'The Catastrophists' (whoever knew so many people believed in aliens? And there's some superb writing about group hysteria), the account of the deeply disturbing mania that gripped the country after the death of Princess Diana (the analysis of Elton John's song is priceless!) and the chapter on 'snake oil' and 'gurus', which includes a side-splittingly funny analysis of the modern guru Deepak Chopra - I have rarely laughed so much in my life! Elsewhere there are some interesting, often quite frightening analyses of the Middle Eastern situation, American paranoia, how Britain in some ways fell apart under Margaret Thatcher, of a new school of thought that claimed that the late 20th and the 21st century is 'post history' and so history no longer has meaning, and of the seemingly insane dotcom mania which swept the world with the launching of the internet. Along the way there is much interesting writing about the Enlightenment and Enlightenment thinkers - these get far too much bad press in the modern world, and Wheen is brilliant at showing the positive sides of the Enlightenment movement, and how increasing 'hokum' and 'mumbo jumbo' are making the world a much darker place. If I had a criticism of the book it is that Wheen is a bit black and white in his views at times - surely Noam Chomsky and Jacques Lacan deserve a little credit for their thinking, however daft some of their theories - and that, ultimately, the book doesn't offer quite enough advice (bar a couple of excellent quotes from the brilliant George Santayana) about how modern thinkers can bypass mumbo jumbo, and perhaps point us in the direction of a saner culture! It is sometimes easier to criticize a society than offer an alternative, and I feel that Wheen could have provided just a few more suggestions about how we could combat mumbo jumbo.

But on balance I'd still give this book five stars: it offers a timely, and at the same time most entertaining, warning about the dangers of not thinking for oneself, and bypassing logic, and provides a brilliant analysis of the somewhat crazy times in which we live. Definitely recommended.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts, but flawed, 11 Jan. 2005
This review is from: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (Paperback)
This is a book that starts off well, with some right-on-the-button assaults on charlatans and snake-oil merchants, though in some places I feel he does not really sort out the harmless eccentrics from those who need to be stopped.
This book does start to fall down towards the end. His criticism of supply-side economics and the "weightless economy" is sharp, but more political polemic than the satire he started out writing. When he gets on to 9/11, though, he shows his own susceptibility to mumbo-jumbo. in accusing all those on the left who tried to offer explanations for the attacks of sympathising with the terrorists, he betrays rationality. Though he rightly attacks Huntington's thesis in "The Clash of Civilizations", Wheen offers no better explanation.
Understanding is not the same as support. Indeed, it is incumbent on us to try to understand what drives people to join organisations such as Al Qaeda (or, closer to home, the British National Party), if we do not want them to gain strength and influence. The leaders of extremist fundamentalist and far-right groups seize on the despair, alienation and anger felt by many people around the world, whip these feelings into hatred and then offer them a target for this hate. it is only with this understanding that something can be done to remedy the causes and deprive the leaders of their support.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little too flippant, 19 April 2008
By 
James Duckworth (England, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (Paperback)
This book is undoubtedly a good read. It is generally witty, irreverent, and Wheen's voice is both down-to-earth and yet learned. However, it is clear that this book is not meant to be a profound and academic investigation of history and philosophy, as both the title and cover make clear. But Wheen frequently attacks thinkers and academic texts with a flippant superficiality that does not do them justice. Sometimes, Wheen's tone is not too far away from that of Jeremy Clarkson. Most of the thought that he tries to demolish has required masses of academic criticism, yet Wheen thinks he can knock them down in a couple of pages. And while it would be admirable if he succeeded, I do not think he does.

For example, he discusses Francis Fukuyama (End of History), Samuel Huntington (Clash of Civilisations) and Alasdair MacIntyre (After Virtue), to name a few. While I'm not too confident on the first two, I have read After Virtue - the text Wheen criticises - and it struck me how silly Wheen's evaluation of it was. You cannot hope to dismiss this book in the space of two pages. MacIntyre makes a very intelligent case against Enlightenment philosophy, but Wheen's seemingly knee-jerk reaction to the book is to dismiss it as 'mumbo-jumbo' merely because any attack on the Enlightenment is inherently stupid. When you realise how superficially Wheen has analysed MacIntyre, you begin to wonder how strong an analysis you are getting of those other texts that you haven't read, and are trusting Wheen to evaluate well.

In fairness, when Wheen attacks the "catastrophists", for example - those who persist in predicting the end of the world - his analysis is cutting and clever. But I think there is a fair amount of discussion in this book that deserves a more academic approach. For the most part, I enjoyed this book, but the more I read of it, the more I began to see it as airport reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A venomous snake bite to snake oil sellers., 2 April 2012
By 
Snaggletooth (Belfast, Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (Paperback)
The Dark Ages prevail. It never ceases to amaze me how millions continue to demonstrate the complete inability to process situations, events, and general quackery with rationale and logic. Sky fairies, little grey men, magic needles, spook water, healing hands, mantras, you name it, many thousands of humans are at it. Just what is it that makes so many of us act this way? As we continue deep into the scientific age many just dont seem able to use their god given brains (sorry, the god bit is a joke). Wheens book is full of the bizarre practices and beliefs of the worlds craziest fools. Simple as. And what makes it all the more shocking is that these fools are in our goverments and ruling our lives. American presidents and the English Royals obsess themselves with woo and claptrap, maybe this comes from being so far removed from daily reality you just dont have anywhere else to go. I honestly marvel at how well peasantry thrives among us, Black Adder trudges through the pigs swill of Christian angels, accupuncture, reflexology, spacemen, homeopathy, and a hundred other mental ideas. I really dont know if we will ever entirely shake off the things we believed back in the cave, but luckily some of us have evolved beyond those days. Until then we can only hope that more village idiots start reading books like this rather than ufo weekly like Prince Phillip.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read but some factual mistakes?, 23 April 2012
By 
Charles - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (Paperback)
I was reading this and liking it a lot as it attacked commonly believed nonsense like the myth of free markets, postmodernism and other silly stuff. Then I got to the criticism of Chomsky saying that he supported Pol Pot.
A quick googling on the net suggests it's not true and is in fact part of a smear campain against him. The author needs to fact check before saying such things.

I was happy to accept the criticisms of things I did not like without fact checking, it was only when he criticized somebody I admired that I got in a huff and decided to research it myself, which leads to the thought: the stuff that he said that I accepted without fact checking (because it fitted into my belief system) might be wrong as well.

Of course maybe Chomsky did support Pol Pot and I am just refusing to accept it because I am a Chomsky fanboy, but as I far as I can tell this is not correct.

Despite that, this is a good read and highlights the crazy stuff some people in positions of power believe but you might want to do some fact checking on what is says before believing it.
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