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Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds Paperback – 26 Mar 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Wilder Publications; Reprint edition (26 Mar. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1604594411
  • ISBN-13: 978-1604594416
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,558,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Charles Mackay (1841-1889) 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.


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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
For a book so old, Extraordinary Popular Delusions is still a very easy read (untranslated French aside) and very relevant to the modern day. It traces the origins of "animal magnetism" for example, still around as magnet therapy bracelets and so on, and an excellent example of the conditions which lead people to believe the bizarre. The section on the Alchymists is a real highlight: a history of the field told through potted biographies of its practitioners, covering both the real and legendary aspects of their lives and characters.

The tone is dryly witty with a subtle sarcasm, and once you push through the unengaging subject matter of the opening three chapters (the first two covering fairly similar financial schemes, and the third the "Tulipomania") it's an amazingly compulsive read.
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Format: Paperback
This book is an entertaining review of a number of popular crazes that occupied the minds of the English during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some of its subjects are well known but others, like the passion for the catchphrase "What a shocking bad hat!", now long forgotten. Although around a hundred years old this book's continuing relevance is demonstrated almost daily by the proliferation of fads, crazes and popular delusions in our own time. It is pleasing to reflect that in another century such modern preoccupations as crop circles, alien abductions and satanic ritual abuse will appear as bizarre and absurd as duelling, tulipomania and the South Sea Bubble do now.
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Format: Paperback
First, ignore the review that says 'This edition only contains extracts on John Law, the South Sea Bubble, and the Tulip mania in the Netherlands...'. That review relates to a different edition. This paperback edition contains all the sections referred to in the summary. The content is wide ranging, from financial manias to the Crusades, witch trials, poisonings and so on, so it's a fascinating selection. My only warning would be that the book was written nearly 200 years ago, so the language and style is a bit archaic nowadays. The author is prone to 19th century meandering thoughts on the nature of man and his behaviour, when you just want him to get on with telling the story! Well worth a try though.
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By A Customer on 21 April 1997
Format: Paperback
Remember when you were in 8th grade and a cool saying was making its way around? Knowing the saying made you feel cool. How cool do you feel when you hear that in 18th century London, for four months the word "Coz!" would reduce bystanders to giggling lumps of jello? Why? "Coz!"
Feeling good about the stock market? Can't suffer more than a 20% correction, right? Because all the experts say so. You'll feel so much "better" after learning of the 17th century "tulip" market.
This book teaches you, in hilariously engaging fashion, with a voice speaking across the centuries, that fads are part of the human condition, not a 20th century phenomenon. Read it and learn.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Plus ca change........ Mackay writes elegantly, wittily and at great length (in truth, he often goes on a bit) about some of the crazy delusions which have obsessed people throughout the ages. Sometimes the obsession is fuelled by a desire to get rich quick (Mississippi/bubble schemes, tulipomania, alchemy), sometimes religion rears its ugly head (crusades, witch hunting), and fortune telling, magnetising and haunted houses get a look in as well. What would Mackay write about if he were alive to write an updated version for our age? Ponzi schemes, global warming, alien abduction, weapons of mass destruction, rewriting history through a desire for political correctness......... there's no shortage of issues.

At times MacKay's style is a delight to read - eg the opening paragraphs to his chapter on witches. At other times, he seems to want to tell us everything he knows on a subject, and one is inclined to skip a few pages.

Not everything can be taken literally. The numbers he gives for witch burnings and hangings are hugely inflated. Wikipedia says that the real numbers for witch executions were established in the 1970s at under 100,000. In addition, the executions in Britain were almost invariably by hanging rather than burning. I don't know what else he may have exaggerated or got wrong. These are minor points however, and the book was after all written some 175 years ago when access to reliable data was patchy at best.

\for me the best chapter was that on the Crusades, about which I knew little. I think that perhaps the Crusades were the craziest schemes of all.
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Format: Hardcover
The Harriman House edition is an abridgement, or to be more precise, an excerpt of the more juicy bits of the book. The original 3-volume book covers many subjects with plenty of gentle 19th-century musings. This edition only contains extracts on John Law, the South Sea Bubble, and the Tulip mania in the Netherlands, in a very slim little pocket volume.

The edition however looks and feels fine, and would perhaps do as a present to someone who is unlikely to be seriously interested in reading the book, but more in browsing it in a casual leisure moment, and having it sit on their coffee table or their living room bookshelf.

This fact is, shall we say, not immediately obvious from the blurb on Amazon.
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