How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions Hardcover – 2 Feb 2004
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'Wheen wears his considerable learning about Marx's career with the lapidary lightness of a fine columnist, and can be as witty and quotable as his subject.' Terry Eagleton, Observer
'Has such a passionate energy and commitment that made me cheer as I read it … Wheen's study is great fun, a bravura performance – well done yourself, I want to tell him.' Tom Paulin, Guardian
'Unmitigated delight.' Niall Ferguson, Mail on Sunday
‘I’ll read anything by Francis Wheen, and my trust was not misplaced: The simple elegance of the writing and Wheen’s ability to winkle humour out of the most unpromising subject, results in a book which is far more pleasurable than anyone had the right to expect.’ Nick Hornby, Guardian
About the Author
Francis Wheen is an author and journalist who was named Columnist of the Year for his contributions to the Guardian. He a regular contributor to Private Eye and is the author of several books, including a highly acclaimed biography of Karl Marx which has been translated into twenty languages. His collected journalism, Hoo-Hahs and Passing Frenzies, won the George Orwell prize in 2003.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Really readable and fun. Made me laugh out loud, and at the same time, despair of the human racePublished 7 months ago by Hugh B
The absolute 'bullshit-enema'. It explains how non-reasoning conquered the world.Published 9 months ago by Dareos Khalili
This is an OK sort of book and actually Francis Wheen is excellent when he focuses his mind on the more abstract aspects of the 'history of thought'. Read morePublished 11 months ago by T. T. Rogers: Meta-reviewing
In 1841, the Scottish journalist Charles Mackay published Extraordinary Popular Delusions, an account of some of the most striking fads and manias of the past:
'In... Read more
I am quite a fan of Francis Wheen on the radio, but this book is staggeringly limited in it's approach. Read morePublished 17 months ago by A. Marchant
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... Read morePublished 18 months ago by keen reader
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