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Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

by Charles Mackay

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (omnibus)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,680415,472 (3.8)77
Whenever struck by campaigns, fads, cults and fashions, the reader may take some comfort that Charles Mackay can demonstrate historical parallels for almost every neurosis of our times. The South Sea Bubble, Witch Mania, Alchemy, the Crusades, Fortune-telling, Haunted Houses, and even 'Tulipomania' are only some of the subjects covered in this book, which is given a contemporary perspective through Professor Norman Stone's lively new Introduction.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Some people may wonder why I call the book extraordinary and give it four starts. Only those interested in that subject will be interested in the detailed history in each chapter, which is why I gave the book four stars. For instance, I used to be interested in The Crusades. If my interest in this topic was intense, like it used to be, I would have lapped up the chapter. I read the section on The Thugs and the South Sea Bubble with great interest.

Apart from this minor gripe, the book is extraordinary. Charles Mackay prefaced each chapter with a summary of the particular madness that gripped people and the circumstances leading to the events of the times.

After you finish the book, it may be good to sit back and reflect on the madness that has gripped the world in the last century. The two world wars, the debates about vaccines, the religious divide, and civil wars are all the result of crowd psychology and groupthink.

We are not much better than many of our ancestors who lived a few centuries back.

Read this book. ( )
  RajivC | Apr 25, 2023 |
FYI Review, Contents for the Curious:
This study is available as an abridged volume or unabridged in three volumes which contain:
Volume I: National Delusions / Economic Bubbles (available vis Project Guttenberg)
-The Mississippi Scheme
-The South Sea Bubble
-The Tulip Mania
-Modern Prophecies
-Popular Admiration for Great Thieves
-Influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and Beard
-Duels and Ordeals
-The Love of the Marvellous and the Disbelief of the True
-Popular Follies in Great Cities
-Old Price Riots
-The Thugs, or Phansigars
Volume II: Peculiar Follies
-The Crusades
-The Witch Mania
-The Slow Poisoners
-Haunted Houses
Volume III: Philosophical Delusions
-The Alchemysts
-Fortune Telling
-The Magnetisers
  Lemeritus | Apr 22, 2023 |
This exposition frustrated with its dry, numerical analysis, it's sycophantic treatment of entirely unproductive financial schemers and its sexism — e.g. printing the entire text of a song slanderous against the innocent wife of one of the financiers, and none of the texts of the other songs.

I rate it one star for introducing me to the origins of the word "bubble", but I had to pull the headphones from my ears one fifth of the way through this irrelevant panegyric to the absurd excesses of capital. ( )
  quavmo | Jun 26, 2022 |
Essential reading for those interested in investing in the stock market or cryptocurrency. The chapters on Tulipomania or The South Sea Bubble will remind the ignorant that nothing much has changed in 400 years except the name of the swindle or Ponzi scheme.

Chapters on Relics, Haunted Houses, Fortune Telling, Witch Mania, The Crusades, etc. show how this nonsense was already debunked almost 200 years ago.

Mackay is mainly a chronicler and rarely comments or offers solutions. The folly of his narratives speak for themselves.

Essential reading for the skeptic. ( )
  Gumbywan | Jun 24, 2022 |
There is a saying that those who don’t remember history are condemned to repeat it. Originally published under slightly different name in 1841, EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS AND THE MADNESS OF CROWDS by Charles Mackay provides examples of notorious financial schemes that destroyed fortunes and governments.
Most of the examples in the short version I read are get-rich schemes The first case is John Law was a Scotsman in the early 1700s who was an expert on economics but didn’t anticipate the how people, including governments, would react to these offers. The Mississippi Scheme, a plan to use paper money as currency, brought France, suffering after the excesses of King Louis XIV, almost to financial ruin.
The Mississippi Company gained exclusive rights to trade in several Far East Company and promised great returns. People waited in long lines to invest in the Company. Law became highly sought after but the results, which affected almost all French people, were nowhere near what Law anticipated.
The third chapter of the book “The Tulipmania” tells the story of tulips in Holland and Germany. (The flower was named from a Turkish word signifying a turban.) Long valued in Constantinople, tulips first came to Augsburg in 1559. By 1634, possessing tulips became the mark of class. Dutch people devoted its industry to raise and sell tulips at unbelievably high prices. In 1636, they were sold on the Exchange of London. Today the same ones are still available and still valued for their beauty, but people are not selling property to get one.
“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.” Considering the political division in the US during the past few years and spread of the Coronavirus, especially in the US, people haven’t learned much. ( )
  Judiex | Feb 24, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mackay, Charlesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Baruch, BernardForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bredael, Peeter vanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Selina, TonyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stone, NormanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tobias, AndrewForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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(To Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions)
"Il est bon de connaître les délires de l'esprit humain. Chaque peuple a ses folies plus ou moins grossiéres."

(To Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds)
N'en déplaise à ces fous nommés sages de Gréce,
En ce monde il n'est point de parfaite sagesse;
Tous les hommes sont fous, et malgré tous leurs soins
Ne different entre eux que du plus ou du moins.


First words
The object of the Author in the following pages has been to collect the most remarkable instances of those moral epidemics which have been excited, sometimes by one cause and sometimes by another, and to show how easily the masses have been led astray, and how imitative and gregarious men are, even in their infatuations and crimes.
(Preface to edition of 1852)
In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do.
(Chapter 1)
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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Whenever struck by campaigns, fads, cults and fashions, the reader may take some comfort that Charles Mackay can demonstrate historical parallels for almost every neurosis of our times. The South Sea Bubble, Witch Mania, Alchemy, the Crusades, Fortune-telling, Haunted Houses, and even 'Tulipomania' are only some of the subjects covered in this book, which is given a contemporary perspective through Professor Norman Stone's lively new Introduction.

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Book description
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is a history of popular folly by Charles Mackay. The book chronicles its targets in three parts: "National Delusions," "Peculiar Follies," and "Philosophical Delusions." Learn why intelligent people do amazingly stupid things when caught up in speculative edevorse. The subjects of Mackay's debunking include alchemy, beards (influence of politics and religion on), witch-hunts, crusades and duels. Present day writers on economics, such as Andrew Tobias, laud the three chapters on economic bubbles.
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