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How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions (2004)
by Francis Wheen
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A book reminiscent of the older work, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. The author traces the history of current trends in anti-critical thinking and embrace of delusion through the last couple of decades of the 20th century, though she does move backward to find the threads and traces that led to that point. She writes lucidly, selects quotes that are relevant, and at times delicious, and does her research well. It is easy to read, not bogged down in technical minutiae but not superficially fluffy, either. It would be interesting to see an updated version now that the problem has spread its tentacles even further. ( )
The author has a superficial look at the actions of world leaders and various other points of contention, such as medicine that doesn't work. He seems to take far too much at face value- for example he has not asked Tony and Cherie Blair why they had a mayan rebirthing ceremony- it may have been that they just wanted a sexy sauna. He also doesn't realise that a UFO is an Unidentified Flying Object - some of which are subsequently identified. This does not make them interplanetary travel devices. On the whole it is a journalist doing what they do best - sensationalise to sell papers, in this case a book. Far too superficial for me I was left thinking this is five hours of my life wasted.
The quotation on the front of the book from Jeremy Paxman described it as 'hilarious' - obviously Mr Paxman and my ideas on humour differ greatly as this book didn't raise many laughs. Parts of it did raise a wry smile and it pointed the finger at many ludicrous things, but this book is not humour as I have seen it categoried - unless like Paxman your idea of fun is terrorism, Islam, Enron, New Labour and post-modernism then don't come here looking for laughs. Having said that, I did enjoyed most of this book. The most light-hearted that looked at the popularity of self-help books which just rehash platitudes. Some times, I was confused by how certain things were going to be connected (Iran and post-modernism for example) and I did wonder that in some cases if his connections and conclusions would really hold up to close scrutiny. That he pours similar scorn on people playing the lottery as terrorists misinterpreting the Koran seems a bit off at times. But overall an interesting book even if I didn't always agree totally with the author. And it made me relieved that I didn't always 'get' post-modernism.
This one had me torn between agreeing with him and wanting to slap him for lumping all belief systems into the melange of stupidity.
However it is a book several people should read about how spin has blinded us to reality.
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Wikipedia in English (7)
What characterizes our era? Cults, quacks, gurus, irrational panics, moral confusion and an epidemic of mumbo-jumbo, that's what. In How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, Francis Wheen brilliantly laments the extraordinary rise of superstition, relativism and emotional hysteria. From Middle Eastern fundamentalism to the rise of lotteries, astrology to mysticism, poststructuralism to the Third Way, Wheen shows that there has been a pervasive erosion of Enlightenment values, which have been displaced by nonsense. And no country has a more vivid parade of the bogus and bizarre than the one founded to embody Enlightenment values: the USA. In turn comic, indignant, outraged, and just plain baffled by the idiocy of it all, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World is a masterful depiction of the absurdity of our times and a plea that we might just think a little more and believe a little less.
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