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Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds Paperback – July 25, 1995

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Editorial Reviews Review

Why do otherwise intelligent individuals form seething masses of idiocy when they engage in collective action? Why do financially sensible people jump lemming-like into hare-brained speculative frenzies--only to jump broker-like out of windows when their fantasies dissolve? We may think that the Great Crash of 1929, junk bonds of the '80s, and over-valued high-tech stocks of the '90s are peculiarly 20th century aberrations, but Mackay's classic--first published in 1841--shows that the madness and confusion of crowds knows no limits, and has no temporal bounds. These are extraordinarily illuminating,and, unfortunately, entertaining tales of chicanery, greed and naivete. Essential reading for any student of human nature or the transmission of ideas.

In fact, cases such as Tulipomania in 1624--when Tulip bulbs traded at a higher price than gold--suggest the existence of what I would dub "Mackay's Law of Mass Action:" when it comes to the effect of social behavior on the intelligence of individuals, 1+1 is often less than 2, and sometimes considerably less than 0. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


As with any true classic, once it is read it is hard to imagine not having known of it--and there is the compulsion to recommend it to others. --<A HREF=/exec/obidos/Author=Tobias%2C%20Andrew/${0}>Andrew Tobias --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 768 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (July 25, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 051788433X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0517884331
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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512 of 539 people found the following review helpful By nothingt5 VINE VOICE on December 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Be aware that the edition published by Harriman House ONLY contains the chapters relating to economics, so you only get probably 1/7 of the original book...
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184 of 191 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
If you're into investing, sooner or later an investment columnist will mention Extraordinary Delusions as required reading. It's that and more...
Charles Mackay first details France's Mississippi Scheme & England's South Sea Bubble (from the early 1700's). Then he covers the famous Dutch "tulipomania" of the 1600's. These are all enjoyable reports of financial manias and their aftermaths (though the South Sea Bubble chapter dragged on a bit). But the financial reader will be surprised when she realizes she's still only 100 pages into a 700 page book! Mackay proceeds to cover:
Alchemy - 150 pages of exhaustive (& exhausting) detail of hobbyists & serious investors who were convinced they could turn base metals into gold, if only they could find the right ancient recipe & stoke their workshop cauldrons just a little bit hotter.
The Crusades - 100 pages that prove that modern Islamic fundamentalists did not invent the idea of a "holy war". I had no idea the Crusades came out of official harassment of Y1K religious pilgrims! Remember this: If your country is being inundated with religious pilgrims, just try to think of them as a tourist opportunity. You don't want to get them angry!
The Witch Mania - 100pp. This section was unexpectedly chilling. As I read about European witch trials of the 1400s-1600s, I kept thinking of our recent satanic child abuse trials. It's all been done before: The wild unprovable accusations, including eating dead babies; trusting unreliable witnesses specifically BECAUSE of the severity of the charges; False Memory Syndrome. At least the rack & Trial by Ordeal are no longer recognized as valid forensic techniques.
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70 of 70 people found the following review helpful By M. Mcfarland on October 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is it. If you want to know how many times the world has been gripped by madness then look no farther than the reprinted edition of MacKay's classic. Written in that wonderful Olde English style of the early 19th century, MacKay takes us on a tour of the world's most horrifying manias - up to about 1840 anyway.

I particularly liked the chapter on witchcraft and witch hunts since it told me everything I'll ever need to know on why seemingly intelligent groups of people band together to banish or murder innocent members of society - just because they are different. Another engaging chapter deals with millennialism - the fear and dread that grips society at the end of each millennium. If you thought the end of the last one brought turbulence, you should read what happened a thousand years ago.

This book is often quoted by stock market pundits and talking heads as if it were a treatise on irrational behaviour in the financial markets. It isn't. It deals with irrational behaviour and mass stupidity in all walks of life. Five Stars.
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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on April 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Charles Mackay's highly recommended Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds was first published in 1841 and studies the psychology of crowds and mass mania throughout history. Mackay included accounts of classic scams, grand-scale madness, and deceptions. Some of these include the Mississippi scheme that swept France in 1720, the South Sea bubble that ruined thousands in England at the same time, and the tulip mania of Holland when fortunes were made and lost on single tulip bulbs. Other chapters deal with fads and delusions that often sprang from valid ideas and causes -- many of which still have their followers today: alchemy and the philosopher's stone, the prophecies of Nostradamus, the coming of comets and judgment day, the Rosicrucians, and astrology. Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds is an important historical treatise that modern readers will find fascinating, engaging, and shrewd as they see how history repeats itself, but that disastrous pitfalls can be avoided by understanding the cycles and patterns of greed based ignorance plays in promoting and perpetuating group hysteria in the fields of business and finance, politics and superstitions.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Yaumo Gaucho on October 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
Most people know this book is a classic -- but it's unfortunate that it's thought of as a book about investments, when investments are really only a small part of the phenomena Mackay covers. We have all heard about Dutch tulips a million times over -- it is therefore much more interesting to read Mackay's chapters about popular slang expressions, or about superstitions, or about quack medicine. There are great micro-histories here about the comings and goings of fads, both those contemporary to Mackay and those that preceded him.
While Mackay's points about the irrationality of crowds are useful for the investor, these "lessons" about Dutch tulips and other financial manias are cliches today. You need not read this book to find out about them. This book's true value lies in its comprehensive history and analyses of other fads, hoaxes, and "manias," most of which have, fittingly enough, been forgotten today.
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