Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds
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Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds

3.93 of 5 stars 3.93  ·  rating details  ·  1,189 ratings  ·  172 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 740 pages
Published May 13th 1980 by Three Rivers Press (first published 1841)
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Aug 19, 2007 James rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: favorites
This is one of the greatest books ever written.
First published in 1841, I think it has been in print continually ever since. Rare for a non fiction book.
I read it about once every 10 years to remind myself of mob psychology.
One of my favorite genres.
Also the author has a gift for storytelling.

About a dozen chapters, each one about a different set of events.
All examples of mob behavior.
How people can abandon critical analysis when "everyone else is doing it".
About the balance between Fear an...more
In the weeks before the election, as the financial crisis spun ever farther out of control and the pundits' shrieks grew ever more shrill, I browsed through "Popular Delusions.." and found solace. Charles Mackay's extraordinary survey of the various manifestations of mass hysteria throughout history cannot help but offer perspective. He reminds us that, no matter how batshit crazy a particular fad might seem, it's already been done by our ancestors. There is truly nothing new under the sun; the...more
This book is quite a riveting book. The name of the book describes exactly what you might expect it to contain. “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” provides a list of history’s ridiculous schemes, fantasies, prophesies witchcraft, faith healers and more. The author then debunks the delusions by citing the proof that was published at the time of the delusion.

I will list a few a few of the stories I liked best.

The first chapter teaches us about a Scottish character named...more
Mark Twain once famously characterized a "classic" as "a book that everyone praises and nobody reads," and while there are plenty of classics that absolutely hold up (The Iliad, Moby Dick,, hell, most anything by Twain himself), there are plenty of others that disappoint. I waited years to finally read Don Quixote (first book only), only to find that it was pretty boring. Figured the movie M, starring Peter Lorre, was can't-miss. It missed. Gave up on Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and fin...more
Lois Bujold
Jul 31, 2013 Lois Bujold rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: everyone
It's been too long since I've read this, but there's a reason it's been in print since 1841. Among other things, it has a classic account of the Dutch tulip mania, one of the first (but far from the last) market bubbles, and still instructive.

And I see it is now available through Project Gutenberg and for free for one's Kindle, so Amazon will be my next stop tonight.

Ta, L.
Erik Graff
Aug 18, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: business students
Recommended to Erik by: James Koehnline
Shelves: history
I was surprised and somewhat pleased to see that some business book publishers help keep this amusing work in print. The most memorable portions of it are about financial scams, panics and fads--all crazy.
Mohammad Ali Abedi
"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."

Written in 1841, "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay, the book is a great fun to read. Let me just quote wikipedia, "The subjects of Mackay's debunking include economic bubbles, alchemy, crusades, witch-hunts, prophecies, fortune-telling, magnetisers (influence of imagination in curing disease), shape of hai...more
Keith Kendall
Sep 23, 2012 Keith Kendall rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Humans
Shelves: history, psychology
I kept mentioning this book to people, but it has been over 10 years since I read it and I was forgetting what it actually contains, and so it was time to read it again. This time it was just as delightful as the first time, although I began to wonder about the value of reading endless repetitions of the folly of man.

It is a great cautionary tale about how easily we fall into error, and warns against some of the bigger errors that we have fallen into. As such, this book is valuable to remind ou...more
Marc Lucke

I understand completely why this text was reissued: the parallels to contemporary events (like the dot-com bubble, the housing bubble, the crash of 2007 and frenzied investment in Iraqi infrastructure and petroleum projects) are so striking as to almost seem contrived. It's like history has conspired to bear out MacKay's thesis to perfection: you could hardly hope for better validation outisde of a laboratory!

The illumination cast by his thesis itself is probably worthy of a five-star rating, bu

Cheryl in CC NV
Well, ok, I admit I didn't read the whole thing. I'll have to buy it. It's more like a reference, like a themed sampler of an encyclopedia. And it's difficult to read because it's old, from back when they used more big words and complex syntax. But goodness, the curious historian, the careful economist, the conscientous politician, all could learn & benefit from MacKay's collection of examples of historical follies. Bear in mind though that it's not analysis, just presentation.
Fairly interesting read, due to the topics it discusses.

Most interesting parts were probably the mississippi and south sea bubbles, the crusades, the witch-hunts, and the thugs.

The book is very obviously victorian – moralising tone, tendency to gloss over 'prurient' (as the book puts it) details. There is also some irony in that certain beliefs the author takes as well-established might not be so widespread today. The magnetisers was probably the most boring section; being close to the author's...more
Adam Hecklinger
Written in the mid 19th century I found the "old" english a bit tough to read. The book shows just how little has changed when it comes to capital markets and how irrational people can be when money (and greed) are involved. The chapter on the 17th century Dutch tulip craze summarizes the overall message rather well.
David Gross
First published in 1841, this is a chronicle of some of the more prominent lunacies ever to sweep a culture. Included are in-depth studies of The Crusades, the Dutch tulipomania, various proto-capitalist bubbles, the Euro-American witch hunts, prophets and alchemists, and slow poisoners.
I really enjoy reading history books and this is no exception eventhough it is a classical investment book. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is a very old and also very contemporary book. Easy to read and enjoy.
Mark Mallett
Phew, this book has a lot of words. Or maybe it just seems that way because they were written so long ago and the faded vocabulary they draw from and the faded prose they assemble into is so hard to make out.

Written in 1841 or thereabouts, this book purports to be an examination of various ways in which people en masse are subject to, as the title says, popular delusions and madnesses - delusions and madnesses that are often specifically of their time and place (e.g. witch mania or religious cru...more
Jake Losh
Frankly, I did not find Charles MacKay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds to be all that interesting. It covers quite a lot of ground, but none of it very satisfactorily. On the one hand, it's a history of viral trends before that was a thing (well before, in fact, because this book is quite old). It has very detailed descriptions of various slang that spread throughout London at the time and on the history of various forms of fortune-telling. It even has a very long cha...more
John Sutherland
This book, despite its age has a timeless quality to it as it keeps us alive to the stupidity of each succeeding generation with the endless delusions we get caught up in. The snag is, that we forget, and as Santayana said, 'those who forget history, are doomed to repeat it. Each succeeding generation should read this book. It covers our mistakes with 'The South Sea Bubble' possibly the first major market crash where fortunes were made and lost; Tulipmania, where certain tulip bulbs changed hand...more
Russell Bittner
“This is the most important book ever written about crowd psychology and, by extension, about financial markets. A serious student of the markets and even anyone interested in the extremes of human behavior should read this book (Ron Insana, writing for CNBC).”

If Mr. Insana’s observation on the rear cover of this compendium of Charles Mackay’s and Joseph de la Vega’s treatises sounds like a bit of hyperbole, let's just remember that Mr. Insana writes for CNBC.

I haven’t read enough primary litera...more
Koen Crolla
Charles Mackay catalogues some of the irrational fads that have gripped mankind over the years, in an effort to demonstrate that today's bullshit is neither unique nor new. Of course, his ``today'' was 1841, so his grasp on history isn't particularly reliable—which is made more painful by the completely unnecessary level of detail of his accounts—and he isn't necessarily as good at identifying irrationality as might be hoped (at one point calling belief in the afterlife ``the greatest triumph of...more
Marc D
written in the 19th century extraordinary popular delusions in the madness of crowds gives plenty of examples of the irrational behavior caused by money in particularly the selling of shares in the stock market.when compared to the events of today you can see people do not learn when it comes to money. when the economic bubbles pop there's always someone who says they can do it better and they will try but it always will lead to some sort of collapse and reform of government and monetary institu...more
Maki Kotone
I've had a lot going on for the past week and a half, so it ended up taking me much longer to get through this book than I had expected it to. Every time I'd finally get to sit down to read, something else would happen, and I wouldn't be able to get back to it for the next day and a half.

Interruptions aside, I devoured this book. I was worried that it'd be a bit dry, being an analytical look at the various madnesses of the past. However, the only chapter that really felt like it dragged on was t...more
Reading MacKay’s famous book now, in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse, is beyond startling. The very first chapter, on John Law’s “Mississippi Scheme” of the early 18th century, demonstrates that the speculative stock bubbles we just endured, and their disastrous effects, were nothing new. Indeed, reading MacKay’s book, published in 1841, one is reminded of a great many absurdities that still flourish today. (How many haunted-house shows are currently running on cable?) It suggests either...more
Must say that I was a little disappointed with this book. I thought that it be more about an analysis of the madness of crowds however it was more about telling the history behind the events.

What I didn't appreciate was the fact that the book was written over 150 years ago! The style of writing I also found difficult to follow. I didn't feel that it was particularly straight forward, it tended to get too descriptive in my opinion.

I did however enjoy the chapter about the crusades, having studied...more
A wonderful, voluminous book full of oddities.

I found "Extraordinary Popular Delusions" in a used bookstore and was sold as soon as I read some of the chapter headings:

"The Tulipomania"

"Influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and Beard"

"Duels and Ordeals"

The author goes to great lengths to illuminate these and a plethora of other instances of human mass insanity. He writes in a lively way that makes even his fifty page introduction on a failed French investment scheme seem entertaining. A...more
This was originally published in 3 volumes with the first volume appearing in 1841. The version that I read was the Wordsworth edition which had 600 pages and 16 chapters.

Please note that all 3 volumes appear on Project Gutenberg for those people who don't mind reading from a screen. The version that I read contains most chapters that appeared in the 3 volumes. The chapters that are in the Gutenberg version but not my version are 'The O.P. Mania', 'The Thugs, or Phansigars' and 'The Love of the...more
This was probably the best book I've ever read, and I'm not exaggerating. It's informative, entertaining (and often hilarious), and provides insight into human nature that is just as meaningful and relevant today as it was in 1842. Despite the wide range of topics, the title describes the central theme perfectly, and MacKay describes ways that civilization has constantly been plagued with crazes and manias, and how these delusions still effect people in modern times.

He covers a wide range of top...more
Carl Brush
Extraordinary Popular Delusions was recommended to me as a way of doing some homework on a novel I’m working on set in the financial world. And, indeed, McKay explores some of the more interesting historical examples of boom and bust, such as the South Sea Bubble. However, he also takes a look at other instances of public mania--the adoration of criminals, the Crusades, alchemy, and the like.
From the financial point of view, we are reminded of how much the old French saying about same and cha...more
Zakariah Johnson
This is quite possibly my favorite book of all time. I remembered today that I hadn't added it to my Goodreads collection when I took a tour of the Witch Trial Museum in Salem, MA, which is a very good place to strike up conversations with strangers about civil rights and religious mania. MacKay of course said that he avoided any inclusion of religious manias in his book, since it would require an entire volume just to enumerate them. Too true.

The best reason I have to recommend MacKay is that...more
This book is pretty entertaining in parts, though I think descriptions of it tend to make it sound even more entertaining than it is. The main subject is the lunacy that people get up to when in groups, especially in the form of investment bubbles (South Sea Island company, Mississippi company, etc.). There are also a number of other stories scattered throughout (Tulipomania is probably the most ridiculous). That said, he does tend to focus on the bubbles and the rest of the stories seem to be l...more
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Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Volume 2) The Lost Beauties of the English Language Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds 1 Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions. Volume 1 of 3 The Witch Mania

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“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, one by one.” 21 likes
“I never lost money by turning a profit.” 17 likes
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