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How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World

3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  1,156 Ratings  ·  98 Reviews
An entertaining, impassioned polemic on the retreat of reason in the late 20th century. An intellectual call to arms, Francis Wheen's Sunday Times bestseller is one of 2004's most talked about books.In 1979 two events occurred that would shape the next twenty-five years. In Britain, an era of weary consensualist politics was displaced by the arrival of Margaret Thatcher, w ...more
Paperback, 338 pages
Published 2004 by Harper Perennial
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Paul Bryant
I was looking for a review to revive to mark the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher of Finsbury Circus and I couldn't find one, so this will have to do. I note that the BBC are in earnest discussions whether to allow a song to be played which has just shot into the top ten here - they think it might be some kind of tasteless comment or something, can't see why. It's the old one from Wizard of Oz called "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead."

A review

Chapter 1 : this pours contempt upon Thatcherism and
Unfortunately, I cannot assign this book 2.5 stars because it lies just below "like" in my opinion, but a bit better than "ok"

First, what I liked about this book. I do very much like how he demolishes loony ideas of both the Left and the Right, and in fact he casts scorn rather more on the former than the latter. I relished his blast against Noam Chomsky, a person for whom I feel an ever increasing lack of intellectual respect. (It is difficult to discover Wheen's own political position, althoug
Jan 04, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone

In the back of my mind, I have been thinking that this book might spark controversy as the story about the people living on Pitcairn Island did. (Not that my review of that book, Lost Paradise by Kathy Marks, did, but I mean the topic in general.)

Mumbo-Jumbo. I know what it means to me, but I suspect that the phrase represents vastly different things to different people. It immediately conjures up thoughts of the occultism and spiritualism that was rampant at the end of the 19th and start of the
M.G. Harris
Mar 17, 2012 M.G. Harris rated it it was amazing
Did we just imagine the Enlightenment? Because according to Francis Wheen, its enduring power to persuade might be on the wane. This is a riveting account about the 'rise' of emotion-led thinking versus rationality, as evidenced by phenomena such as the fascination with alternative medicine, happy-clappy business gurus, the enthusiasm with collective grief at the death of Princess Diana. The darker side to this is the rise of religious fundamentalism. Written in 2004 whilst the world was still r ...more
Although he duly skewers UFO abduction tales, postmodernist irrationalism, New Age quackery and dotcom madness, Wheen's primary target is the mumbo-jumbo of the both the Right and Left (or rather what passes for the Left) in contemporary politics. It is not always clear, however, that what he identifies as mumbo-jumbo isn't, from time to time, a political prescription that works. But at least he's fair-minded; both sides get an equal dose of the rod.

Wheen's basic thesis is that modern western ci
Dec 16, 2013 Howard rated it it was ok
This is a difficult book, which took me quite a long time to read. It has a highly intellectual, philosophical style, rather than the more journalistic style which I had expected. It covers a lot of ground, from political mumbo-jumbo such as the claims about how neoliberal economics is supposed to work to the benefit of all of society, to the likes of astrology and conspiracy theories. Being a sceptical sort of person myself, but not, I hope, to the extent of having a closed mind, I was broadly ...more
Dec 15, 2014 S. rated it really liked it
Shelves: hookah, cheshire
finally, I was looking for a readable work to deal with whatever nicotine-amyls sequences are passing through my cerebrum. lots of books from six months ago are now unbearable, but somehow, Wheen's defines of just common sense attitudes against New Age claptrap and/or Sokal-affair academic cant has hit the spot. nothing like soothing relaxing text from a newspaper-trianed writer. definitely 4/5 at least. only keeping away the 5/5 due to the changes in re-readability in text here and there
Mar 05, 2011 Chinook rated it liked it
Another book that I picked up with an expectation that wasn’t realized was “How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World” by Francis Wheen. I thought it was going to be about language, instead it was about the rise in non-rational thinking in the past twenty years or so. While it wasn’t what I expected, I found it interesting. He discusses the emotional populism of recent politicians, like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton and mentions one of my favourite quotes: “Men, it has been well said, think in herds. It ...more
Jan 11, 2011 Parksy rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very intersting take on some of the political changes over the last 20 yrs. Main point is a death of rationalism at the knife of cultural relativism and post modernism. Very cool read.


From Publishers Weekly
British columnist and satirist Wheen presents an exhaustive but ultimately exhausting full-frontal assault on the past 25 years of "Counter-Enlightenment idiocy." His fencing dummies include Margaret Thatcher, Reaganomics, the Iranian Revolution, the Christian Coalition,
Mar 07, 2011 Nathan rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, abandoned
This allegedly humorous "short history of modern delusions" is, as many other reviewers have said, a tedious rant. Yes, Presidents hired witchdoctors. Yes, Thatcher professed a return to Victorian values as though they were good things. The ponderous weight of the author's determined detailing of the intellectual crimes of the vacuous and venal overwhelmed any interest I might have had in the topic. I think ultimately my problem lies with the title: we learn the steps by which mumbo-jumbo took o ...more
Jul 30, 2009 Stig rated it liked it
I'm always in the market for books debunking crackpottery, and I enjoyed this one. Its main problem is that Wheen attacks a vast range of targets which tends to weaken the focus a bit. He certainly gets around: postmodernists, Muslim fanatics, politicians of various stripes, economists, management gurus, Diana cultists... Then again, there are many kinds of nuts, and in the current climate of value relativism they get way too much acceptance not only from the gullible, but also from those who ou ...more
Sep 29, 2010 Simon rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The "wacky" cover design and "Hilarious!" quote from Jeremy Paxman had me expecting a Grumpy Old Man-style rant, but it's better than that. Wheen takes on all those who, in his view, have betrayed the principles of the Enlightenment, from New Age quacks to postmodernist critical theorists to free market evangelists. It is funny, but also erudite, passionate and informative. Some of the economics stuff went over my head, and some of the targets are all too easy (astrologers and homeopathists), bu ...more
Catherine Davison
Jul 09, 2015 Catherine Davison rated it liked it
I'm copying this from another Goodreader because it sums up my thoughts precisely....

First, what I liked about this book. I do very much like how he demolishes loony ideas of both the Left and the Right, and in fact he casts scorn rather more on the former than the latter. I relished his blast against Noam Chomsky, a person for whom I feel an ever increasing lack of intellectual respect. (It is difficult to discover Wheen's own political position, although it seems to be somewhat left, but not c
Apr 29, 2014 Kenny rated it really liked it
An entertaining critique of how so much rubbish still has so much influence, starting in 1979 and criticising Thatcher 's economics, and the Iranian revolution, both easy targets with much already written, but Wheen takes a more serious, if still reschedule - not the Charlie brookerish rants, but something more measured and considered, but often no

Moving through religion, foreign policy, lifestyle gurus, and in what was a surprisingly funny chapter, pompous academics. Both the left an
Mar 07, 2014 Tania rated it liked it
Shelves: 3-star-enjoyment
This book reminds me of Adam Curtis, a British filmmaker, who has directed some of the most interesting documentaries I have seen on politics/economics/history.

Watch THE TRAP: WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR DREAMS OF FREEDOM - The modern concept of freedom.

Watch THE CENTURY OF THE SELF - How Freud's theories concerning the unconscious led to Edward Bernays' development of public relations, the use of desire over need and self-actualisation as a means of achieving economic growth and the political control
David Williamson
Not a particular intelligent book, if anything is complicated it must be mumbo-jumbo. I read it for clear arguments against certain theories of thought, I found none.
May 26, 2011 Tweeting rated it really liked it
Deepak Chopra plus Mrs Thatcher. Wheen nails this unlikely duo.
M.G. Mason
Sep 19, 2014 M.G. Mason rated it it was ok
I am always drawn to books like this for blogging material as much as to learn stuff that I don’t know about. Lured with promises of a thorough takedown of such crackpottery as astrology, the Princess Diana “inside job” conspiracy theory, Deepak Chopra and Osama Bin Laden, I eagerly grabbed at this as a kind of natural follow on from Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science and David Aaronovitch’s Voodoo Histories.

*Huff* I am sad to say that this book did not really live up to being fodder for my blog. Sure,
John Rennie
May 14, 2014 John Rennie rated it really liked it
This is a really interesting book that will challenge everyone who reads it. It's basically a robust defence of the enlightenment and rationalism generally. Being a lefty skeptic type, I found it easy to agree with Mr Wheen's dissection and mockery of neo-liberal voodoo economics, quack medicine, horoscopes and crackpot religion. He then went on to challenge post-modernist thinking, which to a committed relativist such as me was, harder to read.
In the end he attacked the muddled thinking of some
Mar 31, 2014 Aurelien rated it liked it
Shelves: debunking
More than two hundred years after the Enlightenment, have we become more rational? Sects and cults, crystal balls, herbs, astrology and other silly multiplying nonsense are quite amusing when they serve some of our celebrities' ego. However, when it comes to inspiring some of our politicians or being a backbone to our management culture (not devoid of some New Age theories) it becomes far less funny. Having said that, are such proliferating superstitions a surprise? They shouldn't be. After all, ...more
Mark Love
Oct 16, 2012 Mark Love rated it really liked it
I first read this book in about 2005, soon after it came out. In the post-9/11 world during the dying days of Blairism and it was a refreshing broadside against the bland meaningless language that politicians and commentators effortlessly spewed to justify their actions and inactions. Reading it again now in the wake of the financial crisis, and in an age of Tory austerity it has depressingly familiar feel.

Wheen's thesis is that we are slipping back from an age of rational enlightenment into a p
This is occasionally amusing if you like watching the shooting of fish in barrels. Wheen seems to fancy himself as a modern H. L. Mencken. In an age when people generally let twaddle pass unremarked, shrugging shoulders, and assuming that the foolish are always with us, he strikes at the obvious targets boldly. Here is someone who presumes it is possible to gain some sort of advantage over the forces of idiocy.[return][return]Wheen does convince me that the fog of moral relativism has spread far ...more
May 24, 2013 Eddie rated it it was amazing
How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World links some major movements in politics, belief and commerce/economics from 1979 to the present day that defy the reason and rationality that was established by the Enlightenment several hundred years ago.

The Enlightenment was an attitude rather than an ideology. Its foundations come from the likes of Francis Bacon, John Locke, Newton, Thomas Jefferson and David Hume. There was of course different strands in thought and different options between say the contin
Steve Whiting
Feb 17, 2016 Steve Whiting rated it it was ok
The back cover describes this a "hilarious and gloriously impassioned polemic". I wouldn't disagree with the 2nd half, as Wheen fulminates against alternative medicine, consptracy theorists, prophets of doom, management gurus, post-modernism and much else besides.

The arguments against his targets are well constructed and well argued, but a lot of the prose is leaden and the book overall is a pretty dull read - the promised "hilarity" is pretty conspicuous by its absence.
Louise Armstrong
Aug 13, 2011 Louise Armstrong rated it it was ok
It's not so much what he said, I'm in agreement that fuzzy thinking is a creeping menace - but the way that he says it. He is always negative in outlook and slanted to the snide and put down. E.g. Gerald Ratner is used as 'proof' that businesmen are villains, describing him as 'all mouth and no trousers' Wheen goes on to say 'Ratner managed to transform his firm's annual profit of 112 million into a loss of 122 million and was forced to quit.'

That's it - now to me, he leaves out the hard work th
Deborah J
Mar 31, 2016 Deborah J rated it liked it
A well written, comprehensive and frightening tale of the stupidity and hypocrisy of our "leaders" in the 1980s and 1990s and those who peddled them the jargon and myths they used to justify their actions. Wheen manages to find humour in this scariness though I'm not sure I'd go as far as Paxman and say the book is "hilarious". I look forward to the author updating this book - I'm sure he'd find even more preposterous material in these strange days.
Jun 18, 2011 Hettie rated it did not like it
Shelves: not-finished
This book was very disappointing. From the comments of others and the blurb it sounded very interesting. It really was not. This subject is still I would be interested in reading but the writing in the book is just not very readible.

The prolgue is strange but was interesting. A comparison of political change in tehran and britain. The conclusion that he came to did not seemed to be linked and up to the point I read to the author had not explained how he came to that view.

I did find chapter 2 on
Eric Lawton
Feb 22, 2016 Eric Lawton rated it liked it
An easy book to write - lots of examples of how corporations, governments and individuals are spreading nonsense and outright lies to further their cause, sometimes deliberately, sometimes because they believe what they say. Paxman does an OK job of debunking individually but does not even touch the important questions such as "is it really conquering the world" (i.e. becoming more prevalent) and "what can we do about it, if anything, as a whole rather than by debunking individual nonsense. Stud ...more
Jun 26, 2014 severyn rated it really liked it
Worth it just for the phrase 'tyranny of twaddle' applied to post-modern 'gibberish' such as Lacan's 'the erectile organ comes to symbolize the place of jouissance, not in itself, or even in the form of an image, but as a part lacking in the desired image: that is why it is equivalent to the [square root of -1]'.
Owain Lewis
Jan 18, 2013 Owain Lewis rated it liked it
Pretty good but to be honest I can't remember all that much about it, apart from the last chapters about Friedmantite neoliberalism and the hypocrisy and general failiure thereof. Even so I seem to remember thinking that most of what I read seemed to be a reasonable analysis of the various situations and subjects tackled, whatever they were. It's quite research heavy, which considering the focus of the book is only a good thing, but I don't remember ever finding it boring. In fact I do remember ...more
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Francis James Baird Wheen (born 22 January 1957) is a British journalist, writer and broadcaster.

Wheen was educated at Copthorne Prep School, Harrow School and Royal Holloway College, University of London. At Harrow he was a contemporary of Mark Thatcher who has been a recurring subject of his journalism.[citation needed] He is a member of the 'soap' side of the Wheen family, whose family business
More about Francis Wheen...

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