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How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  900 ratings  ·  80 reviews
In 1979 two events occurred that would shape the next twenty-five years. In America and Britain, an era of weary consensus was displaced by the arrival of a political marriage of fiery idealists: Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher transformed politics with a combination of breezy charm and assertive "Victorian values." In Iran, the fundamentalist cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published July 6th 2005 by PublicAffairs (first published 2004)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,682)
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Paul
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
...more
Mike

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
...more
Steve
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
...more
Palmyrah
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
...more
M.G. Harris
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
Howard
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
Chinook
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
Parksy
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,
...more
S.
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
Nathan
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
Stig
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
Simon
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
Kenny
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 less.net.

Moving through religion, foreign policy, lifestyle gurus, and in what was a surprisingly funny chapter, pompous academics. Both the left an
...more
Tania
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
...more
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.
Tweeting
Deepak Chopra plus Mrs Thatcher. Wheen nails this unlikely duo.
M.G. Mason
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,
...more
John Rennie
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
...more
Aurelien
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
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
...more
Simeonberesford
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
Eddie
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
...more
Louise Armstrong
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
...more
Hettie
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
...more
severyn
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
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
Maciej Chojnacki
Dobra książka A momentami, szczególnie pod koniec, nawet bardzo dobra. Miałem chwilę zwątpienia, ale to właśnie końcówka przynosi zwyżkę formy. O czym to jest? O obronie Oświecenia, w największym skrócie. O New Age, UFO, teoriach spiskowych, ale również o współczesnej ekonomii i polityce. Wheen nie szczędzi razów nikomu: obrywa się i lewicy i prawicy. Czuć wprawdzie lekką "anglocentryczność", ale nie na tyle żeby zrezygnować z lektury. Czytając "Jak brednie podbiły świat" miałem wrażenie, że ską ...more
Len
Mr. Wheen has an interesting perspective on the world and this book is a fun look at how we got to a place where B.S. seems to rule all. I really enjoyed the more cultural chapters, like the one about "gurus" like Deepak Chopra and Tony Robbins. Wheen takes them apart for selling such crap and takes down a few politicians as well.

But the book gets all "economic" about halfway through and never goes back to the fun stuff. He spends countless pages talking about globalization and American foreign
...more
Fiona Ranson
Read this years ago- about to dip into it- it's a laugh out loud fabulous read that reinforces a view that with so many irrational numpties leading us- being led by 'the stars'- we're doomed :)
Laurie
I've read and re-read this several times. It's a great antidote to the world's modern insanities. You may not agree with every point Wheen makes, but you should at least think hard about all of them.
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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
More about Francis Wheen...
Karl Marx Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Days of Paranoia Hoo Hahs And Passing Frenzies: Collected Journalism, 1991 2001 Idiot Proof: Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons, and the Erosion of Common Sense

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