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Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

(Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds #1-3)

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  3,476 ratings  ·  330 reviews
First published in 1841, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is often cited as the best book ever written about market psychology. This Harriman House edition includes Charles Mackay's account of the three infamous financial manias - John Law's Mississipi Scheme, the South Sea Bubble, and Tulipomania.
Between the three of them, these historic episodes
Hardcover, 114 pages
Published September 1st 2003 by Harriman House (first published 1841)
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May 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2008
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
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and Madness of the Crowds
By Charles Mackay 1814-1889)
Charles Mackay was a Scottish poet, journalist, author, anthologist, novelist, and songwriter remembered mainly for his book 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds'.

The themes of the madness of the crowds are mostly situated in the eighteenth to the nineteenth century.

The Mississippi scheme:
Louis XIV died in 1715. The heir to the throne is an infant of only seven years of age,
The Duke of
Oct 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
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
Lois Bujold
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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

I am a little disappointed after reading Charles Mackay’s book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds, for the title promised (to me, at least) so much! I was sure to find an extensive psychological study on the subject of crowds’ psychology, but what I found is only a (true, pretty impressive) collection of many follies crowds had been prey of over time, accompanied by some candid comments from a bewildered author, usually in the spirit of the following:

When the world begins
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a delightful read! Oh, to be reminded of humanity's follies and foolishness. Yes, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. I'm always delighted to read of the foibles of Walter the Penniless and Peter the Hermit, truly amusing but for the (hundreds of?) thousands of misguided followers who met an early and painful death in the first crusade. And how about those many thousands of suspected witches who met brutal deaths? And on and on.

We see in this volume echoes of the enthusiasms that prop
Erik Graff
Jan 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  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.
Bernardo Kaiser
Feb 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
I guess the low rating is my fault, this book is written in a very victorian styles and it feels more like a reference book than one that you actually opens to read it from beginning to end. Anyway, lost interest after the 78th description of some renaissance alchemist
Al Maki
Jul 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Today, July 29, 2014, Amazon has a market capitalization of $147,380,000,000 and a price/earnings ratio of 569. That is, people have one hundred forty seven billion dollars invested in Amazon and at the present rate will earn back their money in 569 years. This book is an excellent place to start if you want to understand how this could come about. There are excellent books on the financial aspecst or history of such phenomena, Galbraith or John Cassidy for example. But at bottom this is not a f ...more
Essential reading for those interested in investing in the stock market or cryptocurrency. The chapters on Tulipomania or The South Sea Bubble will remind the ignorant that nothing much has changed in 400 years except the name of the swindle or Ponzi scheme.

Chapters on Relics, Haunted Houses, Fortune Telling, Witch Mania, The Crusades, etc. show how this nonsense was already debunked almost 200 years ago.

Mackay is mainly a chronicler and rarely comments or offers solutions. The folly of his narr
Marc Lucke
Apr 06, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction

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

Sue Burke
Aug 14, 2020 rated it liked it
A historically important compendium of urban myths gilded with a thin layer of facts and moralizing musings. It can serve as a springboard to the study of actual history, economics, and psychology, or it can be an entertaining way to pass some time -- but don't believe everything you read here.
Nathan Frankel
Apr 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why read a book originally published in 1841 about the delusions and madness of times long gone? I think the author makes a strong case early in the work:

"Let us not, in the pride of our superior knowledge, turn with contempt from the follies of our predecessors. The study of errors into which great minds have fallen in the pursuit of truth can never be uninstructive. As the man looks back to the days of his childhood and youth, and recalls to his mind the strange notions and false opinions tha
Apr 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The book was first published in 1841, but all the recent bubbles (Japanese real estate, dot-com, us housing bubbles) shares similarity with the older events . Plus ça change; history repeats itself because human nature doesn't change. When physicist Isaac Newton lost some fortune in his investment in the South Sea Company, he said "I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people" and warned others not mention the name "South Sea" ever again in his presence.

Most bub
Alisi ☆ wants to read too many books ☆
I only read the chapter on witches. Sam Harris wrote an intro to that and published it as its own little book. I didn't know what until I started the book, though. I kind of wish I'd read the whole thing.

Anyway, it was fascinating to read this. The author did a great job with it. The cases are rather horrifying and I thought it was interesting that the author wrote on the subject. This seems to be one of those things that the Church is determined to forget so you never really see much on the su
Reading this book written over 150 years ago majes you realize how little people have changed over the course of history, right up to today. The chapter dealing with trendy phrases was particularily illustrative of this.
Oct 21, 2014 rated it it was ok
The core ideas is great, but the presentation is very tedious. It is extremely repetitive in the examples it enumerates. You are better off reading a summary of the different categories that the author covers (e.g. financial bubbles, witch hunts, alchemy)
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anna by: dan l
Shelves: nf-history-bio
the remarkable story of John Law and the Mississippi Scheme is told in the language and cadence of a cautionary tale like "the Emperor's New Clothes"

South Sea Bubble

The Usual
The great strength - and weakness- of this book is that it was written by a nineteenth century journalist. It would be a very different thing had the author been a twenty-first century social scientist. It is best, then, to think of The Madness of Crowds as a catalogue of bizarre human behaviour, rather then a piece of popular science writing. Mackay wasn't trying to write about mass psychology or economics, after all. He was trying entertain his audience and to demonstrate, as effectively as po ...more
Keith Davis
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We tend to think of sarcasm as a modern affliction, but Charles Mackay's writing is as sarcastic as anything I have ever read. Extraordinary Popular Delusions is a 700 page study of what Mackay calls the Madness of Europe, up until 1841. The book is divided into long and short sections, depending on how exhaustively the author wanted to explore a given topic. Some of the long sections include financial bubbles, alchemy, the Crusades, and witch hunting frenzies. Shorter sections cover various typ ...more
An Idler
Apr 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mackay is sometimes a little silly (he spends hundreds of pages showing how the brightest men of science and learning fell for alchemy, then looks to science and knowledge to save us from superstitions like witchcraft) but always entertaining and often fairly profound. I suppose this is still remembered mostly for the opening chapters on famous market bubbles - and I wouldn't be surprised if most people skip or give up in the chapter on alchemy - but it's worth reading cover to cover.
Scott Humphries
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Madness! If you think Monty Python’s witch scene — where villagers burn an alleged witch because witches are supposed to be burned, wood also burns, wood floats, ducks also float, and the alleged must therefore be a witch if she weighs the same as a duck — is funny, it is. But was it funny when for several centuries the church-driven popular delusion of witchcraft led to the actual burning alive of perhaps 100,000 women (and some men) in scenes at least as ridiculous as that? How could such fool ...more
Mohammad Ali Abedi
Aug 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
"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
Roz  Milner
Jan 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A charmingly dated look at frauds, hoaxsters and other chicanery, Charles Mackay's classic Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds, is an interesting, facinating read.

Originally written in the mid-19th century, Mackay was a Scottish writer who dabbled in poetry, journalism and even songs, but is primarily remembered these days for this massive look at the ways people get sucked into scams and hoaxes. His book covers a wide range of these, from money bubbles to witchcraft trials
Jun 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Just got there, I got some golden nuggets from this but the peak of it wasn't the once I expected it to be, but great read nevertheless.
May 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Magnum opus on historical fantasies in three volumes. There's no part of this I didn't like. Every book in every volume (my Gutenberg PDF has the bulk of the book in part one, followed by three more books devoted to alchemists, fortune tellers and magnetisers) is full of interesting historical stories of varying degrees of import.

It was good after hearing about tulips for so many years to finally read a detailed report, and to learn about parallels in England, France, and so on. But I also liked
Slow and steady wins the race. This is one of those reference books that you could open once in a while, when in the mood for a bit of amusing-history-of-humanity, and then put it back on the stand and let it simmer.
So far I managed to work through the first volume and believe me, it's amazing. Mackay is an accomplished chronicler and his simple narration of events creates some subtle irony. He does make a personal comment once in a while, none of it amiss.
Things I learnt so far:
1) Futures Cont
Koen Crolla
Feb 17, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
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Charles Mackay was a Scottish poet, journalist, author, anthologist, novelist, and songwriter, remembered mainly for his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

Mackay became a journalist in London: in 1834 he was an occasional contributor to The Sun. From the spring of 1835 till 1844 he was assistant sub-editor of the Morning Chronicle. In the autumn of 1839 he spent a mont

Other books in the series

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds (3 books)
  • Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds, Volume 1
  • Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Volume 2
  • Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Vol 3

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