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How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,473 ratings  ·  132 reviews
What characterizes our era? Cults, quacks, gurus, irrational panics, moral confusion and an epidemic of mumbo-jumbo, that's what. In How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, Francis Wheen brilliantly laments the extraordinary rise of superstition, relativism and emotional hysteria. From Middle Eastern fundamentalism to the rise of lotteries, astrology to mysticism, poststructu ...more
Paperback, 354 pages
Published October 4th 2004 by Harper Perennial (first published 2004)
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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
Nandakishore Varma
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: satire
Definitions of Mumbo-Jumbo:
‘Language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or bewilderment’ – Oxford English Dictionary

‘Words or activities that seem complicated or mysterious but have no real meaning’ – Cambridge Dictionary

‘If you describe ideas or words, especially religious or technical ones, as mumbo jumbo, you mean that they are nonsense’ – Collins English Dictionary

Well, it is very clear: mumbo-jumbo means nonsense. A common synonym all the dictionaries suggest is gibberish.

Tristram Shandy
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
“The Profitability of Piffle”

Francis Wheen does not like piffle, or mumbo-jumbo, or hogwash, and like some people profit from it. Instead he wants people to think for themselves, based on rationality and reason, on Kant’s conception of Enlightenment, and so to come to their own conclusions rather than pass on the cud of mumbo-jumbo. All that is fair enough, I’d say.

In How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World. A Short History of Modern Delusions, which was published in 2004, the author runs the whole
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 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 16, 2012 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
Emilia Barnes
I grew up in a pretty superstitious country, where mumbo-jumbo is the order of the day. Yet, whatever gene you need to be able to read a horoscope with a straight face or attend to the wild ramblings of a fortune teller, I don't have it. When people tell me of their experiences with the supernatural, it's like with people telling you their dreams. I feel like going:

Francis Wheen seems to think that this phenomenon of people believing things even though they don't have a rational basis for them i
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
Jennifer Ozawa
Dec 01, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Great concept, but the middle section where Wheen talks about economic theory made my eyes glaze over. Was hoping for more discussion about how pop culture has become dumbed down.
Apr 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Well thought out - a look at 'mumbo-jumbo', such as religious fundamentalism, Reaganomics, New Labour, alternative medicine, Lady Diana = Peoples' Princess, 20th century free marketing, blind anti-Americanism, communist and Stalinist apologists, Thatcherism, dot-com bubble, etc. etc. 9 out of 12!
Mark Love
Sep 25, 2012 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
Dec 16, 2013 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 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cheshire, hookah
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 ...more
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
I can definitely recommend this for those that enjoy reading about politics in regards to finance, history, war, government, religion, sociology, and pretty much any sort of topic that would generally lead to a shouting match between two people with opposite viewpoints. Politics have always been a difficult subject for me to sort out. I can't even really say which end my personal viewpoints on politics lean towards. They literally change depending on the situation on hand I am looking at and usu ...more
Apr 02, 2013 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
Jan 11, 2011 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,
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Francis Wheen is the master of killing off sacred cows with his brilliant insights and his deadly cleverness. I'm glad to have found him. This book is both brilliant and hilarious, and a lot of it was over my head and beyond my understanding. The parts that were under my head I found full of wisdom, skewering modern-day beliefs/systems/worldviews. I loved his dismissal of modern-day self-proclaimed gurus; I totally didn't understand his view on postmodernism, although I have always thought of it ...more
Dec 08, 2010 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
Aurélien Thomas
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
Kathleen (itpdx)
Aug 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Wheen says that reason is in retreat. This book was published in 2004 and it is interesting to read it knowing about the Great Recession, the endless Iraq and Afghan wars and Trump. Trump is mentioned several times in the book as "the ostentatious 1980's mogul" and "the gloriously vulgar property developer".
Wheen takes on religion, economics, politics and shows how far off-base they have wandered from the Enlightenment ideals. But he fails to acknowledge that the US's founding fathers were not
Pinko Palest
Feb 16, 2016 rated it did not like it
I really don't know why I reread this. Probably to punish myself. There is very little about mumbo jumbo here, but there is very much about the author's hatred towards most strands of left-wing thought. He does throw in a few pieces about the mumbo jumbo sprouted by business-people, or by Blair and Clinton, but his main attack throughout is on the Left, from post-modernism to anti-imperialism. Wheen does mention the giants of Enlightenment (such as Voltaire and Diderot)thought as a counter-weigh ...more
Jun 24, 2009 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 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
Oct 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: smart people
I read it a few years ago and I really loved it. I knew Wheen from his admirable bio of Marx, and this book is essentially a celebration of rationalism and enlightenment values. He brutally (and quite wittily) dissects postmodern cultural theorists, free marketers, religious fanatics, Deepak Chopra and many other Charlatans. Hysterical.
Lukas Dufka
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: skepticism
An eloquent and darkly-humorous book which describes our culture’s distressing abandonment of reason and its replacement with cultural relativism, emotional sentimentalism and feel-good fictions. Quite prescient a warning, I must say, coming before, as it did, the appearance of Donald Trump, the Kardashians, trigger-warnings, colouring books for adults, the Brexit and the selfie-stick.
Had I read this during the height of my Christopher Hitchens faze, I know for a fact that I would have liked this book a lot more. It's snarky and well written, but at times it lays the blame on too thick and I just can't help but feel that the author is too annoyed with certain things and just gets derailed. But the book is really well written and far-ranging in scope. ...more
May 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Deepak Chopra plus Mrs Thatcher. Wheen nails this unlikely duo.
Kathleen O'Neal
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is brilliant and hilarious. I loved it when I read it for the first time in college and plan to revisit it at some point soon to see if my assessment holds up over time.
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 :) ...more
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Here are three excerpts from the book, which could make you interested in:
"In the first place, singularities-events correspond to heterogeneous series which are organised into a system which is neither stable nor unstable, but rather ‘metastable’, endowed with a potential energy wherein the differences between series are distributed … In the second place, singularities possess a process of auto-unification, always mobile and displaced to the extent that a paradoxical element traverses the seri
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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

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