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

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,280 Ratings  ·  113 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, 336 pages
Published July 6th 2005 by PublicAffairs (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
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mark Love
Sep 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 wondered from the Enlightenment ideals. But he fails to acknowledge that the US's founding fathers were not
Jan 11, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
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
Mar 07, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 26, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deepak Chopra plus Mrs Thatcher. Wheen nails this unlikely duo.
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.
Mark McTague
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a plea for the primacy of reason, not in the domain of the emotions, but in nearly all other domains of life, particularly the public and particularly the modern world. If you've ever felt pressured to "drink the Kool-Aid,", Francis Wheen is your knight in armor. From alien abductions, the power of crystals, and creationism, to Diana-mania (The oxymoronic "People's Princess"), the Ponzi schemes of the "revolution" in economics, and the absurdities of post-modern thought, every wi ...more
Eduardo Garcia-Gaspar
La premisa del libro es la existencia de ideas, hechos y personas que son charlatanería, insensatez, tontería, engaño. Y eso hace en todas sus páginas usando un tono de denuncia indignada, a veces sarcástica limitando su examen a los EEUU y el RU. Mientras existen señalamientos razonables, hay otros dudosos e incluso posibles de calificar también como «mumbo-jumbro» del propio autor. El problema es colocar todo lo apuntando en una misma canasta única sin criterios de selección. De este modo caen ...more
Aug 14, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I would only give two stars for readability but this work is well researched so I gave it three. I found Wheen's style to be somewhat chellenging to follow in that very little personal commentary was offered amidst a constant barrage of long quotes and non-linear narrative.

I also liked that Wheen was equal opportunity when it came to doling out his scorn. Nobody catches a break for their foolishness. I did not like that I was promised hilarity and was barely able to crack a smile at his sparse,
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Engrossing history of the rise of unreason and the decline of Enlightenment values on both left and right over the last 40 years, from postmodernist refusals of objective reality to homeopathy, religious revivalism to radical Islam.

Published in 2004, so much focused on late Clinton and early Bush / Blair, and obviously missing the Tea Party, Trump, and Brexit - but by having charted the trajectory this early on, we should have seen them all coming... Slightly dated in some of its examples, perha
Catherine Davison
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
Gordon Wells
A polemic against all manner of irrational thinking from the last three decades or so. But ended up being more a laundry list instead of making a cohesive point
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Heather Mathie
I enjoyed this - as long as I didn't take myself so seriously while reading this. I think that this is a book that you'll either like or you won't. Parts of it I loved, others I was like, huh? So I'll leave you to make up your own mind about it.
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm sure this is a great book unfortunately I am not smart enough to appreciate it. If you came to this book (like I did) looking for something similar to Ben Goldacre I suggest you back away.
Mar 03, 2017 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Za sada dosadno.
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,
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
Apr 13, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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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“In his study of eighteenth-century feelings, John Mullan argues that sentimental passion and sympathy offered ‘a more inclusive vocabulary of social coherence’ than politics could provide. This” 0 likes
“the cosmogony of Genesis is so simple that even a yokel can grasp it. It is set forth in a few phrases. It offers, to an ignorant man, the irresistible reasonableness of the nonsensical. So he accepts it with loud hosannas, and has one more excuse for hating his betters.” 0 likes
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