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The Delusions Of Crowds: Why People Go Mad in Groups

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From the award-winning author of A Splendid Exchange, a fascinating new history of financial and religious mass manias over the past five centuries

“We are the apes who tell stories,” writes William Bernstein. “And no matter how misleading the narrative, if it is compelling enough it will nearly always trump the facts.” As Bernstein shows in his eloquent and persuasive new book, The Delusions of Crowds, throughout human history compelling stories have catalyzed the spread of contagious narratives through susceptible groups―with enormous, often disastrous, consequences.

Inspired by Charles Mackay’s 19th-century classic Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Bernstein engages with mass delusion with the same curiosity and passion, but armed with the latest scientific research that explains the biological, evolutionary, and psychosocial roots of human irrationality. Bernstein tells the stories of dramatic religious and financial mania in western society over the last 500 years―from the Anabaptist Madness that afflicted the Low Countries in the 1530s to the dangerous End-Times beliefs that animate ISIS and pervade today’s polarized America; and from the South Sea Bubble to the Enron scandal and dot com bubbles of recent years. Through Bernstein’s supple prose, the participants are as colorful as their motivation, invariably “the desire to improve one’s well-being in this life or the next.”

As revealing about human nature as they are historically significant, Bernstein’s chronicles reveal the huge cost and alarming implications of mass mania: for example, belief in dispensationalist End-Times has over decades profoundly affected U.S. Middle East policy. Bernstein observes that if we can absorb the history and biology of mass delusion, we can recognize it more readily in our own time, and avoid its frequently dire impact.

576 pages, Paperback

First published February 23, 2021

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About the author

William J. Bernstein

25 books371 followers
William J. Bernstein is an American financial theorist and neurologist. His research is in the field of modern portfolio theory and he has published books for individual investors who wish to manage their own equity portfolios. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 78 reviews
Profile Image for David.
653 reviews238 followers
May 12, 2022
A very disappointing book, but still possibly useful.

I am a city-dwelling American. I occasionally meet other city-dwelling Americans who said that they don't understand the often non-city-dwelling population, that is, those who support Donald Trump, refuse vaccinations, and dislike education and the educated. This book does not explain the thoughts of every member of that population, of course, but an influential sub-group are believers of, as Bernstein calls it, the "dispensationalist end-times narrative", perhaps familiar to fellow book nerds from the once-popular Left Behind series. This book explains more clearly what people in this group believe, which parts of The Bible they draw on to support their beliefs, as well as which parts they ignore because they contradict same.

Bernstein explains these beliefs clearly but with undisguised disdain. This has led certain nitwits here on Goodreads and elsewhere to say that Bernstein is anti-Christian, perhaps because, as Bernstein notes, this group often defines Christian as exclusively those who agree with their lunatic interpretations of the Book of Revelation and other texts. This book is not anti-Christian. For example, he praises theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (page 238), and I strongly suspect that the author has no quarrel with members of the Christian community who feed the hungry and heal the sick. It is anti-dispensationalist.

That's the useful part. Now I'd like to write about the disappointing part.

My Kindle tells me that this book is 415 pages long, from table of contents to acknowledgments (that is, not including notes, etc.). I think this could have been a really good 275-page book.

To make this an excellent 275-page book, the author (or his editor) could have eliminated digressions and unnecessary expressions of opinion that do not advance the author's thesis. There are many in this book, but I'd like to point out one especially clear and easily-remedied example.

Chapter 5 narrates a history of failed apocalyptic prediction in the US, especially in the "Second Great Awakening" of the 1840s, focusing on one particular failed but sympathetic prophet of doom named William Miller. It's an interesting period of history, and Miller's story is compelling. On page 142, Bernstein interrupts this story to ridicule -- for one paragraph -- Erich Von Daniken, author of a 1970s bestselling book which contended that extraterrestrials visited earth. Now, I am old enough to remember this book and the simpletons who took it seriously, so I understand the urge to subject this bilgewater to the disapproprium it richly deserves. But it just doesn't fit here. Von Daniken is not mentioned before or after in the book, and subjecting his dimwitted bestseller to a tongue-lashing, no matter how deserved, is pointless in a narrative which is, at that point, about the credulousness of mid-19th century Christians.

Lest you get the idea that this book is relentless Christian-bashing, rest assured that other recent villains also come in for a paddling, particularly stock-market bubble-makers and internet-savvy Islamic extremists, but the distracting authorial opining remains the same.

It's a shame that the writing in this book was not tighter, because I think that the author's main ideas, including the idea that we now better understand the medical basis for crowd-driven belief in the transparently false, due to recent advances in brain science, are important for people to know, and could increase understanding of why things are the way they are.
Profile Image for Eric Brown.
14 reviews2 followers
April 4, 2021
Overall, pretty good.

The middle section is significantly brought down by his sneering tone towards evangelical Protestants (and religious people in general).

I would have appreciated a section on "scientific" delusions, such as eugenics, polywater, N-rays, and so forth. It would have leavened his religious bigotry significantly.
Profile Image for J Earl.
1,937 reviews76 followers
February 8, 2021
The Delusions of Crowds by William J Bernstein is in many ways an updating of Charles Mackay’s Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions. Because they resonate with people and to keep the length of the book manageable, he limited his examples to financial and religious mass manias. In other words, he avoided political, or at least overtly political, manias.

I really enjoyed learning more about these events/periods and even where I knew a little about them Bernstein's depth offered new information and insight for me. No doubt some people who believe that the end-times will be in their lifetimes will find fault with his approach to our current mass maniacs, even to the point of claiming that they are different. Well, same hard to understand book as source material and very similar mindsets, but yeah, different. If you don't believe them, they have zip ties for your hands and a gallows outside.

That particular delusional group aside, the history, psychology, and neuroscience covered in helping to explain why we, as humans, are so prone to these mass hysterias is intriguing.

The only reason I deducted a star is because at times I found myself reading the historical accounts, enjoying them, but forgetting what the point of the book was. It all came together, the details were definitely helpful, but at times I felt like I was reading a straightforward history book rather than one with a unifying theme. I don't mean to imply he left the topic, more that I just got so wrapped up in the historical account I lost sight of the purpose.

Highly recommended for readers who wonder how and why these types of things are so common. Also for those who simply enjoy reading well-written accounts of strange historical events.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
Profile Image for Avid.
225 reviews16 followers
December 14, 2020
I received an advance readers copy thinking that i would love it. Buuuuuuut - it was just too much. Way more depth and material than i was prepared for. I think this book would make a suitable textbook for a semester-long study on the topic, with a heavy leaning on finance. I made it through 13% when i gave up. I expect that some people will really appreciate the depth of study that obviously went into creating this work, but it’s more than i was prepared for.
Profile Image for Mark Richards.
6 reviews2 followers
April 16, 2021
Anyone that sees the things that are happening now will see that they happened then and again, and again

A fly over that lets you see today , through the history of yesteryear, which repeats again and again. I find this very comforting it allows me to see the arc of much of today....
21 reviews
June 9, 2021
I hesitated between 3 starts and 5 on this one.

It's an incredibly insightful book full of fascinating new analytical perspectives on this mystery of why people behave so irrationally as crowds.

A few chapters were a bit too long and detailed which made it hard to follow and not engaging, especially the many chapters about dispensationalists (which the author is clearly not a fan of, with the minute level of detailed criticism and analysis of minor historical figures).

That's why I considered the 3 starts. However, there are just a few too many nuggets of valuable wisdom throughout the book that I haven't read anywhere else that justify the 5 stars.

I particularly enjoyed learning about the distinction between IQ and RQ which I haven't heard before and explains so much why so many extremely intelligent people make very stupid decisions. Intelligence and rational thinking aren't correlated (unlike what many smart people would assume).

So if you enjoy a heavy detailed read that leads to some amazing insights I highly recommend it. If you prefer your readings to be on the lighter side and less detailed about some minor historical events this might not quite be the book for you.
Profile Image for Alan Fuller.
Author 6 books30 followers
April 9, 2021
The author says people don’t analyze the world but tend to rationalize how the facts conform to their emotions. We respond more to narratives than to facts and data. Bernstein combines elements of neuropsychology, social psychology, evolutionary psychology, financial economics, and history. Religion and financial manias might seem to have little in common, but the underlying need is to improve one’s well-being in this life or the next. He feels the well-educated person today has little need for a theological explanation about the natural world.

“But that’s not how people behave; when we hold strong opinions on a topic, we intentionally avoid exposing ourselves to contrary data, and when disconfirming information can no longer be ignored, it can trigger the proselytization of delusional beliefs, as happened with Dorothy Martin’s flying saucer sect.” p.411
Profile Image for Rob Sedgwick.
313 reviews2 followers
June 29, 2021
This book was very well researched a lot of detail on all the mass delusions. However, it did very little explaining of WHY. "Why?" was touched upon briefly in just a few pages in the book, which is little more than a detailed view of a dozen or so examples. The examples are all of two types: financial and religious. Only in the final few pages did the author touch upon Nazism, which certainly deserved a chapter in place of one of the many sections on Zionism.
Profile Image for Madeline Kaa.
314 reviews3 followers
August 1, 2021
so anyway this book is more of an extremely dense dissertation on a handful of ideas (money, religion, predictions of the apocalypse) with some historical examples relayed in excruciatingly thorough detail (not to mention at times downright meandering), than it is, like, a breakdown of the science of crowd induced hysteria and delusions. although it has the occasional pocket of interesting moments, this one was a slog
Profile Image for D.L. Morrese.
Author 11 books54 followers
June 27, 2021
Why do people go mad in crowds? Good question. Despite the subtitle, this book does not provide a succinct answer, although it does present several historical accounts of when people did succumb to irrational economic and religious beliefs. Underlying them all is the premise that humans are not rational creatures. Not predominantly, anyway. Sure, given sufficient time to examine a situation, they may make rational choices, from time to time, but for the most part, nope. Most human behavior is based on instinct, learned heuristics, cultural narratives, beliefs, habits, and emotions. That's not news. Any casual observer of human behavior will notice the same.
About half of this book (a rough, personal estimate) is devoted to apocalyptic doomsday type cults, from Anabaptist to Islamic State, and how the believers in these narratives react when their fiction hits fact like a bug on a windshield. It's a scary, even depressing topic because of the harm a small, devoted, and utterly insane group of people can cause before it ultimately fails or evolves into something a bit less extreme (like Millerites becoming Adventists). And if this kind of pathological behavior is indeed based on our evolutionary heritage, one has to wonder if we are, ironically, doomed. Will all future generations be plagued by this kind of madness? Will our species be destroyed by it? Well, maybe, and this brings up another omission I thought existed with this book. A few possible ways to mitigate such insanity are mentioned at one point. It seems that affluence has some effect on the formation of apocalyptic cults. Scientific and historical education might help. I would assume that greater equality of income, wealth, and opportunity would also tend to suppress the formation of irrational narratives, but the question is never pursued and no summation is provided.
This isn't a bad treatment of this important subject, but I felt it could be better.
Profile Image for Robert.
1,216 reviews2 followers
January 27, 2022
Berstein too much enjoys his personal role of how he labels humans: apes who tell stories. I have no problem with that reductive statement. The problem is, he has trouble getting to the heart of a story and rambles on for pages and pages of unnecessary historic details for his examples of the stupid things humans have done in crowds.
His examples include military, financial, religious, ghosts, witches, and UFOs with side trips to other delusions.
Basic to his process is examining four characteristics of financial delusions (and how similar they are to other delusions):
1. Financial speculation begins to dominate social interactions.
2. Otherwise sensible people quit reliable jobs to speculate in stocks.
3. Skepticism is met with vehemence.
4. Normal people begin to make (and believe) outlandish financial forecasts.
It doesn't take much to interpret these characteristics in the terms of the other mentioned delusions. This is where the story telling aspect comes in. The creation of a gripping narrative is necessary to attracting and holding the interest of suckers, er, people. Think for a moment about cult delusions, and how logic can't hope to curtain them. The current dispensationalism of US xians defies all logic other than the one imbedded in their collective delusions. Unfortunately, those idiots continue to direct American foreign policy. It will take us a long time to extract the US from the idiocy of the Trump family actions in the "Middle East."
1,680 reviews10 followers
May 25, 2021
(Audiobook) I found myself liking this book more than I initially thought. Bernstein primarily focuses on trends that have religious and financial implications. Cults/religious revivals and stock market/finanical bubbles have quite a lot of similarities, in that they resonate within the masses and will drive people to act in irrational ways. Whereas people might have reservations/concerns about various movements, if something takes off and attracts a lot of attention, then people lose that reserve and find themselves caught up in the activity, always expecting a positive result, when the reality is likely going to end up far different.

Bernstein uses a combination of scientific and historic data, with various anecdotal accounts to help advance how people can allow emotions and feelings to overcome logic and evidence. While he admits that he is not focusing on political movements, the religious and financial actions he describes has political implications. Still, this is a timely, relevant work, and while aspects can be amplified by social media, the concepts in the book are timeless. Worth the read in whatever format.
Profile Image for Chris N.
44 reviews
June 20, 2021
While the chapters on financial manias are somewhat entertaining as well as educative, the same cannot be said about the coverage of religious apocalyptic movements.

The author simply goes too hard too fast into the religious topics and the name and date dropping with constant side-mentions becomes fatiguing. More concise, context-aware notes would have been more useful. If I wanted a list of dry enumerations sans the scorny wording, I could have just read the Wikipedia articles on the topics.

Bernstein makes sure to dedicate half of the book to religious prozelitism, but conveniently leaves out science-backed mass blunders (such as lobotomies or eugenics). For coverage on the other side of the moon I recommend Pandora's Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong by Paul A. Offit.

The most interesting part of Delusions of Crowds was the conclusion.
Profile Image for Duane Gosser.
257 reviews
August 3, 2021
This book did not reveal any new events or issues but did a great job presenting some complex issues in a very readable/approachable style. It ran out of steam for me once it hit some of the most recent events as these last few chapters just didn't seem to click as well as earlier ones.

With the current state of human affairs in the US, the history and similarities of insanity of crowds throughout history was facinating and I must admit a bit depressing. I always knew that a large percentage of any population is going to be mmmm.... stupid, ignorant, delusional, etc. etc. about certain events/issues but the similarities across nations, eras, classes etc. is quite telling.

Give it a try.
Profile Image for Kristine.
3,244 reviews
February 23, 2021
The Delusions of Crowds by William J. Bernstein is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in late December.

The concept of people being moved in an act of massive peer pressure and herd mentality to do weird, confusing, and awful things out of jealousy, resentment, greed, latent fear, frenzy, or divine favor. Bernstein pinpoints areas in history during biblical times, the Lutheran reformation, financial and economic busts, precursors to the Industrial Revolution, the annexation of Israel, cataclysmic prophecies through many different occasions, timeframes, in reality and on film; all described very densely and detailed.
Profile Image for Taylor Hubbard.
92 reviews2 followers
January 12, 2022
I ended up DNFing this book at the 85% mark. Yes I know I was almost done. Fuck you if you think I should have forced myself to finish it.

I feel like this book was severely mis-marketed. I picked up this book assuming it would be stories about bouts of madness throughout history and an educated explanation of the events. Boy was I wrong.

Instead it's a tome of financial events throughout history, which sure, could still be interested. But it's not what I signed up for. Overall I was incredibly bored trying to care about millionaires who struggle in the economy. Sorry bud, I struggle paycheck to paycheck, so you get zero of my sympathy points.
Profile Image for T. Sathish.
Author 2 books69 followers
October 2, 2021
A collection of historical religious and financial mass delusions..the book is full of information..a godown of trivia..the sub title is misleading..the book does not explain why we have these mass delusions but merely discusses all the major delusional instances..I listened to the book on Audible
Profile Image for Emma Ratshin.
246 reviews
December 29, 2022
well it’s certainly a history book. i really thought there’d be more analysis, the “why” advertised in the subtitle. but it was really just a back and forth narrative between premillennial dispensationalism and financial manias spanning the last few centuries. luckily i’m pretty into one of those things so i wasn’t bored to tears, and the prose was pretty good (if a bit dry). the structure just didn’t make much sense to me as a BOOK. it felt more like a really good undergraduate thesis. also one bone to pick: when he said falwell got into politics after roe v wade i actually screamed aloud because this is sooooo so deeply not true and felt like incredibly lazy scholarship to just take falwell’s word for it? you don’t have to do a lot of digging to find out that it was actually racial integration that spurred him into political action. there’s a whole npr series on it! okay done. happy 100th book to me!
115 reviews
June 13, 2022
It loses me during the religious sections and needs to emphasise more the lessons of its examples which tend to get lost in the extended breakdown.
Profile Image for Paige McLoughlin.
590 reviews27 followers
May 2, 2021
Very much in the tradition of Mackay's original book "on extraordinary delusions and madness of crowds" focuses on mass delusions and folly mostly in religious apocalypticism and in financial foolishness in the corporate world and the stock trading world very much the focus of Mackay's original work. Unfortunately for us and unlike Mackay's time the stakes have gotten higher and the price that potentially we have to for the madness of crowds these days is tied up with human future survivability in the nuclear age. And the fact that this is widely known feeds into even more apocalyptic madness and doomsday behavior by some religions. Meanwhile, captains of industry and finance and government leaders at the commanding heights are just as reckless and delusional. I may be delusional myself after reading all the dangerous folly bordering on existential risk I am even more convinced of my own possible delusion that we are a surviving sliver of living worlds in host of worlds destroyed by fools or natural calamity. That is another story however.
Profile Image for Ionia.
1,430 reviews66 followers
July 25, 2021
If you want very clear opinions from an author about all the things they dislike about the world, please pick up a copy of this book. Opinions abound.

If this book had been half the length it actually is, and you were to cut out most of the dislike for, say, people in general, then this would be a much more tolerable work. I had high hopes for this, but after reading it, the best I can say, is that it isn't the worst book I have ever read. The author does have some valid points throughout the book, but unfortunately, I found him so unlikable that it is difficult to even concede those points.

Perhaps this was just not my kind of book. Personality clash. Regardless, I think if you read this you will be in one camp or the other, and not in any grey area. I wasn't thrilled.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher, provided through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

130 reviews3 followers
June 12, 2022
A fascinating history of mass hysteria and mass delusions. Taking examples from religion and historical events I enjoyed reading about this as the psychology of humans is always fascinating. The only fault i can make about this book is the authors' opinions shine through at moments that are somewhat uncomfortable.

Thank you to NetGalley and the Publisher for an eACR of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Justin Smith.
6 reviews
January 2, 2023
Note to reader, my review is based on the audiobook, I reread sections of interest in more detail than wrote this review. I listened to Delusions of Crowds in hopes to understand my predisposition to delusions, understand how hype is created, and garnish the tools to combat this human shortcoming.
The book started by describing one of the oldest historic narratives for delusion; the Abrahamic "End of Times" narrative. Abrahamic religious subjects are carried throughout the book and I found it helpful to see the parallels with other subjects but some may be sensitive to this. This book may be difficult to read for those who are fundamentalists in their faith. Religious examples of delusions I found to be interesting and necessary but not memorable for me. I enjoyed the chapters on financial bubbles such as the Mississippi Company, Railroad, Enron, and the Tech Bubble. I am more susceptible to delusions of greed and as a result more interested in financial bubbles. Having read previous books by the author, a reader may want to have some business background and I may need some religious history. Some topics involved a search on Investopedia to understand some financial concepts. The author did unharmoniously jump between financial bubbles and religion, as the story of the "red heifer" was difficult for me to grasp the relevance. However, this topic led to the next topic; the formation of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I appreciated the bravery of the author. I did have difficulty comprehending where the delusion intended to be; as it felt omnipresent. This difficulty was inevitable with the conflict covered only in a couple of chapters. The Christian delusions were interesting as they touched on education and Americans' thirst for entertainment. Cults, however, were explored vaguely in the context of Abrahamic religions. More recognizable cults I felt would have been stronger examples. Also, some descriptions of the delusions that were helpful would have been interesting but maybe too contentious.
The author brought me through time successfully ending at the Enron Scandal, Tech Bubble and Islamic Extremists. I appreciated the author taking on such a difficult task, which even to this day with crypto-mania we struggle with. The author was successful in not making others out to be fooled and instead highlighted our human faults for hype through different scientific studies. He provided tools and personal red flags to watch out for in hopes to avoid that next snap of a bubble or mass delusion.
January 17, 2023
"We're likely doomed to limp along with our Stone-Age minds in a spage-age planet."

"We share many genes that are hundreds of millions of years old, such as those that regulate appetite, with earthworms."

"One should never underestimate the human tendency toward mimicry, and especially of how the everyday beneficial mass delusions that help businesses and whole societies function smoothly can rapidly mutate into fraudulent or genocidal mass delusions. "
So at the start of this book I would have given it an enthusiastic 5 stars. I was absorbed by his scientific explanations of why we as humans can be so smart and still do such stupid and often horrible things. He teaches in layman terms how our brains assimilate information and how we use our system 1(our instincts so to speak) to make decisions that require system 2 (our rational thinking). I was hooked ... for most of the book.

For me it fell apart in his diatribe against Christian evangelicals. His high-handed moral tone about their danger foolheaded beliefs wore on me and dispelled an illusion I had of his objectivity. More relating the stories, less judging the intelligence of the actors. The reader doesn't need to be told how to feel.

He has a good vocabulary but sometimes needed someone to help him with his word choice. Rather than an "opening benediction" the word is "invocation" (pg 253), and you can't "sojourn to" a place (pg 354). You sojourn in place. You journey to a place.

His epilogue especially puzzled me when he says "We're Charles Mackay able to journey through time ... the stories of the 1844 Great Disappointment ...would not surprise him the least. He would, at the same time, be riveted by Darwin's exposition of human evolution" since On the Origin of the Species was published in 1859 and Mackay died in 1889.

I am not a historian so perhaps I am misunderstanding Berstein, but the construction seems to suggest Mackay died before these events. I don't get it.

In summary, I liked it best when he stuck to the science of why we make such bad decisions when we get in groups and when he shares examples without snippy sarcasm or superior snarkiness. There is enough of that in public discourse without resorting to it in works intended to enlighten and instruct.

Well worth a read but just know you might get annoyed.
68 reviews1 follower
August 24, 2022
I spent many years in the investment industry and I would often be asked what were the most important books one could read about investments and I would say Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Gustav Le Bon's The Crowd and Charles Kindelberger's work on financial panics. I would now add Berstein's book. He touches on the financial panics we all know about like the South Sea Bubble, but he spends a good deal of time on end times delusions in both the Christian and Islamic worlds.

Bernstein lays open for us the failures of human reasoning and the delusions we create and respond to. He makes the valuable point that a strong narrative is more powerful than facts and that those narratives actually decrease our ability to be rational.

One of the most interesting points in all these books is how quickly humans forget the last panic, bubble or delusion and so set themselves up for the next panic. We are living in a world where narrative is the driving force in many people's lives and when those narratives are challenged the result is not better understanding or reevaluation of the narrative but anger, dismissal, division of us versus them and violence.

Bernstein's discussions of Islamic end times beliefs is very interesting and thought provoking as they hold the keys to peace in the Middle East. It also demonstrates how very difficult it will be to reach any peaceful accord with Islam since these end times narratives are so powerfully held.

Bernstein is a talented writer who is easy to read and this book is excellent. In Hamlet there is the line, this above all to thy ownself be true..." and this book will help the reader understand what are the motivations of their lives and how they are affected by them.
642 reviews28 followers
March 3, 2022
..."the irresistable power of narratives; the human proclivity to imagine patterns where there were none; the overwhelming hubris and overconfidence of their leaders and followers; and above all, the overwhelming proclivity of human beings to imitate the behavior of those around them, no matter how factually baseless or self-destructive."

As an exposition of the faulty evolutionary wiring that runs humans' lives and our thinking, this book is loaded with examples and analysis. But its organizational structure is chaotic and undisciplined.
In the middle of leading us through the history of a particular mass hysteria, he digresses into some other time period and event, and that just lost me. This book needed a good editor and would have been much more effective if it was half as long.

If anyone needed any more evidence that the human species is not okay, meaning not well, fatally flawed, on its way out, then this book will give you ample evidence. I didn't need any more evidence, just would have appreciated a FOCUSED analysis. Cognitive dissonance and the like permeate our history. Enthusiasms, obsessions, prophecies, and conspiracies advanced with lots of violence seems the way of human being. So tedious. So unconscious. Today it is pedophile rings under the White House, crypto-currency and 5G causing Covid. Tomorrow it will be something else more ludicrous.

Bring on that asteroid.
233 reviews4 followers
November 13, 2021
This book was not exactly what I expected. I thought it would be heavier on the psychology and neuroscience of things like conspiracy theories and financial scams, and while there was some of that in there, it was more of a historical look at various financial and religious manias. I took away two big messages from the book:

1. Cryptocurrencies are a massive bubble and anyone who is over-leveraged in this area should pull most of it out now or prepare for a 1929 Black Friday experience. And no, it's not "different" this time - one the main characteristics of a bubble is the belief that this time is unlike previous times.

2. Evangelical Christianity is seriously messed up. Like, way WAY more than most of us think. If you've ever wondered why the Christian right is so keen to support the worst, most colonialist elements of Israeli politics, it's because they not only believe that the return of the Jewish people to Israel is a necessary condition for the forthcoming rapture; they are determined to do everything in their power to bring about Armageddon. And some of these people are in the highest levels of the U.S. government and military. They are speaking a religiously coded language to their followers, and most secular people see it as a joke instead of as a danger.

Overall, not a comfortable read, but a very enlightening one.
Profile Image for Socraticgadfly.
990 reviews331 followers
March 5, 2022
Good but not that close to great. Ideally, I'd put it just a bit above the 3.5 stars of Goodreads' current average, but not a full 4 stars. But, we can't do half stars, and the reason it's at 3.5, not 3.75, is primarily due to low ratings from fundagelical types, so up it bumps!

One issue, and the biggest: The book doesn't really live up to the subtitle. Other than Neuroscience 101, that is, humans are agency imputing animals and pattern detecting animals, even when there's no actual pattern or no actual agent, there's no "why" here.

That said, as a "how" or "history of" book? Pretty good. Not fantastic, but pretty good.

Sorry, fundagelicals, but I focused on the religious "madnesses," and you're all wet.

Biggest counterexample? Bernstein actually has a pretty sympathetic treatment of David Koresh.

Second biggest counterexample? He looks at Islamic apocalypticism as well as Christian, and at Jewish apocalypticists ready to triangulate off you, the fundagelical subset of Christians who are often apocalyptic.

As a good ex-Lutheran, I already knew more than the basics of Münster, as well as Joachim del Fiore. I also knew the basics of Adventism. The area newest to me was apocalyptic and non-apocalyptic strands of fundamentalism in all three "Western" monotheism intersecting in Jerusalem in the aftermath of the Six Day War.
Profile Image for Meirav Rath.
225 reviews3 followers
November 12, 2022
Ditched this book 60% through for the following reasons:

1. Only religion manias and financial bubbles count in Bernstein's definition of "manias". Even though the first is something a group experiences and the latter is (sometimes) something a whole nation experiences. And yet other periods of insane and deadly delusions are not even considered as manias, such as whatever convinced the contestants in WW1's western fighting to escalate the conflict into a 4-year meat grinder, or Japan's WW2 military fanaticism. I mostly read about 20th century history so these two pop to mind, but I'm sure there are more such examples throughout history.

2. Bernstein keeps saying all financial bubbles are the same, but he insists on exhausingly cover every tiny detail of every bubble he can think of. We get it, greed makes people stupid.

3. The man is obsessed with Israel, like, pathologically. Evangelists keep fucking around with our history and politics but, to judge by the scant coverage of this fuckery versus the maticulous (historically inaccurate and cherry-picky to a fault) coverage of every minute of jewish history, it's heavily implied that we're to blame for it. What the fuck ever, man.
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