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Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Charles Mackay

Book Overview: 

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." "In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.

The book chronicles and vilifies its targets in three parts: “National Delusions”, “Peculiar Follies”, and “Philosophical Delusions”.

The subjects of Mackay’s debunking include alchemy, beards (influence of politics and religion on), witch-hunts, crusades and duels. Present day writers on economics, such as Andrew Tobias, laud the three chapters on economic bubbles. (summary from wikipedia)

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .At the place of execution they assumed the air of penitence and religion. Gilles tenderly embraced Prelati, saying, “Farewell, friend Francis! In this world we shall never meet again; but let us place our hopes in God; we shall see each other in Paradise.” Out of consideration for his high rank and connexions, the punishment of the marshal was so far mitigated, that he was not burned alive like Prelati. He was first strangled, and then thrown into the flames: his body, when half consumed, was given over to his relatives for interment, while that of the Italian was burned to ashes, and then scattered to the winds.39

Jacques Cœur.

This remarkable pretender to the secret of the philosopher’s stone was contemporary with the last mentioned. He was a great personage at the court of Charles VII., and in the events of his reign played a prominent part. From a very humble origin he rose to the highest honours of the state, and amassed enormous wea. . . Read More

Community Reviews

The section on the Witch trials was like reading a grimdark fantasy novel… except that this actually happened.

And there are so many poignant quotes, like:
"We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously

Amazing book, everything you need to know about the stupidity of the Crusades, witch trials, and more.


It's funny and sad to read the most of the crusades failed (at least in the view of its organizers) due to miscommunication, pride and lack of cooperation of the western powers. It's almost unbelievable to see how disorganized some of the crusades were.
It reflects a lot of our current s



Mackay here revels in the criminalistic excess and folly of the crusades. Largely they became a visitation of hell onto Eastern Europe resulting from the exportation of holy warriors from Western Europe. Over the decades, the infidels of the Holy Land

It was interesting enough; opened the mind, made me think a bit. But it went on a bit too much, repetitive.