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, The Delusions of Crowds engages with mass delusion, armed with the latest scientific research that explains the biological, evolutionary, and psychosocial roots of human irrationality.
[Bernstein's] subjects are religious and financial manias. He succumbs to his own argument that narratives are more persuasive than analyses or calculations, and he loves telling stories, which he does well. That makes this a fun book to read, though a windy one ... Bernstein is a good writer, but his internal editor occasionally takes an unearned vacation. His inspiration and guide for this book was a 19th-century bestseller, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by a Scottish writer named Charles Mackay, who was just 27 when he wrote it. Mackay’s book is still in print 180 years later and still popular among students of stock market behavior. Bernstein’s version unabashedly echoes Mackay’s, enriching its analysis with the findings of modern social scientists who study the irrational human behavior that intrigues both authors.
An intriguing contemporary update of Charles Mackay’s 1841 classic, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions. Neurologist and journalist Bernstein effectively explains the biological, evolutionary, and psychological bases of human irrationality ... Readers will wince at the often bloody hysteria that accompanied the Reformation, roll their eyes at our inability to resist get-rich-quick schemes, and chuckle at the widespread American movement that awaited the world’s end in 1843—all of which makes for disturbing yet fascinating reading ... The author offers solid sections on digital age hucksters before a concluding chapter on Muslim apocalypticists, who have much in common with the Christian variety. Bernstein’s account of financial shenanigans is a jolly ride, but he finds no humor in religious extremism, and readers may share his despair at learning what seemingly educated people believe. A well-researched, wide-ranging, and discouraging addition to the why-people-do-stupid-things genre.
God, greed, and the yen for conformity reliably override reason, according to this sweeping survey of religious and financial manias ... Bernstein lucidly deploys neurobiology, behavioral economics, and social psychology to explain why reason fails and other instances, noting, for example, that many people will believe two obviously unequal line segments to be the same length if other people say they are. Unfortunately, his conflation of all irrational doctrine with madness makes him sound somewhat hysterical about even mainstream religious politics ... an entertaining and insightful analysis of delusional outbursts that occasionally goes too far.