Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds

Author: Charles Mackay
Publisher: Martino Fine Books
Released: 1841

Editorial Reviews:
"Examines the psychology of crowds and mass mania throughout history, including many of the classic scams, financial bubbles, mass hysteria, and deceptions that have characterized the business world and beyond. At once a gripping thriller and fascinating historical document, the book discusses the underlying processes that lead markets into boom-and-bust cycles that still occur today." --QFINANCE

Considers why people form into irrational groups when they engage in collective actionAs with any true classic, once it is read it is hard to imagine not having known of it--and there is the compulsion to recommend it to others. -- Andrew Tobias -


Product Description:
2009 reprint of the 1852 second edition. Two volumes bound into one. Charles Mackay (1814-1889) was a Scottish poet, journalist, and song writer. He was born in Perth, Scotland. His mother died shortly after his birth and his father was by turns a naval officer and a foot soldier. He was educated at the Caledonian Asylum, London, and at Brussels, but spent much of his early life in France. Coming to London in 1834, he engaged in journalism, working for the Morning Chronicle from 1835-1844 and then became Editor of The Glasgow Argus. He moved to the Illustrated London News in 1848 becoming Editor in 1852. He is best known for his classic Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowd, reprinted herein. Mackay covers many types of delusions, among them financial manias like the South Sea Company bubble of 1711-1720, the Mississippi Company bubble of 1719-1720, and the Dutch tulip mania of the early seventeenth century. According to Mackay, during this bubble, speculators from all walks of life bought and sold tulip bulbs and even futures contracts on them. Allegedly some tulip bulb varieties briefly became the most expensive objects in the world during 1637. Mackay's accounts are enlivened by colorful, comedic anecdotes, such as the Parisian hunchback who supposedly profited by renting out his hump as a writing desk during the height of the mania surrounding the Mississippi Company. Financier Bernard Baruch credited the lessons he learned from Mackay with his decision to sell all his stock ahead of the financial crash of 1929.Other chapters are devoted to Alchemists, scientists and pseudo scientists who attempted to turn base metals into gold. Mackay notes that many of these practitioners were themselves deluded, convinced that these feats could be performed if they discovered the correct old recipe or stumbled upon the right combination of ingredients.There are also extensive treatments on the Crusades, Witch Mania and Trials and other forms of mass delusion.

 Amazon.com Review
Why do otherwise intelligent individuals form seething masses of idiocy when they engage in collective action? Why do financially sensible people jump lemming-like into hare-brained speculative frenzies--only to jump broker-like out of windows when their fantasies dissolve? We may think that the Great Crash of 1929, junk bonds of the '80s, and over-valued high-tech stocks of the '90s are peculiarly 20th century aberrations, but Mackay's classic--first published in 1841--shows that the madness and confusion of crowds knows no limits, and has no temporal bounds. These are extraordinarily illuminating,and, unfortunately, entertaining tales of chicanery, greed and naivete. Essential reading for any student of human nature or the transmission of ideas.

In fact, cases such as Tulipomania in 1624--when Tulip bulbs traded at a higher price than gold--suggest the existence of what I would dub "Mackay's Law of Mass Action:" when it comes to the effect of social behavior on the intelligence of individuals, 1+1 is often less than 2, and sometimes considerably less than 0.



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