Book Review #18

Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds

Extraordinary Popular Delusions & The Madness Of Crowds

I am ticked off…. or rather, this book is ticked off the reading list challenge that I don’t follow.

It was originally published before I was born – more than a century before. It was first printed in 1841. The copy that I got on an inter-library loan was reprinted in 1980. It had 3 prefaces – the original, a slightly revised version when the author had it reprinted 30 years later, and yet another from the 1980 re-release.

The 1980 instigator was taking a University Psychology course, when he thought he heard the instructor speaking of an old book about The Madness Of Krauts. He didn’t realize that Germans were called Krauts, that far back. A check of the University library showed him his mistake, but since the copyright had long expired, he felt that he could make a little money by having it reprinted.

This book was a disappointment, yet also a delight to me. Even since the ‘70s, there have been great changes and improvements in psychiatry and psychology, but since I only knew of the 1980 publish date, I hoped to get some fairly up-to-date insights into mob behavior. The 1841 composer rendered none of that. He only provided recountings of historical events which were notable for mass delusion.

These included the likes of the monetary bubble, collapse of the Louisiana Investment scam/scandal, the sad failure of the earliest attempt at a German Crusade, and the ongoing hysteria of the witch hunts. While the historical details were interesting enough, he delivered them all with the long-winded panache of someone reciting a Life Insurance actuarial table.

With the German Crusade, 100,000 young men were said to have started out, but only a handful survived, even to reach Constantinople, because of fighting among themselves, and with the armies of states and countries they marched through and denuded for food and drink.

As usual, the section on the witch hunts provided the worst atrocities. It was both a Church and State viewpoint that, “Because of the seriousness of this offence, none who are accused of this horrid crime shall escape torture to make them confess their sins. It is better that a million shall die, than that one witch shall be allowed to escape.”

Even while trying to do good, the well-intentioned did bad. As the witch-hunt frenzy was ebbing, a minor member of British Nobility tried an experiment. He was unconvinced that torture-induced confessions, and especially the naming of other witches, was valid.

He was acquainted and friends with, two Jesuit priests who acted as judges at the torture trials. To convince them of his viewpoint, he used a woman accused and imprisoned as a witch. They all attended the torture chamber, and he acted as interrogator. He had the woman stretched on the rack, and afflicted with the gamut of horrible tortures. Within a day, she admitted that she was a witch. Skillfully using leading questions, he also had her claim that the two Jesuits were wizards, calling them by name.

As they left the building, leaving the poor woman to her undeserved fate, the senior priest said, “It is well that this was done by a friend, rather than by an enemy.” And so, the witch-hunt frenzy slowly died, but not before thousands of innocent people also suffered and died.

This book is old enough to display some of the some of the English language’s spelling shifts. Words like ‘showed’, and ‘shown’ were printed as shewed, and shewn. While it was not what I thought I was getting, still it was an interesting read.

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6 thoughts on “Book Review #18

  1. Rivergirl says:

    Once accused women didn’t stand a chance. They tortured you until you confessed, and if you confessed.. they killed you. That’s a lose lose if ever I saw one.

    Like

    • Archon's Den says:

      But if you confessed, you had to swear to God that you were telling the truth – and lying to God would get you sent to Hell – so you didn’t – until you couldn’t stand the agony any more – and the Church-driven torturers got to have extra time to make your final hours Hell, before you even reached there. 😯

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rivergirl says:

        And then there’s the New England version. Accused witches were submerged in a lake/pond/river. If you drowned? You weren’t a witch. If you survived? You were a witch and burned at the stake. So dead either way…

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  2. Jim Wheeler says:

    I see the same old psychology very evident in today’s markets. There was a time when I thought investing in single stocks was a good idea but I was never really successful at it. I eventually came to the realization that the best way for a non-expert to invest is diversified, low-fee mutual funds. The market eventually goes up more than it goes down. Since the Trump era, however, I have begun moving some $ away from stocks. Tariff man is playing with fire.

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    • Archon's Den says:

      The more things change, the more they stay the same – even when people write books to warn you.
      They say that you can’t cheat an honest man, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone would try to steal from a poor man. I took the wife to a Home And Garden show, and entered a draw to have a new deck installed. All names and telephone numbers were sold to a con-artist, apparently selling time-shares in Florida condos. If I just sent him $300 a month, I could apply to use the condo for a vacation if there was an opening in the schedule.
      He spent a half-hour on the phone, exhorting me, and couldn’t understand why I didn’t just jump at the chance. That $300 was needed for my monthly rent. 🙄

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