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How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Francis Wheen(Author)

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The new book from the multiple-award nominated biographer of KARL MARX. Combine the intellect of Will Hutton, the campaigning vigour of Naomi Klein and the wit of Michael Moore and you have the ingredient of the next non-fiction polemical bestseller.

In 1979 two events occurred that would shape the next twenty-five years. In Britain, an era of weary consensualist politics was displaced by the arrival of Margaret Thatcher, whose ambition was to reassert 'Victorian values'. In Iran, the fundamentalist cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini set out to restore a regime that had last existed almost 1,300 years ago. Between them they succeeded in bringing the twentieth century to a premature close. By 1989, Francis Fukuyama was declaring that we had now reached the End of History.

What colonised the space recently vacated by notions of history, progress and reason? Cults, quackery, gurus, irrational panics, moral confusion and an epidemic of mumbo-jumbo. Modernity was challenged by a gruesome alliance of pre-modernists and post-modernists, medieval theocrats and New Age mystics. It was as if the Enlightenment had never happened.

Francis Wheen, winner of the George Orwell prize, evokes the key personalities of the post-political era – including Princess Diana and Deepak Chopra, Osama Bin-Laden and Nancy Reagan's astrologer – while charting the extraordinary rise in superstition, relativism and emotional hysteria over the past quarter of a century. From UFO scares to dotcom mania, his hilarious and gloriously impassioned polemic describes a period in the world's history when everything began to stop making sense.

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Book details

  • PDF | 352 pages
  • Francis Wheen(Author)
  • Fourth Estate; First Edition edition (2 Feb. 2004)
  • English
  • 6
  • History

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  • By Straff on 8 August 2017

    Bought this in 2005. The way the world is going it seems more relevant than ever and keep recommending it to people. I've lent it to my daughter to read - she's 20 - and that has been interesting. I thought she might not have the cultural references to hand, but it's served as something of a history lesson and eye opener for her (e.g. Thatcher prepping the miners strike). Only hope is we don't mess things up too much before her and her generation can see collective sense and pull it round....

  • By Sparky 1 on 19 April 2010

    I thought his a wonderful book, and entirely apt in our era of populist, trite, stupid 'democracy'.

  • By T. T. Rogers: Meta-reviewing on 19 September 2015

    This is an OK sort of book and actually Francis Wheen is excellent when he focuses his mind on the more abstract aspects of the 'history of thought'. The problem is that Wheen cannot help misusing or misapplying the term 'mumbo-jumbo' to people or things generally that he doesn't like, as opposed to bona fide mumbo-jumbo (which is to say, things that are obscure in meaning or content, or both). In fact, some of the things covered here aren't mumbo-jumbo at all. I suspect this book began as a genuine attempt on Wheen's part to cover aspects of contemporary life, including recent events, that are mumbo-jumbo or in that rough category, and to explain in theoretical terms how we arrived there. That would have been a worthy topic and there are lots of real examples of mumbo-jumbo that Wheen could have cited, but there is very little coverage of mumbo-jumbo in this book, despite its title.For the purpose of this review, let's examine one example of what Wheen considers to be 'mumbo-jumbo': the popular reaction to the death of Princess Diana. Wheen focuses on the fake sentimentality and self-pitying qualities of Diana as a public persona and the highly-charged and emotional - and irrational - reaction at her death. To that extent, his observations are accurate, but there is an important aspect to the Diana affair that he overlooks. Yes, the general public reaction to Diana's death was neither classy nor sophisticated and much of the behaviour we witnessed at the time, on the part of the public and journalists alike, was pretty odd, not to mention that a pile of treacly sycophantic nonsense was said and written on TV and in the newspapers. But that doesn't add-up to mumbo-jumbo. In fact, one point about the whole Diana affair that Wheen and others missed, and still overlook, is that much of the emotional reaction was driven by a very strong belief among ordinary people that the newspapers and media in general are disrespectful and intrusive. In effect, the emotional spasm was a form of political protest, an inarticulate but keenly-felt expression of rage and anger mixed-up with the feelings and confusions that Wheen identifies. I would suggest that the media during this period worked cynically and reactively to control public opinion and present what, in effect, was a mass public protest as instead a paroxysm of vicarious grieving. The problem is that journalists such as Wheen only recognised and commented on this phenomenon at the surface and failed to identify the true reasons for the strong emotional reaction, i.e. that many of the public believe the media should have greater respect for human dignity. Wheen and others criticised the emotional dominance, believing that in doing so they were engaged in a kind of 'dissent', yet they were only reacting to the media's own narrative and their dissenting views simply extended the media's cynical agenda by embodying its antithesis.This book is really for the smug. If you enjoy sneering at 'unsophisticated' people who might lay flowers at the grave of a dead celebrity, then you'll enjoy this. Wheen has not explicitly written in that spirit, but that's his constituency. For those with a genuine interest in mumbo-jumbo, skepticism and how people generally believe in odd things, I would recommend serious writers on this subject like James Randi, Richard Wiseman and Michael Shermer, not to mention Mungo Park's own travel journal that popularised the phrase 'mumbo-jumbo'.

  • By Timothy De Ferrars on 17 March 2004

    From the first page this book promises a great deal: Francis Wheen sets out to show how society, both Western and Islamic, has determinedly squandered the benefits of the Enlightenment and has developed an astonishing hostility towards contemporary science and rational thought.Wheen paints a picture that is both amusing and chilling: our citizens and leaders are in the thrall of hocus and spin; educated people consume with gusto the diet of drivel served up in the media; an entire nation loses its grip after the death of a Sloaney princess; and post-modernists conjure with words to question the reality of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.This would have been a better book if Wheen had built on its early momentum and resisted the lure of diatribe, but there is such a surfeit of material to support his thesis, and so much nonsense routinely peddled by famous people who should have known better, that he seems unable to stop. The result is erudite and funny, but in the end this is a string of good journalism, rather than the serious manifesto that it might have been.I recommend this book, and I hope that Wheen will soon produce another edition that not only updates us on the progress of this human ship of fools (which seems daily to surpass itself in its vainglorious stupidity) but also lingers more on the questions why, and what needs to be done.


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