Praise for The Delusions of Crowds:
Named a Most Anticipated Book by Literary Hub
“Bernstein, a trained neurologist and the author of several investment books, is particularly well suited to the task of updating Mackay, and his Delusions of Crowds is a worthy supplement to the original.” —Edward Chancellor, New York Review of Books
“Bernstein wants us to understand that human beings are not remotely as smart or as rational as we would like them to be. Only rarely are people truly analytical about anything. We make things up constantly, then claim that our inventions are true . . . But we don’t need a poll to confirm Mackay’s and Bernstein’s conclusion that people tend to believe what they want to believe, whether or not hard facts and cold reason support their views. We know, for example, that on Nov. 3, more than 74 million Americans voted to reelect a man whom a slew of serious historians have already identified as the worst president in American history . . . Explains Bernstein: ‘When compelling narrative [Make America Great Again, for example] and objective fact collide, the former often survives, an outcome that has cursed mankind since time immemorial.’” —Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post
“Authoritative . . . Bernstein’s command of detail is capacious; his ability to weave the facts into a limpid narrative is equally sure handed . . . Bernstein’s lucid and entertaining history is a warning that the primitive mind lurks under the sheen of alleged rationality, and that a departure into the comforting certainties of groupthink is closer than we may realize.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Fascinating . . . Bernstein is an entertaining chronicler and analyst of these human failings.” —David Aaronovitch, Times (UK)
“Mackay’s 1841 work has been brilliantly updated for the 21st century by the investment writer William Bernstein.” —Reuters
“An intriguing contemporary update of Charles Mackay’s 1841 classic, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions . . . 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 . . . A well-researched, wide-ranging, and discouraging addition to the why-people-do-stupid-things genre.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Bernstein’s book, a survey of financial and religious manias, is inspired by Charles Mackay’s 1841 work, ‘Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.’ Mackay saw crowd dynamics as central to phenomena as disparate as the South Sea Bubble, the Crusades, witch hunts, and alchemy. Bernstein uses the lessons of evolutionary psychology and neuroscience to elucidate some of Mackay’s observations, and argues that our propensity to go nuts en masse is determined in part by a hardwired weakness for stories. ‘Humans understand the world through narratives,’ he writes. ‘However much we flatter ourselves about our individual rationality, a good story, no matter how analytically deficient, lingers in the mind, resonates emotionally, and persuades more than the most dispositive facts or data.’”—New Yorker
Praise for A Splendid Exchange:
“[An] entertaining and greatly enlightening book . . . Bernstein is a fine writer and knows how to tell a great story well. . . . He never loses sight of his overall goal: to show how trade shaped the world in the past and will shape the world in the future. . . . A Splendid Exchange is a splendid book.” —New York Times
“A Splendid Exchange is a timely and readable reminder that the desire to trade is not only one of the oldest human instincts but also the cause of many of the most important developments in our shared history. . . . With an ability to switch gracefully from the macro to the micro, Mr. Bernstein whisks his reader on a tumultuous journey. . . . The strength of Mr. Bernstein’s book is the analytical rigor that overlays the rollicking history and the way in which he seamlessly weaves in the theoretical with the practical. For anyone wanting a painless primer in the ideas of Adam Smith, David Ricardo or more recent economists, such as Paul Samuelson, this is the place to find it.” —Economist
“Sparkling . . . One freewheeling historical passage follows another . . . A Splendid Exchange is saved from any possible tedium by its feast of contrarian conclusions, its broad historical sweep, and, especially, its vivid characters . . . Fascinating.” —BusinessWeek
“Superb . . . [A] significant contribution . . . The chronological range of Bernstein’s book is staggering. . . . A Splendid Exchange is a work of which Adam Smith and Max Weber would have approved. And it is all the more interesting because it is written by someone who is deeply knowledgeable about and active in the financial world yet finds the time to write graceful and insightful history with a delicate display of scholarship that conceals a vast erudition. What really marks Bernstein out is his talent in understanding, and then explaining, international commercial linkages.” —Foreign Affairs
“Vivid . . . Colourful . . . Highly entertaining . . . A fascinating journey through the evolution of trade . . . Bernstein’s enthusiasm for his subject and impressive organisation of a wealth of material enable him to plot with pace and verve a largely chronological account of man’s trading history.” —Financial Times
“A Splendid Exchange is filled with adroit observations on the evolution of trade from the ancient world to today. Bernstein draws upon a vast historical context to show how trade’s development is part of society’s natural progression toward prosperity, and he makes a convincing case that trade and trade policy have been the catalyst for the development of ambitious nations. He correctly asserts that we must be aware of how it has shaped the past because it will continue to have a pivotal role—for better and for worse—as we move into the future. Politicians take heed!” —Arthur Laffer, founder and chairman, Laffer Associates
“A Splendid Exchange is really much more than a history of trade. In William Bernstein’s deft treatment, it becomes pretty much a history of the world. The age-old urge to profit by buying low and selling high led to empires, wars, trade restrictions, and—more recently—violent protests against economic and financial globalization. Bernstein’s vast knowledge of trade’s past is great preparation for dealing effectively with today’s controversies about its future.” —Richard Sylla, Henry Kaufman Professor of the History of Financial Institutions and Markets, and Professor of Economics, NYU’s Stern School of Business
“Financial theorist and historian Bernstein is equally at home plumbing the romantic dawn of trade or untwisting the mind-wracking complexity of modern international commerce . . . An excellent exposition of key factors in a perennial economic conundrum.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
God, greed, and the yen for conformity reliably override reason, according to this sweeping survey of religious and financial manias. Neurologist and historian Bernstein (A Splendid Exchange) shares vivid accounts of several centuries of sectarian crazies, from the Anabaptists who took over the German city of Münster in 1534, imposing communism and polygamy and executing dissenters, to Branch Davidian messiah David Koresh and the Islamic State. On the finance front, he recaps the South Sea bubble in 18th-century England, the 1990s tech bubble, and other stock market frenzies. 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: the “dangerous” end-times beliefs of American evangelical conservatives could, he suggests, “incinerate a large portion of humanity” by facilitating nuclear war. The result is an entertaining and insightful analysis of delusional outbursts that occasionally goes too far. Photos. (Feb.)
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. “When presented with facts and data that contradict our deeply held beliefs, we generally do not reconsider and alter those beliefs appropriately,” he writes. “More often than not we avoid contrary facts and data, and when we cannot avoid them, our erroneous assessments will occasionally even harden, and, yet more amazingly, make us more likely to proselytize them.” Asked about the safety of vaccines during the 2016 presidential campaign, neurosurgeon Ben Carson summarized the overwhelming evidence in favor. Donald Trump disagreed, describing a “beautiful child” who became autistic after a vaccination. Sadly, “most observers scored the interchange in Trump’s favor.” 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 rise of evangelicalism is arguably the most important transformation in recent American political life, and many readers may be shocked that 35% of Americans believe “Jesus will return to earth in their lifetimes.” Citing the work of religious historian Robert Wright, Bernstein notes, “Revelation’s opacity and ambiguity only amplified its influence, since they open the way to a wide range of allegorical interpretations about when and how the world ends.” Furthermore, this belief is “so embedded in our political system that at least one U.S. president, Ronald Reagan, subscribed to it, as do a large swatch of politicians at all levels,” including Mike Pence. 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.