Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, was written by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay, and first published in 1841. I highly recommend it. I confess, however, that certain aspects of the book are deeply disturbing. The book includes a selection of investment bubbles which resemble the Enron, Dot Com, and Credit Default Swap stories of our era. Mackay confirms that the madness has existed for centuries. The book is not limited to financial follies. Alchemy, witch hunting, and the Crusades, to name just a few, reveal that the delusions crop up in every arena: science, spirituality, and affairs of state.
Since the second and final edition of Mackay's book was published in 1853, humans have had an additional 16 or 17 decades to devise new, yet eerily similar, schemes for bring about financial ruin, persecution of innocents, and world wide religious wars.
In future posts, I will examine delusions prominent in the second half of the 19th century and the entire 20th century. As for the 21st, although I see a number of likely candidates, it is probably too early to document our current delusions.