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

Wheen, Francis

In 1979 two events occurred that would shape the next twenty-five years. In America and Britain, an era of weary consensus was displaced by the arrival of a political marriage of fiery idealists: Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher transformed politics with a combination of breezy charm and assertive "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 colonized the space recently vacated by notions of history, progress and reason? Cults, quackery, gurus, irrational panics, moral confusion and an epidemic of idiocy, the proof of which was to be found in every state, every work-place, and every library. In Idiot Proof, columnist Francis Wheen brilliantly evokes the key personalities of the post-political era--including Princess Diana and Deepak Chopra, Osama bin Laden and Nancy Reagan's astrologer--while lamenting the extraordinary rise in superstition, relativism and emotional hysteria over the past quarter of a century. In turn comic, indignant, outraged and just plain baffled by the idiocy of it all, Idiot Proof is a masterful depiction of the daftness of our times and a plea that we might just think a little more and believe a little less. Editorial Reviews KLIATT Focusing on the last quarter century, Wheen gives us a literal panorama of the political, economic, religious and cultural influences that he judges to be mumbo jumbo. Prevailing ideas like: God is on our side; the market is rational; culture and intelligence are relative; astrology is harmless fun; mass sentimental hysteria is emotional maturity; private enterprise is what makes a country prosperous and successful; and there is no such thing as reality are examined in the context of western culture. Nothing is immune to Wheen's probing for reason. The introduction defines enlightenment and, according to him, we have not often witnessed it recently. "Partisans of Left and Right--and indeed the Center--will find many of their assumptions challenged," he says of his look at the "application of Counter-Enlightenment idiocy in...politics, education, diplomacy, medicine, business, the media." Whether or not you agree with him, this riveting work is excellent food for thought. Perhaps in the final analysis, he is basing his evaluation of mumbo jumbo on the bedrock of a former mumbo jumbo. Or is one person's mumbo jumbo another person's reason? Let the reader decide. This book presumes an understanding of the jargon of cultural history. Terms such as modernity, deconstructionist, Keynesian and supply-side theory may not resonate with the average high-school student. The book is well footnoted and indexed. KLIATT Codes: A--Recommended for advanced students and adults. 2004, PublicAffairs, 327p. notes. index., Ages 17 to adult. --Ann Hart

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