Extraordinary Delusions and The Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay (Part 4)


This form of money madness takes the shape of fashion, the whim of the moment that creates a desire for something absolutely ridiculous. In this case, it’s the question of tulip bulbs. There are other manias of course. We see them every year at Christmas with the hot toy of the season. It’s an irrational desire for something that one feels the need to possess immediately.

Like the South Sea Bubble (or any bubble), manias can provide a good backdrop to chaos. Think of the lines outside Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving. Think of the fights that people get into (and are reported on the news) while bustling to get the deals. It’s insane. Now, layer this onto something like a luxury item that only a few can afford, bring the camera in for a close focus on just a few individuals, and soon someone is going to get a knife in the back – and then you have a story that someone will want to read.

Love of the Mystic


I originally picked up Extraordinary Delusions and The Madness of Crowds for this section alone. Without a doubt, this is the best concise overview of Alchemy and Alchemists available (spelling modernized for this sentence unlike the header).

But what do Alchemists and the practice of Alchemy mean to the reader? I assume it is the love of the Mystic, the sense that there is some great power that we can all grasp given enough time and study.

In popular theory, the ultimate goal of the Alchemy is the procurement of the Philosopher’s Stone which has the power to transmute substances (lead into gold) but also to extend life indefinitely. This power over the universe is something we see repeated in science magazines and newspapers. People are fascinated with our supposed power over the natural world. They are even more interest in the perils that result when foolish mortal tread in places they should not.

The story of Faust is a great example. We hail Michael Crichton as the father of the techno-thriller, but in fact his cautionary tales are all just a retelling of Faust in modern guise.

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