A History Of Human Folly

Francis Wheen presents a series looking at some of mankind's greatest blunders.


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Why, to begin at the beginning, did Trojan rulers drag that suspicious-looking wooden horse inside their walls despite every reason to suspect a Greek trick? In the first of a new series, Francis Wheen examines the perennial tendency of politicians, scientists, and others in authority to act perversely, and how, when more rational alternatives are clearly present, the best and the brightest can blithely and arrogantly march into colossal blunders.

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Some things are so preposterous that only an intellectual could believe them - no ordinary person could be so stupid.

Francis Wheen examines how, down the ages, the cleverest people have been led into folly when their great brains somehow failed to sound the alarm.

The great mathematician Michel Chasles, fell for a con trick a child could have seen through; French physicists deluded themselves that they had discovered a new and entirely fictional kind of radiation; and a seventeenth century English scientist thought he had invented cloning four hundred years early.

03The Madness Of Crowds2003052820040508

Francis Wheen looks at manias, delusions and panics over the centuries.

The masses may be gullible, but, he finds, there is usually someone intelligent but misguided behind each scare - whether it be the prominent astrophysicist who predicted the imminent destruction of Los Angeles or the top economist who told us the stock market would carry on booming forever.

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Francis Wheen looks at the folly of conservatism.

Down the ages, the establishment has championed old and false ideas against new and true ones.

Galileo got into trouble for saying the earth went round the sun, military planners have persisted with fatally flawed but venerable tactics, and senior doctors have quashed underlings who tried to stop them killing their patients.