A colorful history of popular delusions

Robert E. Bartholomew

Book - 2015

"This eclectic history of unusual crowd behavior describes a rich assortment of mass phenomena ranging from the amusing and quirky to the shocking and deplorable. What do fads, crazes, manias, urban legends, moral panics, riots, stampedes, and other mass expressions of emotion have in common? By creating a typology of such behavior, past and present, the authors show how common extraordinary group reactions to fear or excitement are. And they offer insights into how these sometimes dangerous mob responses can be avoided. We may not be surprised to read about the peculiarities of the European Middle Ages, when superstition was commonplace: like the meowing nuns of France, 'tarantism' (a dancing mania) in Italy, or the maliciou...s anti-Semitic poison-well scares. But similar phenomena show up in our own era. Examples include the social-networking hysteria of 2012, which resulted in uncontrollable twitching by teenage girls in Leroy, NY; the 'phantom bus terrorist' of 2004 in Vancouver, Canada; and the itching outbreak of 2000 in South Africa. Vivid, detailed, and thoroughly researched, this is a fascinating overview of collective human behavior in its many unusual forms"--

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Amherst, New York : Prometheus Books 2015.
Main Author
Robert E. Bartholomew (-)
Other Authors
Peter Hassall (-)
Physical Description
363 pages ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Rumor and Gossip: "Psssst"
  • Chapter 2. Fads: The Next Big Thing
  • Chapter 3. Crazes: Going Overboard
  • Chapter 4. Manias: "What Ardently We Wish, We Soon Believe"
  • Chapter 5. Urban Legends: Living Folklore
  • Chapter 6. Stampedes and Panics
  • Chapter 7. Anxiety Hysteria: The Power of Sudden Fear
  • Chapter 8. Classical Mass Hysteria: Psychological Gremlins
  • Chapter 9. Immediate Community Threats: Defending the Homeland
  • Chapter 10. Moral Panics: Imagining Out Worst Fears
  • Chapter 11. Riots: The Breakdown of Social Order
  • Chapter 12. Small-Group Panics: People Who Scared Themselves
  • Chapter 13. Postscript: Lessons to Heed
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Medical sociologist Bartholomew (Mass Hysteria in Schools) draws on years of research with coauthor Hassall (The NZ Files: UFOs in New Zealand) to offer brief summaries of some of the most notable panics, fads, and manias from around the world. The authors begin by pointing out that crazes aren't harmless passing events confined to pet rocks, Jesus appearing on a tortilla, or the "Paul is dead" rumors that swirled around the Beatles in the 1960s. Some, such as the horrific stampede at the Shiloh Negro Baptist Church in 1902 and Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles, had serious and even deadly consequences. Others, such as the Stonewall Riots, were harbingers of lasting social change. The book examines the evolution of get-rich-quick schemes, including the Klondike gold rush in the late 19th century; urban legends of the deep-fried rat variety; and the puzzling case of the alleged Satanic cult operating at a California preschool. Bartholomew and Hassall go beyond simple debunking, providing easily digestible segments that explain the hows and whys behind sensational events. Though this overview is far from comprehensive, the authors' enthusiasm and assertion that "humans can deal with just about anything, but they cannot cope with uncertainty" carry the book and make for a fun and illuminating read. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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