Editor’s Note: Last Sunday, The Washington Post published a review for a book called The Delusion of Crowds: Why People Go Mad in Groups by William J. Bernstein. While the review is couched with some discussion and reference to the Capitol riots on January 6, the book actually focuses on religious and financial manias (think apocalypse preppers or bank panics). It is helpful to understanding the psychological and cognitive impacts of information to examine those sorts of cases in more detail. As the reviewer notes from the book, people are more motivated by compelling narratives rather than “objective” facts.
From the review by Robert Kaiser, former Washington Post managing editor: “Storytelling trumps analyzing nearly always, Bernstein writes. Narratives, not analytical constructs or algebraic solutions, are what engage the human mind. But “the more we depend on narratives, and the less on hard data, the more we are distracted away from the real world,” he adds. This is how demagogic politicians and charismatic preachers can win us over, often despite their reliance on implausible narratives that beguile us.”