How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World – Francis Wheen


I found Francis Wheen’s How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World heavy going at first, but once I warmed to it I practically flew through. For some reason I had expected more of a language discussion and less of a political discussion – probably because we purchased the book at the same time as Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English. However, the political stuff is pretty informative and entertaining – occasionally laugh-out-loud funny – too. A few favourite quotes:

‘Keep an open mind!’ broadcasters pleaded when they screeened the bogus Roswell video. The Daily Telegraph, one of the few newspapers which spotted the film as a fake from the outset, had the best riposte: ‘If you open your mind too much, your brain may fall out.’

And Wheen seems to feel about the “England’s Rose” version of Candle in the Wind much in the same way I do myself:

According to Elton John, singing his heart out in Westminister Abbey while mixing metaphors with glorious abandon, she was England’s rose, a candle that never faded with the sunset when the rain set in (as candles so often do) but strode off across England’s greenest hills, its footprints preserved for eternity.

The one thing that’s wrong with the book – and which really got my goat – is that Wheen makes a point of the importance of source-checking regarding David Irving on pages 98/99 (Harper Perennial, 2004, 4th printing), but is himself amiss in this regard. I’m the sort of reader who actually wants super-whatsit numbers next to every quote and a foot- or endnote saying Ibid. the fiftieth time a source is quoted (giving the page number, naturally). On page 85 Wheen quotes Eagleton, but there are no notes for page 85. On page 86 there is a long quote from Eagleton’s essay ‘Where Do Post-Modernists Come From?’ duly noted in the back, but there is no real indication whether the quote on page 85 is from the same source or not – Eagleton not being the least prolific of writers, if it’s not, how do I set about finding it? So while this endnotes-with-page-references may make the text easier to read for people not used to academic papers, I’d have appreciated a properly source-checkable text myself.*

But, it’s worth reading, definitely.

* The observant reader will have noticed that I have myself omitted page numbers for the two quotes above. I am acutely aware of this and will remedy it asap – it’s just that Martin’s run away with the book.