The company website at Nokia, where I work, is always full of interesting things. Today there's information on how groups can make better decisions than individuals and mentions a book that illustrates this theory:
"The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, first published in 2004, is a book written by James Surowiecki about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group...
The opening anecdote relates Francis Galton's surprise that the crowd at a county fair accurately guessed the weight of an ox when their individual guesses were averaged (the average was closer to the ox's true butchered weight than the estimates of most crowd members, and also closer than any of the separate estimates made by cattle experts)."
Web links to this book led me to discover another book that I really must read on a similar subject:
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is a popular history of popular folly by Charles Mackay, first published in 1841. The book chronicles its targets in three parts: "National Delusions", "Peculiar Follies", and "Philosophical Delusions".
The subjects of Mackay's debunking include alchemy, beards (influence of politics and religion on), witch-hunts, crusades and duels. Present day writers on economics, such as Andrew Tobias, laud the three chapters on economic bubbles."
One of Mackay's chapters about bubbles describes the tulip bubble (similar to our housing bubble?):
"Among the alleged bubbles or financial manias described by Mackay is the Dutch tulip mania of the early seventeenth century. According to Mackay, during this bubble, speculators from all walks of life bought and sold tulip bulbs and even futures contracts on them. Allegedly, some tulip bulb varieties briefly became the most expensive objects in the world, until the bulbs bubble burst in 1637."