From Publishers Weekly
Despite some efforts at being systematic, this is a spotty, idiosyncratic treatise on the many faces of lying: historical, literary, psychological and philosophical. Meandering through "the Land of Lying," Sullivan, a novelist (The Dead Magician) and teacher of technical writing at Stanford University, begins with a wry examination of lies told by biblical characters God here is "that colossal projection of the self" moving on to trickster gods in world mythology, and from there to various lie-related issues: why liars lie; varieties of lies; how to lie well; the costs of lies. She delves into the psychology and philosophy of lying, doing better with the former than the latter: a survey of personality disorders characterized by deceptiveness is worthwhile, but her condemnation of "Aristotelian Philosophy" is uninformed. The book also includes sections on lie detection, from trial by ordeal to the polygraph, deception in wartime and deception in nature. Despite her fascination with lies, Sullivan is essentially an old-fashioned moralist who thinks that lying is, by and large, "an evil thing," while accepting that "deception is here to stay." The prose is fluid and accessible, but saddled with archness and a tendency toward the smug, as when, with unintended irony, she criticizes another writer for being "ambitious but wrongheaded." Though not a serious philosophical treatment of lying, the book tells some good stories and is moderately insightful. (Aug.) Forecast: Too broad to be a compelling catalogue of contemporary forms of lying, too random to be a history, and too much a survey to be a should-I, shouldn't-I self-help book on deception, this book seems fates to fall through the cracks.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Why do people lie? What do people lie about? And what kinds of lies are considered unpardonable? These are some of the questions novelist and Stanford writing professor Sullivan (Games of the Blind) addresses in this comprehensive study of deception. By analyzing biblical texts and Greek mythology, she shows how the cultural evaluation of deception changed with the spiritual and intellectual climate of the times. She tells of wartime intelligence missions, in which deceit is the fulcrum, to exemplify the strategic brilliance we employ to protect the truth and thus ourselves. Sullivan suggests that not only is lying an intrinsic mechanism of self-preservation but that it is also a creative force; tricksters become "inventors of potential alternate realities...by talking about an event not the way it was but the way it might have been." Given the potential for soapbox morality from such a book, Sullivan's impartiality is impressive. Anyone interested in the history and philosophy of human nature will appreciate this compelling and cleverly written volume. Recommended for larger libraries and academic collections. Stephanie Maher, Warwick, RI
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.