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The Concise Book of Lying Hardcover – August, 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; First Edition edition (August 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374128685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374128685
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,600,375 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The last book I read about lying was Professor Sissela Bok's serious examination of the subject. That book took a very high moral ground, and showed the obvious benefits of more truthfulness than most people practice. Having not read much on the subject since then, I was curious about what a new look at the subject would show.
I found The Concise Book of Lying to be more entertaining and encompassing than Professor Bok's book, Lying. On the other hand, it also seemed to lack a rigor that left me not actually learning very much.
Any book about lying is going to be somewhat awkward. We don't often write about moral subjects, so our models are sermons rather than more normal writing. The author can hardly come down in favor of lying generally, so this makes the author seem distant and superior in some unavoidable ways simply by selecting the subject.
Almost all of the material here was familiar to me before I read the book. So getting a concise version of it was like reading a summary of what I knew already.
The book begins with examples of lying in the Bible, and tricksters in various mythologies (usually those who bring fire). The book goes on to look at the psychology of why people lie, and where lying can be costly. The lesson is that one should be cautious about avoiding the short-term pain by lying in order to get a larger, long-term one like loss of credibility. From there, Professor Sullivan explore the ways people can indulge in self-deception (a very dangerous form of lying). She also looks at modern and medieval methods of trying to ferret out lying (oaths, burning, trials, dunking, lie detector machines, and sodium pentathol).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By M. P. Barry on April 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In this work, Ms. Sullivan provides descriptions of a wide range of lying, lies, and deceptions for our consideration and then selects many of these for additional analysis. The author's examples illustrate the complexities associated with truths and untruths and suggest new ways for the reader to consider and reconsider past behaviors. She examines some accepted societal conventions in a more rigorous light, which should be enjoyable to skeptics. She also reviews a range of technologies and practices which have been used to distinguish between truth and falsehood (and between guilt and innocence) over the years and dismisses them as ineffective. Comparisons of the effectiveness of lie detectors and ordeals as applied during the middle ages (i.e. trial by fire, etc.) were written in a lighter and less philosophical style that provided a break from the more academic style that pervades this book.
The author does not write from a moral point of view that is apparent and she allows the reader to draw his or her own conculsions. Some portions of the book are slow going and anything but concise (but the deception is acceptable since the very title and subject matter should provide the reader with ample warning) but on balance it is engaging and worthwhile.
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Format: Paperback
I could not bring myself to finish this book. The author wants to relate why people lie by citing fictional characters in books and shows such as Othello, Bart Simpson, Seinfeld, etc . This just doesn't do it for me. I felt like I was reading a college students term paper. I wanted to like this book and dragged it out to about page 100 but it just didn't captivate or interest me by that point. Its really just a book of someone's ramblings and attempts to tie things, topics, books, ideas, etc to lying. I feel like I could have wrote this book in college for an English class. A lot of it is common sense, like people don't like it when they are lied to.

The book started out as tough reading, tough as in not interesting. Going through examples in the bible of lies and then to Greek Mythology. I like to read books where I feel I am learning something and this book made me feel like I was just wasting my time. This book is about 200 pages too long. I couldn't waste any more time reading this book while I have so many others I want to read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Offers an interesting survey on a subject that we do not think about often. Lying is something that all of us do and is a taboo in need of understanding and further discussion. Yes, we are all liars! (Even God was a Liar!).
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