Customer Reviews


116 Reviews
5 star:
 (55)
4 star:
 (40)
3 star:
 (12)
2 star:
 (7)
1 star:
 (2)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars explains what holds society together (+ a terrific primer on game theory)
How does society function when you know you can't possibly trust everyone in it? That's the question at the heart of Bruce Schneier's enlightening new book, "Liars and Outliers." There is no single or simple answer, Schneier explains. Instead, four "societal pressures" combine to help create and preserve trust within society. Those pressures include: (1) Moral pressures;...
Published on February 2, 2012 by Adam Thierer

versus
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a textbook
Bruce Schneier is a world-renowned security expert with a very good blog which I've followed for some time. While he's authored many books, Liars and Outliers is the first in which he ventures outside of his narrow field of computer security. This time he's trying to apply the lenses of trust and security to society at large. This is Schneier's 'big idea' book and I was...
Published 14 months ago by Tom Braun


‹ Previous | 1 212 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars explains what holds society together (+ a terrific primer on game theory), February 2, 2012
By 
Adam Thierer (technology policy analyst in Washington, DC area) - See all my reviews
How does society function when you know you can't possibly trust everyone in it? That's the question at the heart of Bruce Schneier's enlightening new book, "Liars and Outliers." There is no single or simple answer, Schneier explains. Instead, four "societal pressures" combine to help create and preserve trust within society. Those pressures include: (1) Moral pressures; (2) Reputational pressures; (3) Institutional pressures; and (4) Security systems. By "dialing in" these societal pressures in varying degrees, trust is generated over time within groups.

Of course, these societal pressures also fail on occasion, Schneier notes. He explores a host of scenarios -- in organizations, corporations, and governments -- when trust breaks down because defectors seek to evade the norms and rules the society lives by. These defectors are the "liars and outliers" in Schneier's narrative and his book is an attempt to explain the complex array of incentives and trade-offs that are at work and which lead some humans to "game" systems or evade the norms and rules others follow.

Indeed, Schneier's book serves as an excellent primer on game theory as he walks readers through complex scenarios such as prisoner's dilemma, the hawk-dove game, the free-rider problem, the bad apple effect, principle-agent problems, the game of chicken, race to the bottom, capture theory, and more. These problems are all quite familiar to economists, psychologists, and political scientists, who have spent their lives attempting to work through these scenarios. Schneier has provided a great service here by making game theory more accessible to the masses and given it practical application to a host of real-world issues.

The most essential lesson Schneier teaches us is that perfect security is an illusion. We can rely on those four societal pressures in varying mixes to mitigate problems like theft, terrorism, fraud, online harassment, and so on, but it would be foolish and dangerous to believe we can eradicate such problems completely. "There can be too much security," Schneier explains, because, at some point, constantly expanding security systems and policies will result in rapidly diminishing returns. Trying to eradicate every social pathology would bankrupt us and, worse yet, "too much security system pressure lands you in a police state," he correctly notes.

Despite these challenges, Schneier reminds us that there is cause for optimism. Humans adapt better to social change than they sometimes realize, usually by tweaking the four societal pressures Schneier identifies until a new balance emerges. While liars and outliers will always exist, society will march on.

You can read my longer review of Schneier's "Liars & Outliers" over at Forbes.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant analysis of how trust works and its inherent complexities, February 22, 2012
It is said that the song Wipe Out launched a generation of drummers. In the world of information security, the classic Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C by Bruce Schenier may have been the book that launched a generation of new cryptographers.

Schenier latest work of art is Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive. For those that are looking for a follow-up to Applied Cryptography, this it is not. In fact, it is hard to classify this as an information security title and in fact the book is marked for the current affairs / sociology section. Whatever section this book ultimately falls in, the reader will find that Schneier is one of the most original thinkers around.

In Applied Cryptography Schneier dealt with the pristine world of mathematical cryptography where aspects of pure mathematics could be demonstrably proven. For example, non-repudiation is absolutely provable.

In Liars and Outliers, Schneier moves from the pristine world of mathematics into the muddy world of human trust. Non-repudiation is no longer an absolute in a world where a Windows kernel can be compromised and end-users can be victims of social engineering.

The book addresses the fundamental question of how does society function when you can't trust everyone. Schneier notes that nothing in society works without trust. It's the foundation of communities, commerce, democracy, in truth - everything. And Schneier deals extensively with social and moral pressures that effect trust.

Liars and Outliers is very similar to books Umberto Eco, that have a Renaissance feel to them; bringing myriad and diverse topics together. Schenier does this here and intertwines topics such as game theory, evolution, surveillance, existentialism and much more. Schneier's brilliance is that he is able to connect seemingly disparate dots around information security and society, and show how they are in truth tightly coupled.

In the book, Schneier makes note of those that don't follow the rules. He calls these people defectors, and these are the liars and outliers of the book. The book notes that everything is a trade-off, and these defectors are the ones that try to break the rules.

An overall theme of the book, in which Schneier touches and references sociology, psychology, economics, criminology, anthropology, game theory and much more, is that society can't function without trust. He writes that in our complex interconnect and global society, that we need a lot of trust.

Schneier makes frequent reference to Dunbar's number, which he first references in chapter 2. Dunbar's number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar and is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. It is generally in the area of 150. So when someone sees a person with 3,000 Facebook friends, something is clearly amiss.

In chapter 9 on institutional pressures, Schneier takes a very broad look at threats facing society today. One of the biggest perceived threats we have today is terrorism, and the book astutely notes that we can never ensure perfect security against terrorism.

If Schneier had his way, the TSA budget would be measured in the millions, not billions of dollars. He incisively observes that all the talk of terrorism as an existential threat to society is utter nonsense. As long as terrorism is rare enough (which it is), and most people survive (which they do), society will survive. He writes that while that observation is true, it is not politically viable for our leaders to come out and say that.

While the book is heavy on the people focus, Schneier also acknowledges that sometimes and for some people, the incentives to commit crimes are worth the risk. To deal with those, that is where security technologies come into play.

An interesting observation made in chapter 10 around technology is that sometimes the technological changes have absolutely nothing to do with the societal dilemma being secured. For example, he notes that between the ubiquity of keyboards and the tendency for teachers to focus on standardized tests, cursive is no longer being taught that much in schools. The result is that signatures are more likely to be either printed text is an illegible scrawl; making them easier to forge. Which in turns creates new security risks.
In the book Schneier makes scores of astute observations on how society functions around security. He notes in chapter 16 that we are currently in a period of history where technology is changing faster than it ever has. The worry is that if technology changes too fast, the attackers will be able to innovate so much faster than society can that the imbalance become even greater; with failures that negatively affect society.

In many of the examples in the book, Schneier paints a dark picture given the advantage that the attackers and defectors have. But he also notes that we are in a period of history where the ability for large-scale cooperation is greater than it has ever been before. On that topic, he refers to the book The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest by Yochai Benkler where he writes that the Internet can and has enabled cooperation on a scale never before seen. And that politics, backed by science, is ready to embrace this new cooperation.

On the lighter side, in chapter 17, Schneier notes that Mussolini didn't make the trains run on time; he just made it illegal to complain about them.

Schneier notes at the end of the book that its lesson isn't that defectors will inevitably ruin everything for everyone. Rather that we as a society need to manage societal pressure to ensure that they don't.
Liars and Outliers is an absolutely fascinating and groundbreaking book. In this election year where the candidates attempt to make sweeping simplistic promises to fix complex problems, Schneier simply answers that in our complex society, there are no simple answers.

In Applied Cryptography Bruce Schneier demonstrated he was quite the smart guy. In Liars and Outliers, he shows he is even smarter than most of us first thought.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a textbook, June 26, 2013
By 
Tom Braun (North Florida, United States) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Bruce Schneier is a world-renowned security expert with a very good blog which I've followed for some time. While he's authored many books, Liars and Outliers is the first in which he ventures outside of his narrow field of computer security. This time he's trying to apply the lenses of trust and security to society at large. This is Schneier's 'big idea' book and I was excited to see what he'd do with it.

Unfortunately, Schneier proves himself to be a less than engaging writer. The adjective 'didactic' might have been coined to fit his style. He hammers on basic ideas like societal pressures over and over again. Virtually every 'trust' scenario features one or two tables, and maybe a flow chart. I half expected the chapters to end with knowledge review questions. Schneier has a bright future ahead of him as an author of text books if his security consulting gigs ever go south.

I don't want to say that the book is entirely without interest. You might expect someone like Schneier to have lots of interesting stories about security breaches, betrayal of trust and bad behavior generally. And he does. But these tend to be few and far between, scattered across long dry digressions into game theory and evolutionary biology and other stuff. Schneier is much more interesting when he's on his own turf, talking about corporate and government security and the impacts of technology on the same.

Schneier takes a dim view of corporations and governments. Initially I found him to be quite cynical on these topics, but then the Edward Snowden leaks happened and after that he seemed drearily prophetic. I have no doubt that the forward to the second edition of this book will begin with "See, I told you so."

Like many 'big idea' books that I've noticed, this one suffers from 'last chapter should have been first' syndrome. Schneier's rules about cooperation and defection are one of the meatier parts of the book, not to mention one of the few places where he really lets his own ideas shine through. I would have put them up front, and then spent the rest of the book fleshing them out with interesting antecdotes.

I didn't write the book, though. Bruce Schneier did! So buckle your seat belt and get ready for a wild ride of tables, charts and copious footnotes!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A detailed systemic examination of the abstract concept of trust., February 26, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
"Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive" is a departure from Bruce Schneier, who is widely regarded for his cryptography books and as a highly respected computer security commentator. Moving away from the hard core mathematics required for effective modern cryptography, in his latest offering Schneier constructs a framework for understanding trust and the various systemic forces that act upon it.

This innovative systems perspective of trust as it relates to security in general represents a profound breakthrough which should have considerable influence on discussions and debate within the security community. The detailed analysis of how pressures, incentives, and penalties influence individuals and organizations is extremely useful for understanding potential and probable results of various policy and control initiatives.

Schneier also provides an excellent explanation for why criminal organizations are inherently more agile and adaptable than business and law enforcement agencies. This inherent agility is very apparent in computer and network security where the pace of new exploits and attack vectors at times seems to overwhelm traditional defense mechanisms.

The conclusions drawn in this book describe the importance of trust and how it will not diminish over time in the future. Schneier deftly summarizes how the trust framework must be well understood when designing and implementing societal pressures and how "perfect security" is an absolute illusion. While no specific policy recommendations are offered, this book should provide foundational knowledge for fueling effective and informed debate in the security arena.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bruce Schneier is the Umberto Eco of computer security, April 26, 2012
This book changes how we think about trust and society. And with that, how we think about security and society.

But make no mistake - this book is not just for security wonks and computer geeks. This book is for anyone who thinks seriously and imaginatively about how society functions. Schneier is the Umberto Eco of computer security. He doesn't speak in algorithms. He speaks in the language of a public intellectual as comfortable with questions of morality and ethics as he is with computer code. He's knows Hegel and Heidegger as well as he knows gaming theory.

Liars and Outliars synthesizes scholarship from a cornucopia of fields - from sociology to hard science, philosophy to physics. Schneier moves fluidly between seemingly disparate schools of thought, unveiling connections between the security structures society creates and the unseen sociological and philosophical forces that cause their very creation. Schneier assumes nothing and questions everything. And in his questioning, he reveals the moral and practical calculations that inform societies' trust and security decisions.

You might think Liars and Outliars should be read by everyone interested in computer security. But really, the book should be read by everyone.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I love the rational thought that created this book about trust, October 13, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive (Kindle Edition)
DEspite the seemingly confusing concepts of language, Bruce simplifies, clarifies and cuts through to the heart of human relationships and the fabric of society. Highly recommended reading...
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new way to think about an old concept, April 27, 2012
The book is an engaging way to look at trust-a concept that we take for granted but that permeates all aspects of our lives. I will never look at my neighbors the same way again, whether they be across the street or around the globe.

Now that I've read Liars and Outliers, I want to go back and get some of Schneier's previous works. This guy has a rare gift for merging philosophy, science and common sense. He's really funny too.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant analysis of behavioral incentives, April 25, 2012
In this book, Schneier not only transcends but goes far beyond the borders of the field he comes from, Cryptography. It is a brilliant and systematic summary of results from many fields of science related to incentives of human behavior and interpersonal trust.

His clear structure and approach alone would make this book an ideal collection of references, but in its synthesis, it goes far beyond that. Schneier combines an impressive amount of multidisciplinary research to draw conclusions that offer no less than a comprehensive theory of human and group behavior. In this, he transparently lists his references and their respective criticisms, allowing the reader to get an impression of the current understanding and proposed further research in each of the scientific fields considered.

Thanks to plenty of clear examples - both constructed and from the real world - as well as use of charts and graphs, the book is easy to understand and to-the-point. It is a captivating and engaging read, but not one that you can go through quickly; the reader regularly feels the need to put down the book and ponder the thoughts presented, following them, applying them, perhaps furthering them.

My main criticism is that there are occasions where the author appears unable to see beyond his own environment and issues at hand. That doesn't impede his conclusions, but means his examples are not as broadly selected as they could have been.
The chapter on institutional pressure is dominated by examples surrounding airplane security and the TSA. Whether or not the reader agrees with him (most probably do) is beside the point; selecting examples from an ongoing, controversial debate that the author himself has a stake in is just not as neutral as it should be and most other parts of this book are.
Generally, while the author tries to look beyond his own historical and cultural environment and to give diverse examples, those from Western Christian backgrounds still make up the majority. Admittedly, it is hard for any author to equally represent the many aspects of a globalized world, and Schneier deserves compliments for looking far beyond his own country in most of his work (the most notable exception being, again, the TSA issue).

For most of the book, the author adopts the stance of a neutral observer, describing facts and developments without judging them, carefully selecting examples that outline both positive and negative applications of the societal pressures described. What appeared underrepresented however is the idea of defecting from a norm in a positive way. This is mentioned in the introduction and again in the book's conclusion, but briefly. Some examples are based on the idea, but in most cases, the defectors described cause negative consequences. Schneier several times tries to stress the point that the act of defection as such is not inherently positive or negative, unfortunately, his selection of examples largely contradicts this point. As a result, the books overall conclusion appears more pessimist than was perhaps intended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and thought-provoking, July 14, 2013
One of the most impressive aspects of this book was how thoroughly Bruce researched the topics he presented. Unfortunately, I think this caused sections to drag in places. That said, this is a very thought-provoking read, especially for an IT Security practitioner like myself. The examples that he uses to illustrate the material are effective in that they are relevant, simple for anyone to understand, and because many of them are historical in nature they help ensure the book does not immediately become dated. The book focuses much more on natural behavior and sociological theory than anything technology-specific, which gives this book broad relevance for individuals in any field or industry. As he referenced in a recent blog post, reading this while news about the NSA and Prism became public created an interesting parallel and provided the book with even further relevance.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good overview of a complex subject, February 10, 2012
Mr. Schneier is well known for presenting complex subjects in easy to understand terms, and his latest book does a great job of untangling and explaining the concepts of trust, compliance, and security. The book details why healthy systems need parasites to thrive and evolve, including society. This was a very enjoyable book to read and I made a lot of notes as I went through it.

Bruce goes through a lot of information and it's easy to see that the book could have been twice the length. The text runs the first two thirds of the book and the final third is end notes and reference. This final section is an invaluable source for follow up on the issues raised in the body of the volume. Overall - Highly recommended!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 212 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.