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on April 26, 2010
Most of the book is more entertaining (great dupes throughout history) than educational, but in the last chapter Greenspan outlines several rules to limit your vulnerability. Most of this review comes from Nate Collier.

Major Points

- Don't rush a big decision. Sleep on it. Life is too important not to have the benefit of reflection on the major choices of your life.

- Avoid high-pressure sales situations: The more you are pressured, the more you should be skeptical. Yes, you might, maybe, possibly, lose out on a good deal by taking your time. But it is much more likely you will avoid being duped.

- Admit your limitations. As you have your strengths, you also have your areas of vulnerability. Know them, accept them. No one can be an expert in everything. Just because you are knowledgeable in a certain area doesn't mean that you should not seek additional help and advice in that area. Remember, the saying "the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client," has broad application.

- Learn how to say no and buy time. Learn a few polite, universal phases to disengage from a situation. By practicing a few verbal time-buying, distancing tactics in advance, you may be able to exit quickly, easily, and smoothly. My favorite is a simple but firm "Not today, thank you," accompanied by whatever physical action is appropriate. Turning and walking away if in person, or hanging up without waiting for acknowledgement if on the phone.

- Adopt a "prove it" attitude. It is only smart to demand objective, impartial proof. A polite but skeptical attitude makes a good companion in life.
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As Donald Connery points out in his excellent Foreword, “What amazes me is that no one before Steve Greenspan has so thoroughly and energetically opened the Pandora’s Box of wonderments about a facet of the human personality that must first have been detected by a cave man con man. It appears to be true that, before this book, no substantial study of gullibility has appeared in the English language, and perhaps not in any language…The findings of this book suggest that every field of endeavor, every profession, every set of human interaction, is replete with examples of people too willing to exploit the gullibility of others, and other people, even if aware of the value of exercising critical judgment, all too ready and even eager to be exploited.”

Greenspan realizes that all people are vulnerable to deception, to betrayals of their trust. His interest is in those who have “an unusual tendency toward being duped or taken advantage of.” Those with this tendency are also of greatest interest to others who are eager and able to dupe them or take advantage of them. Greenspan’s focus is on human-to-human gullibility in literature and folk tales (e.g. Pinocchio and Little Red Riding Hood), religion (e.g. Samson), war and politics (e.g. the Trojan Horse and the Second Iraq War), criminal justice (e.g. accomplices to murder), science and academia (e.g. Sokal Hoax), vulnerable populations (e.g. elderly), and finance and relationships (e.g. inheritance scams). What does Greenspan make of all this?

“Duping is a part of human nature as is gullibility, but one lesson from the study of gullibility is that many people can learn, if they are truly motivated, to function in the world with a healthy balance of trust and skepticism. Thus becoming less gullible can be seen as part of a broader acquisition of interpersonal wisdom.”

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest Greenspan’s scope of coverage in Chapters 1-5:

o What Is Gullibility? (Pages 2-5)
o Developmental actors in Gullibility and Its Diminution 6-9)
o Is Gullibility Unique to Humans? (9-12)
o Pinocchio Was One Gullible Puppet (13-16)
o The Emperor’s New Clothes and the Power of Group Modeling (17-20)
o Mark Twain, Chronicler of a Credulous Age (20-22)
o Othello and Other Shakespeare Dupes (27-28)
o Samson and Other Bible Stories (29-e32)
o Gullibility in Anti-Semitism (44-47)
o The Trojan Horse and Military Deception (51-54)
o Groupthink in the Planning of the Vietnam War (54-56)
o Gullibility on the Political Right (60-63)
o Gullibility on the Political Left (63-66)
o Many People Who Accept Conspiracy Theories Are Gullible (66-70)
o A Trial as a Test of a Jury’s Gullibility (75-77)
o Gullibility Toward Crime Scare Stories (81-83)
o Gullibility in the Interrogation Situation (86-89)

So, how can a person learn, "if they are truly motivated, to function in the world with a healthy balance of trust and skepticism”? In the final chapter, Greenspan offers nine practical, doable recommendations. Here are three:

1. Make it a point to avoid impulsive decisions. “I need a day or two to think about this.”
2. Know your limitations. Admit when you don’t know. “Trust but verify.”
3. Be skeptical but not cynical. Don’t question people’s motives. Focus on the given proposition. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. See #2.

I am deeply grateful to Stephen Greenspan for the wealth of valuable information, insights, and counsel that he provides in this book. Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine could possibly do full justice to the material. However, I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of him and his work.

Resistance to gullibility can be developed over time through personal experience and, alas, some of the most valuable experience involves being duped. Stated another way, the “tuition” for gaining wisdom can sometimes be substantial. I wholly agree that almost anyone can establish and then sustain “a healthy balance of trust and skepticism” if they read Annals of Gullibility. Forewarned, they will thus be forearmed.
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on July 12, 2012
I don't agree with negative reviews of this book. It is clear a huge amount of work has gone into writing a really informative and all encompassing view of gullibility. I think the negative jab about the autor falling for a scam was a tad personal, no? I don't think there is anyone in this world who has not been fooled...from being certain that a guy was so into you only to never hear from him again to losing huge amount of money. I did not feel this book set out to make us less gullible, just to explain in one place what is gullibility and what leads to it. I particularly enjoyed the link to folk takes and fairytales. Gullibility is a very complex thing which can be borne out of many different reasons and I felt the book explained those reasons very well. I get the fact that examples can irritate those who write and read academic stuff but it did not bother me. There were links and stories that were very obvious and those where I was happy to read an example (such as stories about politics, army and the way legal system works behind the closed doors). I found it was written well and to be an easy read whilst heavily backed by references.
In fact it was a wonderful and enjoyable step into my own research.

To those that think this book will be self help book to make you less will not find answers other than gain understanding how gullibility works. The rest is up to you and some will always be down to things out of your control. But if you are like me, someone who enjoys knowing how thinking things work, this will be a great book you will not be able to put down.
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on October 4, 2009
Rarely can a reader find a book having so much of value to say about a vital topic be, a the same time, such a good read. Full of the most interesting, curious, and edifying facts--as well as the most compelling examples and anecdotes--this amazingly wide-ranging study illuminates its subject way beyond anything done to date. It is to me a consummate example of a work that simultaneously educates and entertains, with scores of fascinating illustrations that demonstrate the regrettable ever-presence of gullibility.

With chapters covering every imaginable aspect of deception and fraud, Greenspan explores his topic as it's revealed in literature, folklore, finance, relationships, religion, war, politics, criminal justice, science,and academia. Reading this book should increase your sophistication about the world we live in at least threefold(!). It will also help to make you more prudent, circumspect, and wary--crucial characteristics if you're going to protect yourself from all the opportunistic "operators" (or predators) who may be lying in wait to take advantage of you. Definitely worth a 5-star rating.

Finally, contrary to what at least one earlier reviewer stated, Greenspan (whether directly or by implication) discusses the many ways an individual can become more resistant to being duped. His last two chapters in particular focus on this all-important issue. In short, this book is as comprehensive as it is a delight to read.
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on January 10, 2009
This other Greenspan has given us a highly accessible and useful primer on how a avoid--or at least protect against, both fooling oneself and being overly prone to the latest scam in our driven market free-for-all. Greenspan tells his narrative with considerable eloquence and a disarming tone of personal experience informed by a clear and convincing scholarship: an erudite wit and gentle guide if ever there was one. His book is quickly accessible to all but the most gullible--and serves as a relief to those of us gulled (and who among us lacks that trial?)--and as a tonic to prepare against those new temptations we will surely face. Finally, we have an adviser we can trust--a true green span to better behavior. I can only say: read it soon--and reread it often!
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on January 22, 2011
You can't pen a book about gullibility by making notes from various books and papers. Gullibility is way beyond the grasp of mere Ph.D folk or college professors. In fact, the author himself, as other reviewers observed, was conned by the King of Con, Bernie Madoff. As I say, gullibility can't be addressed with proficiency by a mere mortal with a Ph.D. Masters of persuasion long ago learned how to make others do what they want. They prey on such things as greed. To wit: Those who were taken by Madoff would never have been taken were it not for their intense greed coupled with gullibility to their peers who they trusted without question and the fact they felt entitled to the exclusivity offered (supposedly) by Madoff.

Having said that, I found this book interesting if for no other reason than to read about the many ways people are so taken in by others. As Barnum said, "There's one born every minute."

I would rather read a book by someone who knows what he's talking about --- say, Madoff.

-- Susanna K. Hutcheson
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on March 27, 2014
I have only read the summary of this book, as the price seemed a bit too high to make it worth buying something that on the surface seems conceptually flawed to begin with - emphasizing gullibility rather than the much bigger problem we've long had with those who regularly and deceptively betray our trust. Perhaps the author felt he needed a new angle, since so many books are out that have tried to examine our propensity for deception, never getting it quite right either. (One exception being the book titled The Strategic Intelligence of Trust, also written by a Niles, which explains the evolving role of deception in biological life quite well).

Greenspan writes: "But the term gullibility really refers to a pattern of being duped, which repeats itself in different settings, even in the face of warning signs." No, it also refers to the propensity in any one of us to be duped by an excellent deceiver, which as it turns out, every one of us is, and to whatever extent our histories have made necessary for our survival. So ironically, in an apparent attempt to help the reader avoid the skillful dupe, he neglects to tell him or her that an improvement to their instinctive skills at counter duping could be their best defense.
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on February 23, 2010
I had two major problems with this book. One is that its definition of gullibility is so broad that it includes plain stupidity and unwitting ignorance. The book's analyses also lack subtlety. When US Senators gave George W. Bush broad powers to go to war against Iraq in 2003 -- based on incorrect intelligence -- was this gullibility? Could it not have been a reasoned assessment of facts by those who had no opportunity to learn them on their own? Could it not have been due to political positioning by presidential hopefuls who wanted to present themselves as strong and warlike? Could it be that the cognitive powers of the Senators were not what we might wish they were? Author Greenspan also seems to have it in for religious beliefs, writing about them as though they are self-evidently false, and their adherents gullible fools. I don't argue that there is more than a little foolishness in the thinking of many religious people. But it seems utterly facile to suggest that because some or even many religious people are gullible, then the object of religious belief must be non-existent. It's like saying that because so many who bet on horses make a hash of statistics, that probability theory is unreal.

My second major issue the "Annals of Gullibility" is that it is so derivative. Stephen Greenspan basically has read lots of books, and from these he has fashioned his own book on gullibility. This is not the same as a historian who researches primary documents to present a new synthesis of ideas. It is about an author who uncritically (gullibly?) reads a number of secondary and tertiary sources about a field in which he has no firsthand knowledge, then writes a book about them. This is a book that I, a non-academic but a prolific reader, could have written. I would much rather read a book on gullibility by a researcher who had made a career of studying human cognition.

After reading about half of "Annals," I gave up. Too bad. A decent book on gullibility would have been a fascinating and fun read.
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on March 1, 2009
I read this book to satisfy my curiosity after reading the following from a magazine. I just wondered how could the author who was smart enough to write a book like this one yet so foolish to be duped by a Ponzi scheme.

The Gullible Professor (from The Week)
The irony is almost too rich: A psychology professor, about to publish a book about human gullibility, invests a good chunk of his retirement savings with Bernard Madoff and loses it all. That's what happened to Stephen Greenspan, author of Annals of Gullibility: Why We Get Duped and How to Avoid It. Detailing his misadventures in The Wall Street Journal, Greenspan said it started when his sister and some of her friends, all longtime Madoff investors, urged him to get in on a good thing. They "convinced me that I would be foolish not to take advantage of this opportunity," Greenspan writes. He was so eager to believe, that when a financially savvy friend warned him against the investment, Greenspan dismissed the warning as "knee-jerk cynicism." Only self-deception, Greenspan says, can account for the foolish choices made by otherwise intelligent people. "They had too good a thing going," Greenspan says,"to entertain the idea that it might all be about to crumble." And as long as humans remain prey to self-deception, Ponzi schemes will continue to succeed-until they collapse.
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on May 7, 2009
I bought and read this book thinking I would learn about a theory to explain gullibility. Instead I got a series of descriptions of people being gullible. I can think of the many times that I've been gullible. I don't need to learn that the phenomenon exists. The solutions proposed were not exciting. I did learn to be more careful when I order books.
I did not learn why I get duped and I should have avoided buying and reading this book.
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