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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The subject of "Trust" is particularly relevant today especially since in the United States, we are a scant 2 weeks away from a Presidential election at the time this review was written. As I've watched the debates, the issue of trust is foremost on my mind. I continually ask myself, "Is this person telling the truth; can I trust what they are saying."

The world is embroiled in a financial market meltdown the likes of which few of us have ever experienced. Can we trust our governments to use the hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayers money to deftly handle this financial crisis?

And yes, trust is implicit in personal relationships as well. Can you trust your best friend, wife, husband, child?

For these reasons I chose to read the book "Trust. Self-Interest and the Common Good" by Marek Kohn. The author is clearly intelligent and has formulated aome good ideas on this subject. However I felt like I was reading a college textbook the entire time I was reading this slim volume. It has been said that the writing style is "scholarly" and it most definitely is. This is not a book to pick up and expect to enjoy during a brief period of reading. This book requires dedication to read and some real concentration to breakdown the dense and difficult to read paragraphs into chuncks that you can process.

To be honest, I had some disagreements with the book beginning with the very first sentence in the Preface which reads, "Now that agreement has been reached about how humankind can best make a profitable living, with a single economic orthodoxy established around the world, an increasing number of scholars and commentators have turned their attention to the questions of how people can live well." Whew! not only is that one long sentence, but I don't agree with it. Please explain to me in what way "agreement has been reached about how humankind can best make a profitable living." If this has been agreed upon it is certainly news to me. Just look at the world right now and re-read that sentence. I can't trust the rest of the information in this book based on the very first sentence in the Preface.

It could be that some would find this particular book fascinating to read but sadly I did not. It was truly difficult to maintain interest in the subject matter because of the way in which it was written. I cannot recommend this book to most readers and although it it may have its niche I am compelled togive it a 2-star rating.
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VINE VOICEon October 17, 2008
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Given the world-wide financial turmoil at the time of publishing, this book seemed well-timed. What could be more apropos given the key role that breakdown of trust between banks has played in the freezing of the credit markets?

And so I cracked open this slim hardback and started reading the preface: "Now that agreement has been reached about how humankind can best make a profitable living, with a single economic orthodoxy established around the world..." Ooops.

This is an example of the comfortable western European viewpoint of the author in this brief skate across the issues around the concept of trust. Though the book ventures further afield to consider how differences in race and culture affect trust, the style and author's frame of reference made me feel like I was being lectured over tea by a comfortably-off British academic.

Overall, I found the book mildly interesting, but can't imagine explaining it or attempting to relate it to others. Part of the reason is the lack of organization of the text, which suggests the goal of the book is not to give the reader an understanding of the subject, but instead to impress the author's superior knowledge of the subject area.

The style is that of an essay in 7 chapters. Several examples of trust are used throughout the book, such as that between enemy soldiers during world war one. The essay format leads to a feeling of unsettled incompleteness as the examples are never explored as a whole, diluting their value and impact. Adding to the feeling of a rambling text, the boundaries between chapters seem somewhat arbitrary.

In conclusion, this book provided a brief diversion and suggested some new ways to look at issues of trust, but I can't imagine remembering what it was about in 6 months' time.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
இ Fuzzy Wuzzy's Summary:
ѾѾѾѾ Recommended with warm fuzzies.

This was an easy, not-too-deeply-academic, read into the concept of trust as explored from a variety of psychological, sociological, political perspectives. For me, it was certainly a very timely subject matter at a time when the current credit crisis in the U.S. involves a lack of trust from banks and lending institutions, with banks not trusting each other and not trusting borrowers in general. Also with this year being a presidential election year in the U.S., how much we trust what various candidates are telling us is very much applicable to these same concepts of trust.

Along with their highly-respected dictionaries, Oxford University Press publishes a large number of great academic and professional books and journals. This is quite possibly one of their smaller books and it made for a quick and easy-to-understand reading. It is more like an topical university-level survey of the concept of trust between humans, rather than either an in-depth analysis of the subject or a self-help book for people wanting to learn how to build more trust from people. My main quibble, and the reason for rating this book 4 stars instead of 5 stars, is that it tends to digress and veer off into different directions sometimes, at times not having enough focus and cohesiveness to give me "Aha" epiphanies, and tending to dribble out philosophical contemplations of trust in bits and pieces.
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on November 19, 2008
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What is trust? Is there less of it around nowadays? If so, how might we get some of it back? Kohn's brilliant essay, full of sardonically compressed insight, begins with a primordial scene of trust: a parent sending her child on an errand to the corner shop. From there the notion ramifies, splitting into "thick trust" (of people we know) and "thin trust" (of people we don't), and taking in the behaviour of gazelles being chased by wild dogs; unofficial truces between frontline German and British soldiers in the first world war; the apparatus of modern surveillance; and the Prisoner's Dilemma, with "its obscure moral topography, in which telling the truth appears to count as cheating".

Discussions of trust in politics are often conducted in terms of windy homily, so it is refreshing to see Kohn point out that democracy's "structural foundations are based on mistrust", in the systems of checks and balances on power. Yet, he argues, civic trust is a desirable good-in-itself. And the most trusting countries are those with the narrowest range of economic inequality. That message probably won't be welcome to most politicians, but then again, why should we trust them?
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VINE VOICEon July 22, 2010
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Kohn's book is a well written and well thought out study of a subject that is both interesting and worthy of such study. The complaints that it is a difficult book seem like a fair criticism, but do not take away from the value of this work. Those who are looking for something a little more friendly to wider audiences will likely feel the same way, while those who are interested in ready a more scholarly book targeted toward social science students will appreciate the depth of thought and the rigorousness of the approach. It would be more accurate to call this book "pedantic" rather than "tedious" (as another reviewer has written).

What I liked most about this book was the way in which the author took such a basic notion as that of "trust" and approached it so multi-dimensionally and from such a multi-disciplinary perspective. Trust is studied on a philosophical, sociological, and even biological basis and its implications are similarly explored through lenses as diverse as those provided by religion and economics. The key poin--that the idea of "trust" lies at the very heart of so much of the human experience and that we thus need to think more carefully about why it exists, how it emerged, and what it means for us--is fairly well articulated. Style, however, might be lacking.

If you are looking for a book that explores something as simple as "trust" thoroughly and comprehensively and says something about what trust is and what it means to us as human beings, then you might find this book intriguing if not engrossing. This would be a great choice for students of sociology, anthropology, and even biology (since the subject of how or why trust evolved out of a system based upon natural selection and competition is pertinent). If you're looking for something that caters to the demands of the general reading public and is more lightweight, you might be less enthralled. I would consider this to be a largely academic work.
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VINE VOICEon March 26, 2009
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Self Interest and the Common Good
by Marek Kohn

This deceptively slim volume takes on a subject of surprising depth and complexity. Trust is a paradox, something that arises out of variety of competing agendas, something that flourishes in the most unlikely places. It is a factor in the quality of life which can not be overlooked in any assessment of the true worth of relationships ranging from those between individuals all the way up to society as a whole.

As Kohn's subtitle suggests, there is an inherent tension between self interest and the common good. The book is an exploration of the dynamics of that tension, one which leads to some surprising situations and some not necessarily obvious insights. It's a journey well worth embarking on, as the fluctuating nature of trust which we encounter in our modern world is a matter of great practical and philosophical import.

Trust does not happen in a vacuum; a solitary individual is not in a position to practice trust. Trust requires two or more parties and self interest complicates the issue. It is advantageous to be trusted, but to trust is to take a risk. There are gains to be had from engaging in trust - but also gains to be had from duplicity. Further, trust can be based on many things: history, expectations, pure calculation, and so on. Beyond that, trust is not an either/or proposition. It may be extended only under certain conditions and within limits.

Kohn uses a number of devices to examine the manifold nature of trust: thought experiments, actual experiments, examples from every day life, and examples from history. He employs them to flesh out the abstract discussions the subject invokes, the better to explain why and how trust does - or does not - obtain under a variety of conditions.

Along the way Kohn traverses the terrain of trust ranging from relations between individuals up to society in general, ponders the role of authority in trust, and how social capital leavens the mix. Game theory is brought in to illuminate how trust works from a rather different perspective, and Kohn shows how theory contrasts with real world experiences.

This is not a book to be read at one sitting; it is best taken in small bites - the better to assimilate the concepts being considered. Pop psychology, easy answers and glib assertions are not to be found here. It's a scholarly work that nonetheless is intended to be accessible. Kohn's motivation for undertaking this explication of the nature of trust was driven in part by the need for a better understanding of the subject in a world changing at an increasing rate. As society undergoes flux, trust is one of the increasingly strained mechanisms holding it together; it behooves us to pay attention to it.

This is not light entertainment - but may well prove to be a source of enlightenment for the reader willing to make the effort to understand what can be a pretty complex phenomenon. Challenging and engaging, Kohn's book is one worth reading and re-reading.

Trust me on this.
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VINE VOICEon October 19, 2008
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First, please make sure you understand what this book is before you buy it. If you want to build trust in your relationships and are looking for a self-help book along those lines, this is NOT it.

This book is a 133-page "exploratory essay" (that's the description on the jacket) on the topic of trust and the research into it. If you are a sociology student, or have a strong interest in the subject, this book may very well interest you.

I found a number of the ideas surveyed in this book interesting. But to be honest, I didn't really enjoy the book much, even though the topic is one I like. There were two things about the way the book was written which made reading it, for me, a bit tedious:
1. The book really is better thought of as a long essay. The author begins a chapter with a title and then meanders about for 20 pages. This may be just fine for many people, but I need more explicit structure in a book -- chapters appropriately divided into sections, and a clear flow between them. If you are going to read the book all at once, it may not matter as much; but if you read a few pages at a time, as I do, you may feel a need to re-orient yourself as he "explores" a topic.
2. The author somewhat overuses pronouns, which can make the text confusing. For example, one sentence in the book reads "The science writer Matt Ridley proclaims its relationship to trust as ...." What does "its" refer to? Science? No, back to the previous sentence; it contains the nouns "state," "importance," and "equality." Ah -- "its" refers to "equality." But having to puzzle out ambiguous references quickly erodes my enthusiasm to read a book. At times the author even uses pronouns to refer to nouns in the previous paragraph, something I think most writers avoid.

If you do get this book, be forewarned about the discussion of "The Enlightenment Trail" on page 50. The name is a reference to a concept introduced in "Trust Within Reason," of which you can find an excerpt online at Google Books. Information that should be presented as a 7 by 3 table is given in a rather tedious paragraph instead; why not just give us a table? But the real gotcha is that if you try to follow the logic as presented in this book, as you get near the end of the explanation you'll realize that it doesn't quite make sense. It turns out that Kohn's book gives a wrong value for one of the pubs. Use this table to understand that material. (A and E are Adam and Eve's ratings for the pub)

A E Pub
- - ----------------------
1 0 The Rational Choice
0 2 The Social Contract
3 1 The Foole
2 4 The Sensible Knave
5 3 The Extra Trick (not 5 4)
4 5 The Triumph of Reason

You might want to check out the "Trust Within Reason" excerpt to better understand what this book is about.
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VINE VOICEon September 23, 2010
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I tried so hard to get into this book, but it was painful to read. It was loaded with jargon...snore and worse still it makes some pretty overarching statements about how people in lower socioeconomic groups behave, which I frankly disagree with.
In the latter case, I really disagree with the idea that poor people trust less. I have found this is not true and it certainly does not account for the inter-reliance and interdependence observed in underground economies. People have to trust and depend on one another, even when situations are not always healthy, in order to stay alive. Having moved from poverty to the middle class, I find that middle class people trust less, because there is always the idea that one might slip down into poverty if one trusts the wrong person. Eliza Doolittle's father in Pygmalion called it "middle class morality". I think he was far more on point. This issue was really where I got hung up and I guess once I didn't trust the author, I couldn't get into the rest of his argument.
My guess is that people who have never experienced poverty will feel differently about the book, which is why I gave it the rating I did.
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on October 8, 2008
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Marek Kohn's book, "Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good," is a nice place to start thinking about the topic of trust. It is far from comprehensive, as it only weighs in at 133 short pages, but presents the reader with some interesting angles concerning trust. It draws from a variety areas, including philosophy, religion, sociology, economics, politics, and technology. It even has a brief discussion of and the trust element involved in customers rating merchandise!

I was able to read this book in a couple of hours, as it is well-written and has a nice flow. Potential readers need to be aware that "Trust" is more of a survey of the topic meant to springboard folks into further exploration of trust, as opposed to an in-depth study. That is not to say that the book is shallow. The author skillfully covers a lot of material in the book's 133 pages.

I particularly found the chapter on trust and politics interesting. Kohn examines the role of trust as it relates to various political systems, using specific examples and even drawing upon the philosophy of thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes. "Trust" certainly gives the reader some things to think about and further study.

Overall, "Trust" is a book that will interest both academics and casual readers. It may not contain anything groundbreaking, but it does provide food for thought in a manner that is organized and easy to read, while at the same time invites further exploration of the role of trust in society.
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VINE VOICEon October 19, 2008
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In the midst of the stock market turmoil currently being experienced across the globe, as well as the occurrence of the current political cycle of the United States (2008), the subject of trust is a very timely one indeed. The Economist recently mentioned in its Finance and Economics section that "the supply of credit is bound up with something even more subterranean [than the static interbank market]: trust. The very word comes from credere, 'to trust' in Latin. When institutions, such as banks, that are supposed to embody trust are shown to be brittle, it leads to concerns about the fragility of the entire economy." A couple days later, The New Yorker stated in its regularly occurring The Financial Page that, "in December, 1912, J. P. Morgan testified before Congress in the so-called Money Trust hearings. Asked to explain how he decided whether to make a loan or investment, he replied, 'The first thing is character.' His questioner skeptically suggested that factors like collateral might be more important, but Morgan replied, 'A man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds of Christendom.' Morgan's point was simple but essential: systems of credit depend on trust." And later: "The fear that has overpowered lenders is not just about the current market chaos. It also reflects their lack of faith in the models and systems that they rely on to evaluate risk. For Morgan, that process of evaluation was all about relationships. In the modern financial system, by contrast, risk evaluation involves two things: impersonality and outsourcing." In this very compact 150-page essay, Marek Kohn also discusses money in the context of trust, but trust is also discussed in a wide variety of other circumstances. In his conclusion, Kohn states that "trust is desirable in itself. When it is placed well, it enhances relations of all kinds. Life is more enjoyable, work is more productive, relationships are more meaningful and rewarding. And it is also part of a complex of factors - association, social capital, community, democracy, equality, health, and happiness - that make for a good society. Trust is to be sought for its own sake, and because it keeps good company." Along the way to this conclusion, the author leads the reader on a whirlwind tour exploring the concept of trust. It is important for the reader to understand that this essay is exploratory in nature, drawing on a wide variety of perspectives that is not necessarily always entirely coherent, with the probable goal of stimulating thought and discussion. The origins of trust are first discussed, followed by chapters that cover a wide variety of related topics that include reasonable belief, family values, and opinion polls. While some of the author's thoughts can be a bit academic, and the cohesiveness of thoughts within each chapter can be a bit loose, the author shows that his thought process seeks to include as many ideas as possible so that no stones are left unturned. Some of the content can seem to be a bit out of scope to trust at first glance, but the author usually attempts to reign in such situations. Kohn also discusses what trust is not. For example, he states that "in making itself modern, the world has moved away from its reliance upon gods and customs as means of regulating behaviour. The reciprocal relationships between gods and persons are supplanted by reciprocal relationships between persons or organizations, agreed as contracts. These proliferate in societies where relationships are no longer considered sacred, as in holy matrimony, or divinely ordained, as in serfdom. Contracts are substitutes for trust, and it is in their nature to elaborate themselves, specifying in increasingly baroque detail how relations between the parties will obtain in all manner of circumstances."
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