The Truth about Lies: The Illusion of Honesty and the Evolution of Deceit, by Aja Raden

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Aja Raden, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Everyone lies! Let’s get that out of the way before we get any further. Aja Raden sets out to explore the world of lies that seems to have woven its way into our moral fabric, offering the reader some insight in to why we lie, how it has become commonplace, and what lies have become supposed truths over the centuries. While she attempts to divide the types of lies into three categories, she is able to show that some lies have turned to accepted truths, though many are oblivious to the fact that will is constantly being pulled over their eyes. With straightforward writing and insightful research, Raden provides the reader with a great exploration of how truth and lies are interconnected on so many levels.

Raden uses the first part of the book to explore the world of lies and swindles that some have used to tell others. Her example of a man travelling from Europe to ‘settle’ a territory in the Americas, only to sell tracts to unwitting people shows that some people will believe something because it is so far-fetched that it must have a grain of reality. Raden hashes out how and why people believe these types of large-scale cons, explaining that the extravagance is too large to trick people, so it must be true. Yet, people fall for the cons each and every time because they are hard-wired to trust in others. Shell games, where someone is to guess the location of a pea under a shell, are also prime examples of putting trust in others. The expectation is that one of the shells will hold the sought after pea, while in reality, a sleight of hand means that none of the shells possesses the item in the long run. Trust and deception are intertwined here, providing the con artist the greatest advantage throughout.

The book continues by exploring the large-scale world of deception of the masses through lies, deception, and guilt. Raden uses some wonderful examples, the greatest of which is the promotion of medications of all sorts. The reader learns of the origins of ‘snake oil salesman’ and how the masses are duped into trusting that their ailments can be cured with one item of another. Scientific studies show the effect of placebos to the individual, debunking the need for the miracle cure if the personal inherently trusts that what they are putting in their mouths (or elsewhere) is the cure all. This can be extrapolated to the world of televangelism, where the only path os the one used by the speaker on the television, whose needs to ‘save’ are wrapped in a pricy donation. People fall for this because they cannot see past the wonders of salvation or healing, however dubious or backwards it may look on the outside.

Raden’s final section tackles the topic of lies on the grandest scale, the con, where it is society who is the targeted victim of falsehoods. Using platforms of media and mass information distribution, Raden shows how there are certain soapboxes that have been used to push an idea to the masses, all in the hopes of spreading a falsehood that is so vast that it seems real. While many readers may have lived through the time where #fakenews was a daily cry, Raden explores what it means and how it works, amongst other areas of societal duping. She also offers the reader insight into how to create a great con by insisting that lies can be used, brick by brick, to create a false truth that everyone seems to follow. Fascinating throughout and definitely perplexing when put in those terms.

I do enjoy a mix in my reading, usually to keep me on my toes and my brain sharpened to some of the non-fiction topics of the day. Aja Raden did a masterful job presenting this piece as being one that is not only relevant, but also highly intriguing. The psychology, sociology, and plain history that emerges from the pages of this book are not over simplified, but used effectively to keep the reader learning at every page turn. With a strong narrative, peppered with some saltiness to lighten the mood, Raden offers a wonderfully relatable piece that will keep the rewards enthused and laughing in equal measure. Lies have a way of pulling people in, wanting to see where they were duped and how others fell for something so simplistic (in hindsight). Raden does this perfectly and kept me wanting to know more. Quite the book, sure to pique the interest of many. My only question…how much of it was true?!

Kudos, Madam Raden, for a great piece. You had me hooked from the opening pages and I learned more than I thought I could on one (vast) topic. I cannot wait to get my hands on your other book, which I hope is just as informative.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons