Cover Image: The Art of the Lie

The Art of the Lie

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Member Reviews

I was provided an advanced copy of this book by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book had a great premise, and the author's education laid out plans for an excellent argument.  However, while I should have caught the reference to Trump's book by the title, this book is basically a treatise about Trump's lying and manipulation by comparing him to other notorious liars, specifically Machiavelli - and as one other reviewer also stated, Trump is nowhere near the intellect of Machiavelli. 

This book was repetitive, and I'm honestly exhausted with reading about Trump's lying and manipulating; this book had the potential to be a good examination on the subject as a whole, and instead was determined to use one specific subject and run it into the already tired ground.
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I loved this very much! The characters, the actions and even the plot itself! Very inspiring for my own book too!
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I think this book can best be summed up by the statement "not quite what I expected".

Like some others have mentioned, I completely missed the fact that the title was an allusion to Trump's book and did not realize he would be the main focus of the book. I have a communication degree but often joke that I've forgotten most of what I learned so I went into this book expecting a slight refresher on communication techniques and an examination of how all communication is manipulation even if it's subconscious. Instead the focus on Trump was really difficult for me to overcome. Personally, I just don't have an interest in him and try to not dedicate more of my time than necessary to him so I felt like I really had to push myself through the book. I also found the book kind of repetitive and overly long, but that probably has more to do with my not being used to non-fiction. Still, I think this would have been a lot easier to digest if it had been pared down into an article.

Overall this is a well written book and I'm pleased that a local (to me) academic is getting published recognition but the subject matter just wasn't really for me.
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Based on the book's description, this novel was not at all what I was expecting. Given the author's educational pedigree I had expected a well researched and studious description of the linguistic features people deploy to manipulate each other using language. I anticipated the author to describe the specific linguistic characteristics that arise in mendacious speech. However, that is not what this book has.

The author prefaces the book with the information that he will be using Donald Trump as his prime specimen to illustrate the various "arts" that liars use. So, we know from the start that Donald Trump will feature heavily in the book. However, what started as an intellectual study became more of a political piece and it was hard to continue. I want to be clear, I am not a supporter of the president either, but I don't think the examples that Mr. Danesi used were unquestionably fitting nor well-sourced. In one example, Mr. Denasi didn't find the exact quote from an unnamed political pundit - which would have been the most appropriate way to analyze the language - and instead chose to include a paraphrased version of the quote from memory. In another problematic example of a point, that was being presented in a laundry list of the comparisons to Mussolini was the assertion that the use of the word "real" in his Twitter handle is somehow a clever call to his followers that he the "people's warrior" who will defend America. This ignores the reality that there are many verified Twitter account users who use the same convention to differentiate them from fake accounts, for example, Kevin Hart and Liam Payne, for who we wouldn't make a similar claim. I was hoping to read more of an academic treatment of the various implements of the liar's playbook examples and references to academic journals and literature. There were references in the book but they were mostly to political books or news articles. In the end, there were too many issues for me, and I couldn't complete the entire book.

Let me summarize my understanding of the book: from the author's perspective, Donald Trump is a liar-fascist whose followers are willing to believe and follow him because despite him obviously not being a true believer in the causes he supports because he furthers their racist causes and/or because they are easily influenced.
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Eye-opening and intriguing.  This book gives power to the reader, to engage from the upper hand with a liar.  Too many times those that manipulate get away with it because they understand the nuances in a way others do not.  This will be a valuable tool to deal with those people in your life.
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Lying is one thing. Choosing to continue to believe in the lie pushes the hypocrisy to a whole new dimension. Written by an internationally renowned linguist and semiotician, this book asserts the following: "that lying is the most destructive of all types of deportment." This is a cancer that if not eradicated, should at least be neutralized. We need to be able to recognize them. By calling the lie as a form of art, author Danesi shows us the many different faces of the lie. The Trojan horse story is a powerful example of the art of deception, of how people could be deceived. Lies and lying are nothing new. From Lucifer as the "Prince of lies" to political leaders of today who tell half-truths in order to manipulate public opinion, we learn of this disease infecting our society in more ways than we know. Some would say there is a difference between a black vs a white lie. Others would claim that a lie is a lie, regardless of the colour. Regardless of justification, there is a sense of manipulation whenever lies are used, and this is where the problem begins. Danesi gives us a laundry list of these manipulators. From swindlers to con-artists; scammers to tricksters; cunning characters in literature to political figures in real life, all of these are ways that Lucifer, the prince of lies has influence in. The author calls this problem perfectly defined as according to George Goebbels: "Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it." Sadly, this has become pervasive throughout society. By showing us the different faces of such lies, author Marcel Danesi reminds us to be on our guard against two things: Being manipulated, and becoming a manipulator.


The world is full of lies. With the Internet, the pervasiveness of lies will only get worse. There are the "alternative facts" as told by Trump's consultant, Kellyanne Conway to deflect any sense of wrongdoing. When language is restructured as doublespeak or words that confuse and conflate the original meaning, there is more falsehood than truth. Confabulation is another lying technique stitched together through vague recollections, partial fabrication, and ego-boosting words. Trump popularized the word "Fake News" which adds to the library of manipulative words. It serves two purposes. First, it allows his followers to spread the conspiracy theory excuse. Second, it attacks the media he does not like. It is targeted at journalists in particular. Gaslighting is a technique used to "control the perception of reality." We see a lot of examples in literature, movies, and dog whistles. Danesi says that when leaders use words like "family" and "values" in election speeches, these become dog whistles to rally votes to one's platform. Showing us how words could be used as weaponry, the author highlights the need to guard ourselves against deception, denial, and deflection. We are all tempted to do that especially when maneuvering from defensive to offensive. He calls Trump a "master" when it comes to such "military verbiage."

My Thoughts
==============
I see Trump's name mentioned throughout the book as the modern Machiavellian. In some way, the author acknowledges Trump as the Master Yoda of the art of the lie. When cornered, he deceives, denies, deflects, or destroys his opponents. He links the state of mental health with the environment of lies that we have grown accustomed to. This is a big link. By asserting that "words matter," Danesi hopes to shine light on truth and to expose lies as falsehood. Lying is to be taken seriously, for truth matters absolutely. This has huge implications because the way to deal with mental health is not just prescription of medication but a healthy environment of truth. Danesi even supplies the positive empirical data which shows how much improvement in brain health when the lies go down. Being manipulated humiliates us which in turn could make us bitter and vengeful. When we are better equipped to deal with lies, scams, and falsehood, we will form a better hedge of protection to maintain good health.

This is a book that deserves a wider read. If you are a Trump supporter, you might tune out completely from what the author has to say. You might even claim that the author has a personal vendetta against all things Trump. Before jumping to that conclusion, note that the author is writing as an expert in the field of linguistic, human behaviour, and semiotics. He uses science and connects research with verifiable data. Even if one does not believe everything Danesi writes in the book, at least consider the possibility that not everything Trump says is true, both letter-wise and meaning-wise. Words can be twisted and changed to achieve one's end. As Lord Acton's saying goes, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely," it is not just Trump but anyone in power who has the greatest tendency to abuse words for one's ends.

I think the biggest value in this book is to be able to recognize the signs of the lie. Whether it is big talk that boosts up one's need to be inspired, or small talk that meets one's need for companionship, sometimes we can deceive ourselves into believing what we want to believe. Things are often not what they seem to be. The overall mood in this book is dark. Like a mirror to reflect the real world we live in, we can ignore the message in this book at our peril. 

Marcel Danesi is professor of linguistic anthropology and semiotics at the University of Toronto, director of the university's Program in Semiotics and Communications, and an internationally-renowned semiotician. 

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.

conrade
This book has been provided courtesy of Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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Interesting read but I must add that it is time consuming and takes a lot of attention. Clearly not a simple and light read but a good one. Well researched. 

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Kind of not really helpful because it’s a bunch of curated info put together in a semi-cohesive way with idioms sprinkled throughout that most tweens could’ve written.
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I had to DNF this book after the first 100 pages. I really tried to get into it but it is poorly structured and incredibly repetitive. At most points it felt as though the writer has set off with one idea to explain but instead got sidetracked by another that they wanted to fit in. Furthermore the use of the present tense seemed pointless and jarring throughout the whole text. Yes the ideas that were proposed made sense, but need urgently to be refined and produced in a more intelligible manor. It made for a very uncomfortable read and I never think I will pick it up again to finish.
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This book analyses the style of rhetoric of Donald Trump and compares it with other similar figures from the past, especially Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini. He makes a convincing case for great similarities between them and also explains the remarkable (from this side of the Atlantic) fact that Trump evidently lies very frequently and very evidently and yet his popularity remains high, even amongst groups such as evangelical Christians who you would expect to place truth as a major virtue. 

The book is well-argued and well-written, making for reasonably easy reading despite the academic thoroughness and frequent footnotes. I did feel that it could have done with a fiercer edit; it was getting a little repetitive towards the end. There were also a few small factual issues. Despite quoting Frans de Waal, he also states a few times that lying is particularly human, but actually it is a behaviour by most social animals. Squirrels pretend to hide their cache of nuts in a different place from where it is and injured rats pretend not to be hurt. Most behavioural scientists would consider that some lying is necessary to function well in society and if everyone was brutally honest the whole time it would indeed be a less pleasant society to live in. In that sense, the division isn't so much absolutely between truth and lies, as Danesi makes, but between normal behaviour and brutal disregard for facts and decency. 

Danesi also seems to have a thing against the science fiction films The Matrix, which is a bit odd. The claim that that film is responsible for massacres doesn't really stand up to serious enquiry (possibly the bizarre US gun laws might have a slightly greater effect?) and stating twice that the characters see the world through a 'computer screen' does rather give the impression he has not watched the film. 

The other very odd couple of pages is where he spends some time arguing that Trump's sort of demography is genetically male. His evidence seems to be that he cannot think of a woman who has  been like that. Well, all I can say is 'Mrs Thatcher'.  Take, for instance, her speeches insisting that trade unionists were "the enemy of the people" - which Danesi identifies as a typically Trumpian slogan.

The book was published before the current Corona crisis. It is clear that in the current circumstances, the anti-science and anti-expert rhetoric of Trump is a particular disaster for his country and it is beginning to look like the long-term 'truth will out' factor is finally turning on Trump. It is remarkable that where I live, in the Netherlands, the strategy of the government to publicly and explicitly rely mainly on the advice of leading scientists has gone down hugely well with the voters and this has greatly increased the status of the Prime Minister. There is a general sense of amazement and even pity here that the US is stuck with such a complete lack of leadership in this crisis.

In summary, a book worth reading, if only because it articulates the things which most outsiders will have been thinking, but also provides a framework to understand and analyse the strange phenomenon of Trump's lies.

Disclaimers:
A free copy of this book was obtained from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Frans de Waal is a prominent user of research tools provided by the company I work for.
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THE ART OF THE LIE is a deep analytical look at what humans lie about, when they do it and why. This is similar to the Hervey Cleckly classic of the 1950s. He was the first to address lying as a separate habit from story telling, talking, information sharing etc. but instead as a deliberate device to attain a result through disinformation. He was the first to associate lying with psychopathy in an entire book.
This book is deep, painstakingly detailed but has one major difference. The author utilizes his knowledge of lying as he analyzes President Donald Trump as his target. The book is an eye opener and quite fascinating, if depressing!
I recommend it to any and all who are interested in psychology and to adherents to either the Republican or Democratic party, as well as historians.
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I did not finish this one. An interesting premise to be sure, but like another reviewer, I did not agree with the author’s interpretation of Machiavelli and there was just too much Trump for me.
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A timely book that shows how language can be manipulated, using President Trump as a model for the most part. Essentially, the author posits that fabricationsof false truth can produce political effects that can be used to further a political movement.
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I was interested in learning more about the manipulation of language from a linguistic expert. Unfortunately, there was just too much Trump for me. Ugh, I can’t even hear or talk about the bot anymore, much less ruin my love for reading with subject matter that pertains to him.
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I didn’t find any new insights here; a lot of stuff about how Trump gaslights us and rouses supporters with a welter of words and lies, where he wins because people give up on the concept of the truth. Best random factoid: A 1932 experiment on the power of language to shape perception found that “when they showed subjects a picture and then asked them later to reproduce it, the drawings were influenced by the verbal label assigned to the picture. The picture of two circles joined by a straight line, for instance, was generally reproduced as something resembling ‘eyeglasses’ by those subjects who were shown the eyeglasses label. On the other hand, those who were shown the dumbbells label tended to reproduce it as something resembling ‘dumbbells.’”
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The Art of The Lie explores the linguistic perspective of manipulating words in order to achieve what you want and, bottom line, lie. The author uses examples from history, analyzing them in order to give the readers different perspectives. 

All in all, it's an interesting book, but not exactly what I expected. I also firmly disagree on the Machiavelli chapter. It looks like the author tries to convince the reader that Machiavelli, in his (in)famous work The Prince, wanted to convince people to lie. Which, if you actually study Machiavelli's work, you'll find is not the case. Is this a minor detail? Well, for some people it might be. But if, as a reader, you want me to agree with your thoughts and premises, then those need to actually be valid - or, at least, come with justifications for your thoughts.
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"Words have power" is a phrase that bombards us constantly. It's one that can be applied to numerous contexts, can cross disciplines or political spectrums, has been embedded in the literature we read, the media we consume, and the society within which we're reared to the point where it begins to feel like just another one of those things we all say. A platitude that loses a little of its zing, its import. Its significance withering because of such prolific usage.

As a result, it can be easy to overlook or diminish the role language often plays in shaping our beliefs, the way guile and deception and vagary can be utilized by some as linguistic tools to manipulate individuals as well as the masses; polluting their minds with destructive lies they grow to accept as fact. So how does it happen? Why? Where and when have we seen it throughout history? In modern times? What types of verbal strategy and rhetoric do masterful liars employ that enable them to persuade so many people to support their nefarious agendas?

These are some of the questions, among others, that the author endeavors to answer in this book.

Danesi takes readers through the "art" of lying step-by-step, concept by concept, to show these clever machinations at work. He explains how skilled deceivers aim, overall, to twist words into weapons that can or do divide people against each other in order to promote self-interests, exaggerate truth, or achieve political dominion. (The latter of which has already been exemplified by certain dictators throughout world history).

The concepts he explores vary from ritualistic repetition to false equivalency, from confabulation to doublespeak, and to the construction of alternate narratives (i.e. deflection, denial, redirecting blame) and attackonyms and beyond. No stone of artifice is left unturned. No "cognitive dissonance" discourse is off-limits. He also frames his arguments in literary as well as modern day contexts. That means Orwellian 1984 parallels pop up (in thought-provoking ways!) almost as readily as connections, comparisons, and criticisms of Donald Trump abound.

Trump is a focus of this book, I won't lie. So if you can get over the fact that this lumps him into the Machiavellian liar category without preamble and in a clinical manner, exploiting the devious strategy in his falsehoods and setting him up as a current example to rival other notable examples, then you will find much to intellectualize over between past, present, and future. If not, you might be disappointed in the content. Or at least in the pointed emphasis that swings in his direction.

Personally, I believe there's a lot to be gained from reading either way. It's important to try to understand the hypnotic power of mendacity and how it can affect our minds so we can learn from our past mistakes. An engrossing, if not controversial (for some), read to say the least.
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This is a fascinating exploration of dishonesty, mostly in political discourse, in all of its various guises: confabulation, gaslighting, fake news, doublespeak, verbal weaponry, truthful hyperbole, and more. It's all the more fascinating because the author is a linguistic anthropologist. 

The historical and contemporary examples and parallels are frightening, but we must take comfort from the fact that eventually, truth and honesty must prevail. But after reading this, you will be more careful about what you read, absorb, and pass on.
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A book on how we as a society can be manipulated by media and politicians. The Art of the Lie is an interesting read because it gives the reader a overview to why we see lies as true facts even if we know that they are not.
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This was nothing like I was expecting. From the title and subtitle, I was looking forward to a book about why people lie and how lying affects them. What I got was a disjointed rant against President Trump.
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