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Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others Hardcover – 6 Oct 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (6 Oct. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713998261
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713998269
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.7 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 288,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Fascinating (Economist)

This is a remarkable book, by a uniquely brilliant scientist...arguably his most provocative and interesting idea so far...a pleasure to read. Strongly recommended. (Richard Dawkins)

A powerful book: an essential tool for anyone who wants to understand the patterns of human history and religion, and to try to counter their own unconscious biases (Peter Forbes Independent)

Provocative and wide-ranging...Deceit and Self-Deception has broad appeal and a well-structured narrative...[it] conveys a powerful and focused message (Stuart West Nature)

A remarkable book...Great books contain important new ideas, and this book is no exception...Striking observations and new twists on old themes are packed into every chapter...entertaining and accessible (William von Hippel, Psychologist, University of Queensland)

A startlingly original and important book (Richard Wrangham)

Admirable breadth, clarity and ambition (Julian Baggini Science Focus)

About the Author

Robert Trivers is one of the leading figures pioneering the field of sociobiology. He received his bachelors and PhD from Harvard University. He has been on the faculty at Harvard, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Rutgers University.

'Trivers ranks as one of the most important evolutionary theorists of his generation' E. O. Wilson

'Trivers is a pivotal figure in the second neo-Darwinian revolution. He was a seminal inspiration for my own first book, The Selfish Gene' Richard Dawkins

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Penfold on 11 Nov. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is true to its title. It argues the case for the idea that we fool ourselves so that we can fool others better. And it sticks to that argument pretty closely.

The author sees the reasons for deceit in evolutionary genetics. Therefore some evidence comes from other organisms, including stick insects and monkeys, as well as humans.

What amazed me is how such a simple idea can be related to so many experiments, many of which where originally carried out for completely different reasons. After a slow start, most of the book describes experiment-after-experiment, and observation-after-observation, in a page-turning caliadascope. It is as if the central idea was some sort of super-magnet that attracted evidence from far-and-wide to achieve a critical mass.

And it actually seems to pan out in real life. I now understand more of the odd behavior of people, from politicians to my own family. This is the sort of stuff that judges and juries should know. And if there was anyone to keep our politicians and economists in check, this is the sort of stuff that they should know.

At risk of being invited to copy-edit Roberts - oops, Robert's - next book, the only thing that spoilt my enjoyment was struggling with some of the phrasing and punctuation. It kept forcing me to re-read bits to get the meaning.

Most authors have an aloof style: If they write about racial prejudice, for instance, they are not prejudiced. Neither are we, the reader, of course. It is Other People who are prejudiced. Well, there is none of that nonsense with Robert Trivers. He often uses his own, less-than-ideal, behavior to illustrate deceit. He is irreverent, some might even say coarse, and comes across as somewhat street-wise, as well as academic.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Sphex on 2 Nov. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not my judgement of this magnificent book, of course, but the fruits of deception and self-deception, and one reason why the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers believes this to be fertile ground for all kinds of enquiry, from full-blown scientific research to more personal reflection. Trivers describes just a few of the many ways in which we deceive others and ourselves, which will either be eye-opening for Pollyannas or no news at all to cynics. Most of us are vaguely aware of politicians who lie about their expenses, advisors who paint a rosy picture of your financial future, celibate priests who are anything but, and so on. What most of us probably do not appreciate is the underlying evolutionary logic that drives deceit, and the importance of biology to understanding what may seem a social or cultural failing. Whether you are a lay reader like myself or a seasoned evolutionist, there can be few better guides to this fascinating field than Robert Trivers, a genuine pioneer in evolutionary thinking.

While we wicked humans can be remarkably creative, we are not alone when it comes to fooling others to get what we want. Deception "is a very deep feature of life" and occurs at all levels, in every nook and cranny of the natural world. Warblers are tricked into feeding cuckoo chicks at the expense of their own young. Birds feign a broken wing or death to avoid predation. Male orchids, fireflies and bluegill sunfish mimic females. There is no moral dimension to any of this behaviour, of course, which is grounded in the complex interplay of selective forces at work in a changing environment.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Funk VINE VOICE on 25 Jun. 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
For those with a background in Psychology, the name Trivers is certainly one that can cause a fair amount of derision in a group. He's done some very interesting things, but there is a fair amount to be... sceptical about. A fair amount of the book describes how you, the reader, and others are happy to fool oneself into the most inane and ridiculous through self attempts to normalise to others (not the easiest sell I'll give him that).

This book is, however, a cracking read. It contains a huge amount of science and experiments, always a good sign. This is no light read, be sure! Mixed in with that is a fair amount of the authors own opinion, which may not be the liking to all. Push through it however and there is so much to open your eyes and really make you think about how we interact with others. However it is not done with a zealous attitude, he recognises his own human nature, and those around him (often with a nice bit of humour).

There are some bad points, he does ramble, the psychology can be a inaccessible in places and his own theories can be strained to breaking to fit them to what he's trying to say.

With this in mind I would still recommend it to read. It does take time, but once you get to the end you have a slightly different view on the world. What else could you ask for in a book?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Paul Woodfine on 21 April 2014
Format: Paperback
Robert Trivers is the man who brought you the Parental Investment Theory, one of the sillier ideas ever put in front of a public fond of silly ideas. He’s won awards and had a breakdown reading Wittgenstein as a young man. He’s also recently been in trouble for not wanting to teach a course at Rutgers University that he was assigned despite his stating that he knew nothing about it. Stephen Pinker thinks Trivers is a genius, and I’m going to disagree about that, but the man sure does know a lot about this stuff, and presents it readably. I got at least three insights disagreeing with things he said, and that’s more than I’ve got from a lot of books.

First, a little clarification. Deception is making, or attempting to make, some other people think that something is so when it ain’t. It’s what con-men, advertising agencies, politicians and people who tell you there are Three Secrets to Successful (enter your dream here) do. Lying is what they are doing, and deception is the umbrella-term for the many ways they do it. Self-deception would then be you doing that to yourself. Except that the idea doesn’t work: in deception, the liar knows the truth. Self-deception would then seem to require that I at once know something un-flattering about myself and yet don’t. What really happens is that I choose not to remind myself of the truth unless I really need to, and avoid the issue in the meantime. I may verbally deny it and become angry when you remind me, but that just proves I didn’t want to be reminded, thank you.
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