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Deceit and Self-Deception: Fooling Yourself the Better to Fool Others [Hardcover]

Robert Trivers
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Oct 2011

In this foundational book, Robert Trivers seeks to answer one of the most provocative and consequential questions to face humanity: why do we lie to ourselves?

Deception is everywhere in nature. And nowhere more so than in our own species. We humans are especially good at telling others less - or more - than the truth. Why, however, would organisms both seek out information and then act to destroy it? In short, why practice self-deception?

After decades of research, Robert Trivers has at last provided the missing theory to answer these questions. What emerges is a picture of deceit and self-deception as, at root, different sides of the same coin. We deceive ourselves the better to deceive others, and thereby reap the advantages. From space and aviation disasters to warfare, politics and religion, and the anxieties of our everyday social lives, Deceit and Self-Deception explains what really underlies a whole host of human problems. But can we correct our own biases? Are we doomed to indulge in fantasies, inflate our egos, and show off? Is it even a good idea to battle self-deception?

With his characteristically wry and self-effacing wit, Trivers reveals how he finds self-deception everywhere in his own life, and shows us that while we may not always avoid it, we can now at least hope to understand it.

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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: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 135,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh, yes, five stars. A real eye-opener 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
5.0 out of 5 stars An unending extravaganza of nonsense 2 Nov 2011
By Sphex
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By The Fat Monk TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
...after all, I could just be deceiving myself to think that the book was very interesting the better to deceive you to trick you into buying it.

That's the general premise of Robert Trivers' Deceit and Self Deception, though I felt it was more a general idea used to loosely tie together some very interesting anecdotes which may or may not have involved deceit and/or self deciet.

Trivers' style is not always the easiest to read and I almost gave up a couple times in the first twenty pages or so, but I'm pleased I pushed through as once I got used to his style of prose what was discussed really was fascinating. He is prone to convoluted sentence construction from time to time which can mean re-reading of some passages two or three times to keep hold of the thread of the point he is making. On more than one occasion I gave up and skipped on in the hope that either the point would become clearer later or that it wouldn't matter too much to the understanding of the whole. I don't feel I missed out on anything major in doing this, and once I felt comfortable with Trivers' style I was able to enjoy the writing far more.

Trivers is an evolutionary biologist and some may say he has no business dabbling in what many would consider a psychology study. The point made numerous times in this book, however, is that psychology is very closely tied to our evolved genetic makeup. He points out that more than half of our genes are expressed in our brains and so our psychology must therefore be intrinsically linked to our evolution.

That said, there is probably very little new here for anyone with an interest in these fields. The central theory itself is not entirely new and Trivers does admit that his version of the theory is not yet fully formed.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
4.0 out of 5 stars Who are you kidding?
The four-star reviews on this book sum up the strengths and weaknesses of this book. I will try not to duplicate. Read more
Published 2 months ago by F Henwood
4.0 out of 5 stars You get what you look for...
This is a quite extraordinary book. As Robert Trivers comments in the very last paragraph:

"One nice feature of the study of deceit and self-deception is that we... Read more
Published 3 months ago by J. S. Atherton
4.0 out of 5 stars No, you're not deceiving yourself, but this is still a worthwhile read
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. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Paul Woodfine
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a lie
Trivers is a close friend of Richard Dawkins and they write glowing reviews on the back of each others books. Read more
Published 18 months ago by J. Mann
2.0 out of 5 stars confused and bored :(
Very sorry for writing such a review in advance but I found this book very confusing and boring. As far as I understand, it requires a different mind set to receive the message the... Read more
Published 19 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't read it ...
I feel bad giving an average review for this. I just found the writing style too hard to consume. I read a review of this book in the times and it was very positive ... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Clarke
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fantastic Tome on Deception
Oh how I wish more psychology textbooks were like this!

Deception... a large body of water that ponderously lurks beneath humanity. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Patrick Løye
5.0 out of 5 stars A book very much worth your money and your time
This is the best book I've read in years. I'd actually go so far as to say it was gripping.
To my shame I didn't know who Robert Trivers was when I chose this book pretty much... Read more
Published on 22 Oct 2012 by Leon Crawley
3.0 out of 5 stars A lack of clear indication...
Opinion or Fact, Finger in the air or solid research. The distinction of these two things in critical. Read more
Published on 12 Oct 2012 by Pen Name
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