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Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good [Paperback]

Marek Kohn
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 May 2009
Trust - our belief in the truth or reliability of someone or something - lies at the very heart of our relationships, our society and our everyday lives. Much of the time we take it for granted. And yet trust, or the lack of it, is becoming an increasingly prominent issue in public life: politicians say they want to rebuild trust in politics; people look for new ways to trust each other in a world where relationships are easier to start and harder than ever to sustain; and we are no longer sure how much we trust experts on issues like the safety of food or medicine.

This short but thought-provoking book reveals why scientists, social scientists, and philosophers no longer take trust for granted. Beginning with some fascinating biological puzzles about the origins of trust — how cooperation can evolve from 'selfish genes', and how language could have evolved when 'words are cheap' and we have such a capacity to deceive each other - Marek Kohn explores many different perspectives from the fields of science, sociology, economics, and politics, to draw out the wider implications for trust in human society today.

The book ends on a personal note, concluding that our material prosperity is not matched by the quality of our lives and relationships, but that, if we understand what makes trust possible, and why it matters, then we will live better lives in a fast-moving, fast-changing, globalized society.

Frequently Bought Together

Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good + Trust: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) + Trust (Polity Key Concepts in the Social Sciences series)
Price For All Three: £27.85

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199217920
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199217922
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.7 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 739,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

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Product Description


Lucid and illuminating essay. (The Independent)

About the Author

Marek Kohn is a writer and journalist who lives in Brighton, England, with his wife and son. He has written five previous books, the last three of which have explored aspects of evolutionary thinking and their implications for society. The most recent, A Reason for Everything: Natural Selection and the English Imagination, received exceptionally high praise. A.C Grayling called him "a wonderful writer"; Graham Farmelo called him "supremely intelligent"; and several reviewers, including Neal Ascherson, called the book "brilliant".

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Trust covers a lot of ground well in very few words and with limited examples. From Game Theory, the book explores themes around the well-known Prisoner's Dilemma problem (if neither prisoner tells on the other, both do well; if only one tells, that prisoner has an advantage; if both tell, they are worse off than by having both remain silent), the informal truces that occurred along the front lines of World War One's trench warfare, observations about behavior in an altruism game, Christianity, and discussions of national trust and performance. For contrast, discussions of animal behavior and various other writings on the subject are included.

There are no panaceas and few conclusions. This book will primarily appeal to you if you want to learn about what is already known and would then like to pose and explore new questions.

The writing level is perfect for someone taking an introductory college course on the subject. As a result, those with a casual interest in the subject will rewarded without too much strain from their reading.

As an extension to the book's subject, I suggest that you also read Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business and Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies to get a sense of what can be done with more cooperation based on trust.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Trust review 15 Mar 2010
By Tollers
A good overview of the issue of trust as it affects modern society. Considering it is a philosophy book, it is an easy read and I found the author's use of modern day examples to illustrate his arguments particularly useful. It would be an interesting book for anyone new to the subject or looking for insights into what defines trust and how it works, particularly in business or organisational relationships.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful wonderful wonderful 12 May 2011
Trust is a subject that i dont fully understand and with the its varied typology, it can be daunting, however this lil book helps! its made it simple, concise and relevant. If you have just started wondering about the concept of Trust, this is your first step.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  40 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An interesting subject, a tedious and difficult book. 20 Oct 2008
By M. Erb - Published on
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but Ramblind, Meditation 25 Sep 2008
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Trust is quite s stunning thing. On one hand, it is a necessary foundation for any society in which inerpersonal transactions are made. On the other, it is a most fragile disposition that often seems to fly in the face of self-interest. How did this social instinct develop in seemingly self-interested organisms? How do we maintain it when the possibility of cheating is always near? Under what conditions does it flourish or flounder?

These are the primary questions on which Marek Kohn expounds in his book Trust: Self-Interest and the Common Good. There is not much original argument in this book; instead, the author does a fair job of surveying the relevant literature from fields as disperate as philosophy, economics, political science and biology. We are introduced to, and think about, various views on trust: from Hobbes and Hume to Dawkins and (Francis) Fukuyama.

While there seems to be no overarching theme to the book, the cloest thing to it is the author's explanation of how trust - a social instinct - can be seen as a strategy of self-interest. Not only is it that one trusts generally only when one has reason to do so (or, negatively, avoids skepticism unless there is reason for it). Also, trust is integral to self-interest by allowing teams and communities to form in which individuals can find strangth in numbers, interacting with others while avoiding the burden of having to watch one's back.

This idea is nothing new, of course. Anyone familiar with group selection theory or Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations is familiar with the arguments that trust may have self-interested roots. Kohn goes on to explore relevant literature on the conditons under which trust is helped and harmed. Trust, for instance, is tightest in smaller, more homoegenous communities and weakest in large, disperate areas (which is why it is generally families that have the tightest bonds.

Kohn's book is fairly interesting and will certainly be a good read for those not familiar with the current thoughts about trust from fields like sociobiology and game theory. Kohn explains various thinkers ideas clearly and with plenty of good examples. (For those wanting a more thorough treatment of a touched-on subject, Kohn provides a "further reading" list.) For those hoping for original insights, Kohn's book might be an interesting read, but not much more than a survey.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to like this book 31 Oct 2008
By N. Caruso - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I am a facilitator by trade and often deal with groups of elected officials who have trust issues. I see every day how a lack of trust destroys the relationships between members of these boards and keeps them from operating effectively and am always on the lookout for some insight into how to help them in all of this. When I first saw this book I really believed it would impart some epiphany that would get me to a better place professionally.

Well, I'm disappointed. Written by a British Professor, there is just too much jargon for me. I did get glimmers of insight - the idea of Trust as being "transactional", but it hurt my brain too much to read this book to the end. After reading the first chapter three times, I had to put it down. It is just plain written way over my head.

I have since bought "the Speed of Trust" by Stephen M. R. Covey and have been told that one is probably a better book for those of us trying to build trust in small groups. We'll see. I will try to finish this book, mainly because I never like to put a book down once I start it, but I'm going to have to give this one a little shelf time before I try again.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Discussion 8 Oct 2008
By To Be Simple - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exploring meaning of trust from many points of view 3 Oct 2008
By Reader - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Short book about trust amongst people, written by academic, yet easy to grasp. Author explores meaning of trust from many different points of view. We first learn about the trust from our families; where as babies we place an unconditional trust in the hands of our parents. With evolution of computers we develop confidence into the experts who build error proof programs we rely on so much. Then there is trust towards God that for some is unattainable. How do we trust our government, politicians, the nation we are part of? Author is exploring various nations - homogenous and diverse and how those societies define the relationship amongst people who live within them; inside and outside of the nation's borders. Many of the theories author mentions in this book I always thought of as game theories, explore how trust can have different outcome(s) based on the level of trust as well as situation. What is amazing is the exploration of language and meaning of language. In some societies such as former socialist countries like East Germany and Czechoslovakia, language can be misleading and often lead to punishment, imprisonment or worse, if misread. Read this book if anything then to learn the real reason why any individual should be trustworthy and trusting - within the limits, of course. This is a great little book; lots of valuable references.
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