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  • Lying
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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 25 May 2015
This essay is well written and erudite, but it doesn't tell the reader much more than they should already have surmised. We lie a lot, mostly about nothing too important with the odd whopper thrown in. Generally speaking, lying is bad. Where the essay illuminates is how the white lies can also have serious consequences - it's quite hard to summarise just how enlightening Harris' (very little) book can be.

The second half of the essay really just expands on the first, and loses impetus.

Only half the slim volume is the essay, the rest being an interview with the man who inspired Harris to lead a lie-free life. This man seems oblivious to the reality that he's actually lying to himself a lot. Apparently evading and being economical with the truth is still way preferable to telling a white lie, and has convinced himself that these are a form of deception too. This kind of undermines the whole argument and disappointed me significantly. Having said that, there's still something to take away here - just don't pay full price for what amounts to to 25 or 20 useful pages.

Recommended if you really want to think about things instead of being clubbed over the head, Hitchens-style. I do feel my perspective has genuinely been altered by this essay.

7 / 10

David Brookes
Author of 'Half Discovered Wings' and 'The Gun of Our Maker'
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on 6 September 2012
Generally speaking I am a big fan of Sam Harris and admire and like his work.

This particular piece, however I found it a little disappointing that, having teased us with difficult examples at the beginning of the piece, he fails to answer them in the ensuing text.

The SS officer at door of the protectors of Anne Frank is an excellent example. What would have been a correct answer to the inquiry? The suggested "I wouldn't tell you if I knew" would surely have won tthe respondant a bullet in the brain and a search of his premises over his corpse.

As to it never being OK for a state to lie to its people I would have taken an analysis of Churchill's decision to "lie" to the people about the foreknowledge that the Germans were just about to bomb Coventry in order to keep the secret that the enigma code had been broken rather more convincing than the rather simplistic assertion that it is just never OK.

The failure of the piece to address the really Difficult issue consigns it to the 'interesting yet ultimately unconvincing' category rather than the 'compelling category IMHO
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on 14 October 2011
Being a bit of a fan of Sam Harris, I had to buy this, and I'm even more so glad of it than the End of Faith. It is a short, and easy to read, essay, which reveals the positive (albeit hard) side of not lying. Revealing, in a few examples how it can make us all better, and sure, it would damage some relationships, but allows us to consider whether they are relationships worth sustaining?
In that way, it is about not only not lying to the people around us, but, in turn, about being truthful to and about ourselves.

A fascinating read, that people of any or no faith can read and (hopefully) take something from.
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on 4 October 2015
Dr Harris makes a poignant case for honesty that had an immediate effect on my own life, which I deployed immediately after reading this book with an impact on me and at least one other life. The situation is recounted below if you're interested. Before getting there, its worth noting that the recurring theme of Dr Harris' work - his use of confrontation to raise ethical questions in the mind of the reader - is neatly summarized in this work. Basically, societies can't function well on lies, and we are surrounded by dangerous forms of lying. These include aggressive District Attorneys prosecuting innocent people in order to advance their careers and journalists lying about their intentions for interviews, for example. The scenarios resulting from these lies, such as innocent people being sent to prison and, to extend the example, encountering situations such as joining a prison gang for survival, thereby leading to more lying, set back the social consciousness of the nation. Are we undermining ourselves by lying to kids about Christmas, loved ones about risky surgery, spouses about infidelity (even Harris is nuanced on this particular point) or the hypothetical murderer at the door searching for the victim hidden in your basement? In my case,a colleague who had been eager for a promotion, a promotion for which I knew she had not been short listed, had spent weeks making nice, appearing unannounced at meetings, asking intelligent-sounding questions and so forth in the hope and, perhaps, the expectation, that she would be next in line for this promotion which, as you may have guessed, is somewhat under my authority to bestow. It's not an authority I cherish, and my feeling in my heart of hearts was that this person just wasn't ready for the job. At the same time, it was not fair to tell this candidate she hadn't been short listed , as many other people were also applying for the job and would like to know the same thing. Nonetheless, the candidate's behavior had reached a point that was disempowering both to me and to her because it was forcing us into essentially artificial and disrespectful daily interactions that were based on ulterior motives and, frankly, mutual dislike of each other. So, I took her for coffee (she arrived late), explained the committee had not short listed her and why and reassured her of my commitment to her career (which is true of any colleague because everyone's career is sacrosanct). Our discussion led to a brief but honest interaction about our genuine motives and to a set of more concrete career directions for her, which were feasible and that I hadn't thought of before because I had been so focused on concealing the truth from her. This honest discussion strengthened our relationship, increased my respect for her and relieved me of the guilt and false sense of superiority under which I'd been suffering. I also came to appreciate where she was coming from in life, which helped overcome my previous distrust of her. So, you can see the book raised the consciousness of at least two people! In the the later edition that I downloaded through Kindle you can find rebuttals from readers that are answered , very adroitly, by Dr Harris and will settle doubts that may have arisen in the minds of readers of the original edition (for example, the practicalities associated with living in societies that are dominated by lying or in which revealing the truth would lead to one's execution or the curtailment of one's civil liberties.) Enjoy, and congratulations and thanks to Dr Harris!
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on 15 September 2012
I enjoyed this long essay and read it in an hour. It's a single argument, logically laid out, well backed-up and persuasive. Its short length does make it feel a little shallow, though. It's reads like a taster of a longer, deeper exploration to come. Cheap though!
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on 20 May 2015
I am enjoying this book. Reading it feels like meeting a person. His arguments are not watertight, but his style is friendly and readable. Also something startling came out of it. Reading "Lying" emboldened me to stop trying to please people by withholding truth or telling half-truths. I'm not sure this has been helpful to anyone else, but it's certainly been helpful to me. Thank you, Sam Harris.
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on 20 September 2011
Read the essay and enjoyed it very much, I try to be as honest as I possibly can but this short read has given me cause for a little introspection and the boost to go that extra mile. I'm sure I'll benefit from it greatly.

Sam boasts a clarity that few people could ever hope to achieve but for which we should all strive.
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on 14 January 2014
I am usually a fan of Harris and his work on free will has been really influential for me. I found it very insightful and it expanded how I thought about free will. Therefore, I expected quite a lot from this book but I have to say I was disappointed after reading it. First of all, the book can be read in half an hour, there is not much content to it and what little there is is just basically telling you you shouldn't lie - in reasoning why it lacks the sort of insights Harris has reached in his other work. If you are looking for something intellectually stimulating, look elsewhere. If you haven't read Harris' work on free will please do but this one I'd recommend you give a miss.

I didn't read any of the other reviews and I will read them with interest after posting this.
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on 19 September 2011
This is a well conscructed and thought provoking essay which makes you consider the consequences of lying - even; though meant for the best of intentions of course, those innocent "little white lies" that we are all capable of telling.

By its end I found that I had to reconsider most of the reasons for lying that I held to be patently true and the impact that it can have on others.

For such a compact little thing, this is packed with common sense and is a very good read.
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on 20 September 2011
Once more Sam Harris lays the truth bare in a way which affirms enlightenment values.

In this concise and readable essay, Harris definitively makes the moral and practical case for telling the truth in virtually all situations, and the way in which this improves human relations and has a purifying effect on how complicated and anxious life is.

I hope Sam Harris writes more like this and no one should hesitate to hit the download button!
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