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Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely (audio)

I really enjoyed Mr. Ariely's first book, Predictably Irrational, and have recommended it to others. I prefer nonfiction on audio and thought my husband would like it also so it would be a good choice for a roadtrip we went on back in May. However, it sadly wasn't great.

The narrator, while fine, I don't think was the right choice for this book. I like Mr. Ariely's accent and wish he'd narrated it himself but I understand why he might not want to. But then, I wish he'd used an American narrator instead of British. There were a few times when he'd refer to things like "our congress" or "our government," meaning the United States, and it was quite jarring. Also at other times he mentioned that he (Mr. Ariely) is from Israel and that was also incongruent with the accent and highlighted the mis-match.

That would have been fine though, if the book weren't quite so dry. And I suspect this is better in the print version. Multiple times, he would explain to us the results of an experiment and whether or not the students cheated more or less and by how much, with the new variant. And then he'd explain it all again, more formally, which I suspect was from a figure or box that was being read to us. Most readers would either skim the exposition of the results or the box, but with an audio you are forced to sit through both in detail, which was a bit much. This book also just didn't feel quite as accessible to a layperson who is not an academic. I do wish he'd tried harder to make it fun and widely appealing. To that end, I did find the part about lying about one's golf score amusing, and it was fascinating that if the IRS would move the signature line, where we all swear that everything in our tax return is true, to the top of the form, it would improve the honesty factor significantly (but the IRS won't do it.) There are a lot of great stories in the book but they are obscured by all the discussion of the endless matrices experiments. Again, in print that would be easier to skim, but skimming is hard on audio.

One thing that was great on the audio was at the end there were a number of short (5-7 minute) interviews Dan did with a variety of economic professors around North America on various related topics. I particularly liked the one where a strong correlation was found between the number of parking and traffic tickets accumulated by various countries' diplomats in NYC, and those countries' level of corruption. So if the diplomat is from a law-abiding honest country (such as in Scandinavia), they are very unlikely to be double-parking in front of fire hydrants, but if they're from an African country with a dictator, they're very likely to do so. Therefore one's country or society affects one's morality. I was able to relate to this in my own life thinking back on my high school days. My high school was renowned for our drug dealers, and instead of judging the drug dealers, we fellow students judged the stupid drug dealers who got caught. They were all doing something illegal, but we only judged the stupid ones. Because in the society of that high school, drug dealing was such a norm that it didn't raise any alarm bells.

So overall the audio was a mixed bag. The extras were great, but the bulk of the book was too dry for this particular presentation of it.

I downloaded this book from Audible.

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