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Liars and Outliers
Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive
A book by Bruce Schneier
We don’t demand a background check on the plumber who shows up to fix the leaky sink. We don’t do a chemical analysis on food we eat.
Trust and cooperation are the first problems we had to solve before we could become a social species. In the 21st century, they have become the most important problems we need to solve—again. Our global society has become so large and complex that our traditional trust mechanisms no longer work.
Bruce Schneier, world-renowned for his level-headed thinking on security and technology, tackles this complex subject head-on. Society can’t function without trust, and yet must function even when people are untrustworthy.
Liars and Outliers reaches across academic disciplines to develop an understanding of trust, cooperation, and social stability. From the subtle social cues we use to recognize trustworthy people to the laws that punish the noncompliant, from the way our brains reward our honesty to the bank vaults that keep out the dishonest, keeping people cooperative is a delicate balance of rewards and punishments. It’s a series of evolutionary tricks, social pressures, legal mechanisms, and physical barriers.
In the absence of personal relationships, we have no choice but to substitute security for trust, compliance for trustworthiness. This progression has enabled society to scale to unprecedented complexity, but has also permitted massive global failures.
At the same time, too much cooperation is bad. Without some level of rule-breaking, innovation and social progress become impossible. Society stagnates.
Today’s problems require new thinking, and Liars and Outliers provides that. It is essential that we learn to think clearly about trust. Our future depends on it.
Praise for Liars and Outliers
“Without trust, nothing can be achieved. Liars and Outliers is a brilliant analysis of the role of trust in society and business.”
Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum
“Schneier makes an original and powerful argument for rethinking society. . . . His message is full of insight into how we function, or don’t function, and along the way we are constantly hearing from the giants—such as Emerson, Thoreau, Socrates, even Emily Dickinson.”
—Seymour M. Hersh
“Deeply philosophical yet highly accessible, Liars and Outliers is more than thought-provoking—it’s the kind of book that fundamentally changes the way you think.”
—Daniel J. Solove
John Marshall Harlan Research Professor of Law
George Washington University Law School
“Brilliantly dissects, classifies, and orders the social dimension of security—a spectacularly palatable tonic against today’s incoherent and dangerous flailing in the face of threats from terrorism to financial fraud.”
Author of Little Brother and Makers
co-editor of BoingBoing.net
“Engaging, insightful, and thought-provoking, Liars and Outliers will alter how you think about trust and security.”
Distinguished Professor of Defense Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School
author of Information Warfare and Security
More Praise for Liars and Outliers
Table of Contents
Excerpt from Chapter 4
Excerpt from Chapter 12
Excerpt from Chapter 16
Excerpt from Chapter 17
Audio and Video
Video introduction to the book
RSA 2012/EMC TV Live
Dresser after Dark
GarageBooks (in Greek and English)
Wisconsin Public Radio
New Zealand Internet Task Force
Writings and Interviews
Technology and Society
The Page 99 Test
The NOOK Blog
Firedoglake Book Salon
How does society function when you can’t trust everyone?
When we think about trust, we naturally think about personal relationships or bank vaults. That’s too narrow. Trust is much broader, and much more important. Nothing in society works without trust. It’s the foundation of communities, commerce, democracy—everything.
In this insightful and entertaining book, Schneier weaves together ideas from across the social and biological sciences to explain how society induces trust. He shows how trust works and fails in social settings, communities, organizations, countries, and the world.
In today’s hyper-connected society, understanding the mechanisms of trust is as important as understanding electricity was a century ago. Issues of trust and security are critical to solving problems as diverse as corporate responsibility, global warming, and our moribund political system. After reading Liars and Outliers, you’ll think about social problems, large and small, differently.
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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.