Book Reviews: Liars and Outliers

I want to tell you that this book is amazing and I loved every moment of it. It’s smart, I agree with most of what he says, and I very much appreciate Bruce Schneier’s candidness when he’s making statements more on gut instinct and doesn’t yet have full scientific work to back it up, or the work he has isn’t actually very convincing. He could have written a compelling book without those admissions (and many authors of pop non-fiction do exactly that) but I found his insights much more interesting when he acknowledges where they’re more speculation than anything else. The anecdotes, stories and analogies are interesting and work with the ideas contained therein, and the applications to social structures and laws and whatnot were clear and convincing.

Without reservations, I can say that the book is great. But I’ve got to be honest: I didn’t love every moment of it. I was bored. It’s a brilliant book about… exactly the sort of things I think about every day at work, or argue about with my friends in my spare time. Because I read Schneier’s blog, I’d already seen most of the studies that piqued my interest, so there wasn’t any rush to go out and use my university library subscriptions to find the original scientific papers. The biological predator-prey ideas were mostly stuff I learned in grade school for goodness sakes. That’s perhaps a sign of my parents’ enhancement of my education than anything else, but the end result definitely had me skimming quite a lot to keep from boring myself to the point where I put the book down and never pick it up again.

So if you’re curious about trust and security but not immersed in it, I can recommend the book heartily. But if you’re like me and do this stuff for a living, this is a great book to lend out and skim, but it’s maybe not something you’re going to need to spend time reading cover-to-cover.

Edit: I just noticed the Schneier’s linked to this review, so it may well get read by people who have no idea what I do for a living. At the time of writing this, I am working as a researcher in biologically inspired computer security and complex systems. That may explain why so much of this comes up in my day job.

Categories: Liars and Outliers, Text

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.