Liars and Outliers : Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive, Hardback Book

Liars and Outliers : Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive Hardback

3.5 out of 5 (5 ratings)


In today's hyper-connected society, understanding the mechanisms of trust is crucial.

Issues of trust are critical to solving problems as diverse as corporate responsibility, global warming, and the political system.

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 the unique role of trust in facilitating and stabilizing human society.

He discusses why and how trust has evolved, why it works the way it does, and the ways the information society is changing everything.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 384 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Inc
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Social welfare & social services
  • ISBN: 9781118143308

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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

Review by

Bruce Schneier lives in a very different world. His specialty has long been IT security, and he has drilled so deep, no one can compare. This book is about trust and security, using history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and especially philosophy, to trace their development and deployment. He not only divines the if, but the how and when that people, and their societies, confer trust. He slices and dices his topic in every conceivable way. It is a fascinating process to watch.And yet, it doesn't always ring true. Schneier spends many pages extolling the virtues of society and how an optimal mix of co-operative elements keeps the liars, cheaters and criminals in check. There are whole chapters on societal, moral and reputational pressures. But we have only to look to our own reality to see it isn't so.At the corporate level, for example, individual companies do not always work to keep the bad seeds out. Entire industries are crooked, criminal affairs that exist purely to suck the lifeblood out of their customers. There isn't a bank in the United States that we can take pride in. They don't talk about customer loyalty; they plot lock-in. They are universally loathed and despised, and they continue to treat their customers worse and worse, to reinforce it. Airlines should be prosecuted for the obvious collusion in the bizarre fee structures, penalties and restrictions they all magically decided to impose on the public a few years back. Health insurers have one overriding goal - to deny health services to their customers and let them fight to get reimbursed. There isn't one of them anyone loves. If they all disappeared tomorrow, no one would mourn for the good old days.There isn't one participant in any of these entire industries that we trust. There isn't one participant in these industries who take your side or come to your defense. We don't trust them to do what they say, we don't trust them to be honest and forthright, and we don't trust them with our personal data. We don't trust entire sectors of the economy. We have zero faith in any of them. And that goes for every level of government, too, whether it's $100,000 in pork to a brother-in-law, to selling the entire state to gas frackers. The NYPD is seen as an army of occupation. Congress rates well below used car salesmen in confidence and trust.That's not how Schneier describes it. So by page 100 I was looking at Liars and Outliers differently.Meanwhile, the book races through internet security and the false confidence everyone has in posting personal photos and messages. Schneier rightly points out there can be too much security, and cutting our trillion dollar security expenditure in half will not double our risk for terrorism. We are not safer for that level of spending, he says, and spending ten times as much will not make us ten times safer.Another excellent chapter, Institutions, uses the TSA as model of conflicting needs and perceptions to describe how this one agency performs its mandate. Schneier was was on the plaintiffs' bench when TSA, reacting to the underwear bomber, suddenly and massively deployed full body scanners, which among other faults, could not detect an underwear bomb. Pointless security, at huge expense. A poster child for this book.In conclusion Schneier point out comprehensively that we constantly look in the wrong place, overreact to squeaky wheels and ignore the smaller problems that can have greater impact. Doesn't matter that more Americans die from exposure to peanuts than to terrorists that we spend trillions on terrorists and nothing on allergies.The prognosis is for more of the same; it's the nature of the beast, unfortunately. Schneier lays out the parameters for making it work better. But we all know, plus ca change.....

Review by

The first chapters of Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive by Bruce Schneier, a book about the how and why of trust in today's world, were tough going but the balance of the book is well worth the effort. The work seems to be a psychological/sociological description and explanation of how trust comes to be. It seems to be a philosophical work as the author puts forth his ideas about how "defection" from the group expectations can be a positive and/or a negative - for example, people who ran the underground railway in the 1800s were defectors. The work is not a hands-on guide to developing security but is an excellent effort to investigate why we trust . . . trust that the piece of paper our employer gives us can be taken to the bank and exchanged for money or that the lost person at the door isn't really casing the house for a future break-in.As I said, the first chapters were difficult but the rest of the book became one it was difficult to put down. Fascinating.

Review by

Having read his blog off and on for a number of years, a lot of it felt familiar...and I was surprised at how dry it was. (This is my vague recollection 6 months later.)

Review by

2 stars for most of it, 3 for the end notes, which in the best sections were longer (and invariably more interesting) than the actual text.

Review by

Schneier is a smart man, but this isn’t his most engaging work. It’s basically a series of schemas about what factors make people cooperate or defect, looking at the multiple communities/pressures/morals/interests/technologies etc. that affect such decisions. Big takeaway: societies that don’t have many defections (however defined—defections from a bad rule can be good, too) tend to be highly unfree; the key is to have a balance of deterrents and acknowledge the costs of various constraints. Otherwise you end up with the TSA, expensive and not very worthwhile.

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