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Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,349 ratings  ·  171 reviews
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 compl
Hardcover, 348 pages
Published February 1st 2012 by Wiley (first published January 1st 2012)
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Bruce Schneier is, according to the quote from the Register on the inside sleeve notes, "The closest thing the security industry has to a Rock Star." And, like the actor Chuck Norris, Schneier is the only other person I'm aware of who has his own 'facts' website. Listing page after page of dubious, but sometimes amusing, facts about Bruce's encryption super-powers. Although jokes about encryption probably have a fairly narrow audience Bruce Schneier Facts gives us my personal favourite: "Bruce S ...more
Josh Hamacher
It pains me slightly to rate this book three stars, as I've been a fan of Bruce Schneier for years. I've subscribed to his newsletter since at least 1999 and enjoyed every issue. Unfortunately this book reads like a newsletter article that has been stretched, through repetition, to the length of a short book.

It's very well-written and is a fast read; Schneier has a real knack for explaining potentially complicated concepts clearly and simply. The thesis, that societies and organizations apply a
The human world is strongly conditioned by beliefs, attitudes and cognitive biases that we received from our evolutionary heritage. This topic has been one of the focal points of my reading for several years now, and I can attest that Bruce Schneier’s Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive serves as an excellent overview.

The book’s dust jacket tells us that Schneier is a “security technologist”; his wikipedia page clarifies that he is a cryptographer and computer sec
Apr 16, 2012 rated it liked it
I've read Schneier's work online at his blog, so when I saw he was publishing a book, I said "Sure! He writes well, discusses topics relevant to my interests in security and process."

Reading this, I got a wonderful 101 book that collects a wide breadth of theories, generalizations, and examples of how society works and balances the need to create norms, maintain norms, and pervert those norms to innovate, as well as how the parasites who take advantage of those norms exist.

Unfortunately, I was r
Matt Brown
Feb 15, 2012 rated it liked it
An interesting read, but nothing ground breaking if you're a following of Bruce Schneier's blog or have read any of his opinion columns regarding trust and security.

The book covers the concepts of trust, and security and examines our natural instincts in relation to these often fail in the face of new technology and the growth of society. Much time is spent examining various difficult to solve social dilemmas in the context of this, and the introduction of background material from the fields of
Jan 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
We learn to trust strangers from a very young age. Not just uncles, cousins and neighbours, but also teachers, policemen, doctors and even newsreaders on TV. Compared to our ancestors and other animal species, humans have raised trust to unknown heights. Bruce Schneier , in his new book Liars & Outliers, takes us on a tour of how that trust came to be, how it manages to work in the majority of cases and why it doesn’t work in the rest.

Schneier uses Francis Fukuyama’s definition of trust, which h
Ali Sattari
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good wrap-up on aspects of defection, pressures and various forms of security. Most of the examples are from areas we don't usually consider security or take seriously.
A key takeaway: the cost is defection is often born by all members of the relevant society, but on the other hand eliminating defection is not feasible, a healthy amount of defection in societies is more realistic from cost/freedom perspective and also provides fuel for change.
Michael Burnam-Fink
Feb 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
When I heard that the author of the absolutely brilliant Secrets and Lies was turning his slantwise gaze from computer networks to society as a whole, I was excited. These days, security is a big business, and problems of insecurity bedevil the future. Schneier lays out his framework for how trust is required modern society function, and how the liars and outliers of the title abuse trust for their own advantage.

It is not that this is a bad book, but it is very general. Yes, we use morality, rep
Eduardo Santiago
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
It feels slightly disturbing to read this book so soon after Fukuyama's Trust and even more so the same week that This American Life aired episode 459, What Kind of Country, in which they chronicle disturbing societal breakdowns. Schneier covers trust, tradeoffs, more (and more interesting!) Prisoner's Dilemma discussion than any three books on Game Theory, evolutionary theory, economics, politics, current affairs.

What I found most interesting was his frank discussion of scaling problems: Trust
Sep 16, 2012 rated it liked it
I think you'll lean toward this one or not depending on how the subject matter interests you: what impetus is there for societies and communities to function together for the common good? What about those (defectors) who don't follow the rules or prefer to pursue their own selfish profit?

Full of bullet points and pro-con charts, this book leans toward pedagogical in tone, although it's fairly approachable. (I'd call it easy to read as opposed to enjoyable.) Its view is a bit self-admittedly simp
Oct 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
The book effectively theorizes that almost all real life activities are an expression of "trust" or "security". Adam Smith would claim all real life activities as an effort to further economic interest. Richard Dawkins would make them an evolution thing. Some pope might believe in the religious meanings and some Plato in moral. All these might be valid even if narrow perspectives from particular vantage points, except that trust/security is exceptionally uninteresting, ridiculously narrow and of ...more
Dec 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Competing interests
Recommended to Alan by: Reputation; Roberta
This may be one of the most important books you'll never read.

In Liars and Outliers, Bruce Schneier (known—and with good reason—to The Register as "The closest thing the security industry has to a rock star") has produced a remarkably clear-eyed and dispassionate assessment of one of the most critical issues facing the human species—the fact that the notions of trust and security that served us well enough when we were scattered tribes of hunters and farmers do not scale up to the numbers and ki
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very good book on the basic social challenge of security, which provides a basic framework for thinking through the various "pressures" that are available for preventing people from "defecting" into anti-social behavior. There are basically four: moral pressures, reputational pressures, institutional pressures, and technological pressures. These work at different scales, with the former working better at smaller group scales, and the latter being generally more effective at bigger scales.

The b
John Schwabacher
Nov 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Note: The edition I read has the subtitle Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive.

My good friend Jim Wiggins recommended this book highly. I found it interesting and very logical, but not earth-shattering. I did find myself wondering if that is because I haven't dealt with the issues involved before and just don't realize the contribution he's making.

Everything is laid out in a very logical structure.
Bruce Schneier discusses trust as a necessary part of society and points out how much we
Bryan Murdock
Jun 19, 2012 rated it liked it
I was excited to read this book by the legend himself ( The ideas are important, but it felt like death by examples reading this. The whole book is basically this: present a point and then tell 100 different little stories that back up the point and make it more clear, and then, if like me, you can't resist a good footnote you get about 100 more stories for each point. Many of the stories where interesting and did help bring the points home, but man oh man, for me ...more
Disappointing. I expect more from this author and perhaps when he leaves his field of cryptography and to some extent computer security, I shouldn't. This book did have moments of brilliance - it kind of caught its stride around part 3 - but lost it before getting to the final section. So what was wrong? First of all it was basically a psychology book but written first-person and chatty as though it were a bad high school paper. And I've got a lot of familiarity with a lot of this material - and ...more
Oct 25, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: vaguely-academic
I already know a bit about Game Theory, but even if I didn't I believe this book would have still felt extremely slow, simplistic, and general. It added almost nothing to my toolset where Game Theory and security thinking is concerned.

He tells us about all of these burgeoning fields: evolutionary psychology, game theory, computer security, corporate law, voting dynamics—only to apologize that they are all too complex to get into right now! Instead, we get platitudes.

Scheier is an amazing secur
Jan 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
I chose to read this book because I have been contemplating the interface of trust and justice in my thinking. Schneier is a bit pedantic but the themes are consistent and the last two chapters are worth reading more than once because they get to core concerns about how a society orders itself and how this is changing given our technological innovations. It also points out that in spite of rapid technological advances, the human heart remains remarkable consistent in seeking its own good. Remind ...more
Great vocabulary for talking about social dilemmas and society-wide dynamics, and some sobering observations.

Not nearly enough actual content for this length of a book.

I wish everybody read this book; it explains important things well and clearly. But it's the kind of book I want everybody to have read, more than something I'd actually recommend as an enjoyable and edifying experience.
May 17, 2012 rated it liked it

Just finished it...mmmmmm....not sure. Bruce totally turned into a philosopher and the book is a bit too meandering to my taste. Many times I felt like one can say the same thing with less rigor and with half the page count. In any case, I'd say it was worth reading.
Apr 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: professional
An absolutely amazing book that I recommend everyone reads. It goes into deep detail about why the security structure of society is changing right now, and what we could do against that change.
Xavier Shay
Jan 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Insightful book about various tradeoffs between security, cost, and freedom.

"One of the great achievements of our species is our ability to solve societal dilemmas. In a way, we solve them by cheating. That is, we don't solve them within the parameters of the game. Instead, we modify the game to eliminate the dilemma. Recall the two drivers stuck behind a fallen tree that neither one can move by himself. They're not in a Prisoner's Dilemma. They're not even in a Snowdrift Dilemma. In their situa
Aug 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, work
Given Schneier's background, I was expecting this book to focus on issues of security, and trust in security contexts. It was something of a pleasant surprise to find that his scope was more general than that: in essence, the book is an introduction to social technologies, how they work, and how they fail.

As such, it's certainly not a bad introduction. Schneier writes engagingly, with each chapter driving a set of loose-but-practical classifications of social activity with the application of so
Jun 14, 2020 rated it liked it
I'm a big fan of Schneier's blog, so I was looking forward to reading this. But the book wasn't quite as good as I was hoping.

Things I liked: some of the discussion of how societies work, especially the historical / anthropological parts. The discussions of hawks/doves and how there are real costs to keeping defection low, and at some point it's not worth it. Some of the discussion about trust and how much we have to trust everyone around us for society to work.

Things I didn't like so much: Ther
Sep 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
One of the main reasons I enjoy reading Schneier's take on security is that he has become very technology-agnostic and has started to borrow tools from economics to solve security problems. Secrets and Lies was still very much about information security but by the middle of Beyond Fear Schenier had realized that security is more about society than just technology. In Liars and Outliers, Schneier builds a multi-disciplinary framework that centers on society and the trust within. In this model, se ...more
Genetic Cuckoo
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
This books has an interesting premise, and I did learn a lot, however I did find it quite repetitive. It is well written and does make you think about different types of trust and cooperation in society, and I think it explains well why you cannot have a society without crime. I liked the examples, but ignored the tables which compare the 'cooperate and defect' pressures for each scenario, as they do not render well in the kindle version. I did enjoy the psychology theories, like game theory, pr ...more
Alex Chan
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well-written, an easy read.

It lays out a model of trust: there are cooperators and defectors, and competing societal pressures affect whether somebody cooperates or defects (according to a particular group). The model is clearly explained, and then applied to a number of scenarios. I don't have much of knowledge of security or sociology, but I always understood what was being said.

I was worried the book might focus on computer security (which is how I'm aware of Bruce Schneier) – it avoids that
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Well-written and well-researched, but the points seemed obvious. The examples are diverse and maybe interesting if you haven't thought about them before, but the framework for thinking about them (moral, societal, reputational, etc. pressures create systems with trust) and Schneier's "insights" can be derived from intuition. After a few chapters of going through the same "cooperate/defect" analysis (basically prisoner's dilemma/tragedy of the commons over and over), it became too repetitive to c ...more
Siddarth Gore
May 07, 2017 rated it liked it
It starts with an interesting promise about giving an insight into how trust is formed and lost in our society. And also delivers on it somewhat. But after about 1/3rd into it becomes repetitive. Also it becomes more common sense and general knowledge more than deep insight and revelation.

What I liked the most were the anecdotes, ranging from the roman empires fear of Christianity to the United States' fear of Wikileakes.
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Schneier lays out a theory of social defense: what are the forces that act to keep people from lying, stealing, cheating, and murdering? How can they be deployed to keep societal 'defections' — choosing one's own immediate interest over that of the broader society — at a manageable level, so that society does not completely implode? Why is perfect enforcement a bad thing?

This book provides a lot of tools for thinking through the options when we want to design social systems. Highly recommend.
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Liars and Outlier...: Q&A with Bruce Schneier about Liars and Outliers 1 4 Apr 24, 2012 05:41PM  

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Bruce Schneier is "one of the world's foremost security experts" (Wired) and the best-selling author of thirteen books. He speaks and writes regularly for major media venues, and his newsletter and blog reach more than 250,000 people worldwide. He is a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and the CTO of Resilient Systems, Inc. ...more

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