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The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life
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The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  778 ratings  ·  80 reviews
Whether it’s in a cockpit at takeoff or the planning of an offensive war, a romantic relationship or a dispute at the office, there are many opportunities to lie and self-deceive—but deceit and self-deception carry the costs of being alienated from reality and can lead to disaster. So why does deception play such a prominent role in our everyday lives? In short, why do we ...more
Hardcover, 397 pages
Published October 2011 by Basic Books (first published 2011)
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3.58  · 
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 ·  778 ratings  ·  80 reviews

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May 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
the weaknesses of this book are all the more frustrating given the potentially highly important target the aims for — an understanding of how biological self-deception leads to problematic errors and biases in our daily existence.

three major weaknesses keep this book from reaching its target. first, trivers seems to have a highly inconsistent definition of self-deception and often seems to be developing a theory, not of self deception but of error per se. this is a fairly major problem given tha
Feb 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A very personal, sometimes a little crazed exploration of the whole issue of self-deception from a leading and interesting evolutionary biologist. There are times when you can sense his out thereness. Indeed someone just told me he (at 70 or so) had been suspended from teaching because he started a course modestly saying he knew nothing much about the subject and was going to learn along with his students. One of them complained. This fits the person who emerges from the book. But I just enjoyed ...more
Long Nguyen
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have been trying to convince myself to write reviews for all the books read, and this is a good time as ever to get started.

Trivers summarized his main thesis more or less within the first two chapters of the book, and the rest are a series of commentary based on life examples, ranging from personal to political. He readily admits that his account of why self-deception is selective will need more experimentation to validate, making this book a beginning of inquiry much like some of his past pr
Billie Pritchett
May 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Biologist Robert Trivers' book The Folly of Fools tells the manifest ways human beings deceive themselves, from politics and religion to science and everyday life. In the earlier portion of the book, Trivers traces the way in which self-deception involved in human beings and other animals, particularly as a tool to make the transmission of the species' genes continue in. The basic point is that if you're fooling yourself about something, it becomes an awfully lot easier to fool others about the ...more
Joshua Buhs
Sep 09, 2013 rated it did not like it
Robert Trivers’s new book is a curious document — a book about deception and self-deception that is itself deceptive, in structure, voice and argument.

A celebrated evolutionary biologist, Trivers uses the tools of his trade to answer a basic question: Why are deception and self-deception so prevalent? Our eyes, noses, tongues, ears and skin tell us so much about the world, why is it that our brains then deny some of this information, hide it from ourselves and others? Natural selection should ha
Apr 06, 2015 rated it did not like it
Do not be fooled by the summary, this book has no true topic. It reads as if Trivers posited an initial question and then decided to write a series of tangentially related chapters to fill the book.

The introduction identifies an interesting question and then the remainder of the book fails to address that question. It almost felt like Trivers wanted to write about deception in nature and fell on the "self-deception" angle as a way to bring in readers. He posits that self-deception may be evoluti
Jan 24, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology, psychology
Having read and studied widely in animal behavior/sociobiology since college, I was already aware of Trivers' work in the field. Having read several books about denial and related ideas in psychology, I thought this book would be a great embodiment of the overlapping area of that Venn diagram. Trivers has been thinking and writing about this stuff for years. This should be good, right?

I couldn't do it. Couldn't will myself to keep going. I am calling it quits after four chapters. Why?

I felt like
Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Some interesting and unexpected insights that, as the author says, merit greater inspection. I understand that RT also made early contributions to evolutionary psychology. Clearly, one of those who marches to a different drummer.
Boris Limpopo
Feb 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Difficilmente inquadrabile, Robert Trivers. Non ancora settantenne (ne compirà 69 il 19 febbraio), è considerato uno dei più importanti studiosi dell’evoluzione contemporanei. Basti pensare che è lui che ha scritto l’introduzione al libro sull’evoluzione più influente degli ultimi 40 anni, The Selfish Gene (Il gene egoista) di Richard Dawkins (non ditemi che non ne avete sentito parlare e, soprattutto che non l’avete letto: fatelo immediatamente).

A differenza di Dawkins, però, Trivers non è mai
Mar 01, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library
This book is provocative and left me intrigued by the possibility that deception is endemic to life because it is evolutionally advantageous and that we engage in self-deception in order to better deceive others. I can't say that the book left me convinced of this, because (as Trivers acknowledges) much more work needs to be done. It was a worthwhile read because of the discussion of the various ways that people regularly deceive themselves. I particularly liked the discussion at the end of the ...more
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was ok
Well, it's pretty obvious that Robert Trivers has been pondering the concept of deceit and self-deception quite a bit. Having said that, it's a pity that such a interesting topic has been ruined by his lack of objectivity. There are multiple embarrassing accounts of his own experiences with the opposite sex and speculations that aren't really well-founded. These things take some of his credibility, which is sad, because he does have some pretty awesome theories of evolutionary biology under his ...more
Bill Forbes
Apr 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
The topic of this book in intriguing: "How do deception and self-deception impact human cognition and social interaction?" Trivers provides many examples of deception and self-deception, often with disastrous long-term consequences, but fails to weave all the threads of his topic into a meaningful whole. He begins by offering the hypothesis that our expertise at self-deception evolved to make us better deceivers of others - a skill that often serves us well, at least in the short term. However, ...more
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
Very interesting first half discussing deceit in nature and how evolutionary processes likely drive both deceit and self-deceit. Second half of the book applies the same thinking to a wide range of social issues. This turns into a rambling and eclectic critique of politicians and scientists in other fields.

Triers actually completely misses the evolutionary process of ideas (memes) and is only concerned with genes, thus widely missing the mark in analysis of cultural phenomena. It’s simply wrong
Jul 27, 2012 rated it liked it
"We deceive ourselves the better to deceive others" (p3). Why do we lack self-knowledge and how does that affect us and other animals? Biologist Trivers treats this subject from many different sides; the biological and the personal-takes are the best. And his bashing of social sciences that don't incorporate biology, or stories of the author cursing at himself are amusing.

The title is based on Proverb (14:8): "The wisdom of the prudent is to know their own way but the folly of fools is deceit" (
Peter Gelfan
Dec 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I rarely give a book five stars, and only if I think it says something new and important. It’s not new that we humans practice deceit on others and ourselves, but Trivers takes the point much further. If human intelligence, which we love to lord over other species, is our defining quality, then why do we, as individuals and cultures, practice self-deceit on a grand and pervasive scale? We lie to ourselves about ourselves, how others view us, our pasts, what we see or don’t see, what we know and ...more
Brian Clegg
This book was, as a reality show contestant would say, a roller-coaster ride (reality shows: there's a subject of self-deception that Robert Trivers doesn't cover but could have had great fun mining). At first sight I thought it was going to be deadly dull. I haven't heard of Trivers, but I gather from the bumf he's a bit of a big name academic in his field. That usually means a boring writer. Add to it that the book's (UK) cover looks half finished and it's a big fat tome (which usually means r ...more
Jun 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This is a really interesting book, full of fascinating and thought-provoking ideas and arguments. I liked everything except the material on religion.

As a student of human foibles, Robert Trivers should be especially aware of the self deception involved in religious belief. And at first he seems to be, but then he turns around and becomes an apologist for religion, not because it's a valid belief system, but because of its alleged benefits to the immune system. How does anyone know what it is ab
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this ebook in Chinese, it turned out to have so much information inside that i took more time to read it with joy.
Self-inflation, derogation of others, in-group feelings, a sense of power, the illusion of control, false social theories, false internal narratives, unconscious modules, self- adulation-> narcissists, differential rehearsal, and the bias of self-enhancement and self- justification.
The part of animals also self-deceive and cheat/ lie/trick to others was fun that i have read
Thore Husfeldt
This has all the makings of a great book.

It isn’t one. It’s OK, nothing more.

With exception of the first few chapters, this book is a disjointed mess of speculation, personal anecdotes, and political opinion. Mind you, much of that is entertaining and sometimes well-written. (Though some of it is annoying, laboured, and tentative.) But it’s a far cry from what the book ought to be, and in fact purports to be. There is no synthesis, no magisterial overview of scientific findings, no stylish eluci
Noah Milstein
Jan 15, 2015 rated it did not like it
'Folly' began well enough with a fair overview of the evolutionary rationale and selection pressure towards self-deception. Trivers was strongest when using ethological and biological examples to illustrate his point. The text quickly devolved into a rambling political tract that detracted strongly from the line of argument. This was only made worse as the book progressed until Trivers own line of argument - ironically - became a paragon example of the very self-deception he sought to describe. ...more
Jul 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I bought this book thinking - because the title was so explicit and Penguin had published it under its psychology series - that I knew what it was about and how it would play along. I was positively surprised at being wrong, the book turned out to give much more than I expected. The main subject - namely deceit and self-deception - is analysed from very different and complementing angles, from evolutionary biology to neurophysiology, from psychology to aviation and space disasters. Perhaps one o ...more
Jan 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in understanding human nature
Recommended to John by: My book club
I struggled with this book for much of the time I was reading it. I was particularly dismayed by the hyperbole and often harsh criticism he used with regard to a number of subjects. A little more balance would have been better. There were also many errors of fact particularly in his analysis of false historical narratives. He seemed to be unaware that historians are aware of these such “false narratives” and that there is a significant literature in historiography about these. Many such false na ...more
Oct 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: psychology, science
"Another problem that baffles me is whence the anti-pleasure bias? It is often said by opponents of medical marijuana that we already have legal drugs that promote appetite or suppress pain, so why should we give in to illegal ones? Yet the latter also give pleasure, so that you survive with good appetite and feel better, so why is the latter not a virtue but an impediment? In fact, I now believe the ideal medicine for a root canal is, in fact, cocaine, and not its chemical analogs (procaine) th ...more
Gideon Maxim
Feb 18, 2016 rated it liked it
All the reviewers who write that this is a rambling, sloppy and biased book are quite right. The best chapters are at the beginning. They are worth the read.

I especially liked the author’s analysis of his own kleptomania (much less so his anti-Israel blathering).

Essentially: a brilliant sloppy hypocritical mess of a book. If you like the subject enough, it's worth the slog. I originally gave it 4 stars because the beginning was so good, but really, 3 stars is fairer. Someone should write a bett
Steve Woods
This is an outstanding work, by an author who looks at the foibles of humanity from the point of view of a biologist. It seems that lying and self deceit are just who we are since they are important factors in our survival as a species. Human beings are just so full of it both as a group and as individuals! We think we are just soooooo special when in fact it seems that we are not that much better (we produce art) than the monkeys from whom we descended. Archetypical behaviors paralleled directl ...more
Mar 19, 2016 added it
This is one of the greatest books I have ever read!

As Winston Smith said in “1984" by George Orwell, we always love an author that says what we are thinking but says it better than I can say it myself.

I woke up at 3 am this morning my mind filled with ideas about how this book ties into Ayn Rand's Objectivist Epistemology (measurement as a means to avoid self-deception) and how it ties in with the Project Management Institute's "Project Management Body of Knowledge" (PMBOK) in that measurement i
May 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was quite good. If you didn't do well in Biology, or don't remember a whole lot from high school, you may have trouble getting through the first couple chapters. But, even in some of the detailed descriptions, Robert does a good job explaining it enough to catch on, and it will make more sense in later chapters.

But this was very good, explaining how we - not just people, but many animals - are built to deceive ourselves, the positive and negative consequences of those deceptions, and how we
Alexandru Cristescu
You might as well skip the first half of the book, which is as boring as they come. The second part though contains some interesting ideas by applying the self-deception angle to real life cases such as airline crashes and war. I found the chapter on Israel politics particularly sincere, which is quite a surprise coming from an American author.

Still, although it contains some insight, all in all I found it hard to follow - perhaps I dislike the author's style, or perhaps the message of the book
Roy Kenagy
Dec 24, 2011 marked it as to-read
NYT Review:

"Trivers is not an elegant stylist like Dawkins, Wilson or Pinker. His technical explanations can be murky, his political rants cartoonishly crude. But Trivers’s blunt, unpolished manner — which I assume is not feigned — makes me trust him more than some slicker writers. “The Folly of Fools” reminds me of other irreducibly odd classics by scientific iconoclasts like “The Fractal Geometry of Nature,” by the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, and “The Society of Mind
Margaret Sankey
Mar 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Popular rendering of research into the neurobiology of deception, although written by an anthropologist and cloaked in his theories of in-groups, kinship and societal structure. There are vivid examples from placebos, dating, day trading, speeding tickets, sports, NTSB air crash investigations and romanticized narratives of national history as well as (perhaps in an act of unconscious self-deception) Trivers own life, which are far less illustrative or as interesting as he thinks they are and te ...more
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Robert L. Trivers (born February 19, 1943, pronounced /ˈtrɪvɚz/) is an American evolutionary biologist and sociobiologist, most noted for proposing the theories of reciprocal altruism (1971), parental investment (1972), and parent-offspring conflict (1974). Other areas in which he has made influential contributions include an adaptive view of self-deception (first described in 1976) and intragenom ...more
“The great sage Thales once put the general matter succinctly "Oh master," he was asked, "what is the most difficult thing to do?" "To know thyself", he replied. "And the easiest?" "To give advice to others.” 6 likes
“A very disturbing feature of overconfidence is that it often appears to be poorly associated with knowledge—that is, the more ignorant the individual, the more confident he or she maybe.” 5 likes
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