• Lying

  • By: Sam Harris
  • Narrated by: Sam Harris
  • Length: 1 hr and 15 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (6,418 ratings)

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Lying

By: Sam Harris
Narrated by: Sam Harris
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Publisher's Summary

As it was in Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, and Othello, so it is in life. Most forms of private vice and public evil are kindled and sustained by lies. Acts of adultery and other personal betrayals, financial fraud, government corruption - even murder and genocide - generally require an additional moral defect: a willingness to lie.

In Lying, bestselling author and neuroscientist Sam Harris argues that we can radically simplify our lives and improve society by merely telling the truth in situations where others often lie. He focuses on "white" lies - those lies we tell for the purpose of sparing people discomfort - for these are the lies that most often tempt us. And they tend to be the only lies that good people tell while imagining that they are being good in the process.

©2013 Sam Harris (P)2013 Sam Harris

Critic Reviews

"This essay is quite brilliant. (I was hoping it would be, so I wouldn't have to lie.) I honestly loved it from beginning to end. Lying is the most thought-provoking read of the year." (Ricky Gervais)
"Humans have evolved to lie well, and no doubt you've seen the social lubrication at work. In many cases, we might not think of it as a true lie: perhaps a 'white' lie once in a blue moon, the omission of a sensitive detail here and there, false encouragement of others when we see no benefit in dashing someone's hopes, and the list goes on. In Lying, Sam Harris demonstrates how to benefit from being brutally - but pragmatically - honest. It's a compelling little book with a big impact." (Tim Ferriss author of the number-one New York Times best sellers The 4-Hour Body and The 4-Hour Workweek.)
"In this brief but illuminating work, Sam Harris applies his characteristically calm and sensible logic to a subject that affects us all: the human capacity to lie. And by the book's end, Harris has compelled you to lead a better life because the benefits of telling the truth far outweigh the cost of lies - to yourself, to others, and to society." (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History)

What listeners say about Lying

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"Telling The Truth...

is being aware of what the truth is in any given moment..." This is perhaps the most pivotal line in Sam Harris' challenging essay on lying and truth telling. We must first be perfectly honest with ourselves before we can be honest with others. (Consider Emily Dickinson's "...we hide ourselves behind ourselves..." or a line from the sitcom "Community:" the biggest lies are told six inches from the bathroom mirror...") Then it all boils down to "do unto others." Harris very poignantly asked us how we would want people to deal with us on a daily basis. All, right, in way, we want politicians to "tell us what we want to hear," but if we go by rule one, being aware of the truth in any given moment, wouldn't we want the truth always given to us straight? Of course, where we are going to cringe is not with extramarital affairs, financial cheats and calculated harm, but rather with the everyday, work-a-day social lying. "Do I look good in this dress?..." "Does my son's behavior bother you?..." "Are you free to come to my party on Friday night?..." Harris makes a compelling argument--if one not all of us are probably going to run out and implement immediately--that the truth can be told in ALL situations, that these little social situations can be handled TACTFULLY, but that tactfully doesn't have to skirt the truth. In a writing class I teach based in Theories Of Morality, I tell this true story: One evening, I was teaching a five-hour block of college English classes, and it was 6:50, and I had not had any dinner and only a fairly sparse lunch. My only chance was to get to the student union and the commissary for a quick slice of dried out pizza before it closed at 7:00 and my next class started. I had ten minutes to cram some bad food in my mouth before pressing on to my next class, and a female student was leisurely strolling beside me, speaking to me about a personal manner of no earth-shattering import. I was trying to be polite and listen and respond appropriately, barely able to make out the words being spoken for the screams of hunger my body was giving forth. The student would not pick up the pace or pick up the silent visual cues that usually say "all right, got to get going! [we are done here]." And so, automatically, with no due calculation, I said, smiling gently and touching her on the arm, "you know, I have to hurry by the office to get some papers real quick before my next classes, can I catch you later?" With that, I darted toward Salish Hall, and then, when out of sight of the student, I made a mad dash for the union and got my pizza. At the time, I rationalized that this was simply sparing the student hearing, "getting a slice of crusty, sun-lamp desiccated veggie is more important right now than listening to you babble on!" But Harris says I was not being polite, but rather lazy. And it's true. I could have carefully and tactfully explained my situation to the student in the time it took to reroute to Salish and then back to the union. The small becomes the big after all, and we should not get too used to misrepresenting things, or, before long, we ]might take to George Costanza's immortal [immoral] advice to Jerry: "it's not a lie, if you believe it."

42 people found this helpful

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Confronting oneself

I liked the way this book made me feel a bit uncomfortable. You don't hear or read these bluntly honest opinions about the type of lies that we often consider socially acceptable (if you think about it, as the author explains, they are harmful). I did not agree with some of his arguments, but the most important thing was that this book made me re-evaluate my approach to life. I also liked the last 30 minutes where he responded to readers' questions. When there are too many books out there in which the authors stretch and repeat the same points over and over again, this to-the-point style was also refreshing.

35 people found this helpful

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Blah Blah Blah!!!

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Okay, I didn’t like Sam Harris’s essay on lying. Why? The essay is very similar to a lecture you would expect from an ivory tower intellectual lacking any real world experience. Mr. Harris preaches the benefits of providing forthright feedback to others in lieu of white lies. Although this honest and forthright feedback is initially painful to the question asker (does this is dress make me look fat?), in the end you will be forgiven and earn greater respect. I can only imagine the Mr. Harris works in a socially isolated setting and has small set of very confident/highly intellectual friends. He wouldn’t last five minutes in the social circles I encounter on a daily basis. However, the biggest disappointment of this essay is Mr. Harris rarely addresses the functions or motivations that initiate lying behavior. In my opinion, the more interesting essay would address why people feel compelled to lie to others.

30 people found this helpful

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To tell the truth (or not)

This was a really enjoyable, short reminder of the importance of telling the truth- always. Harris does a great job of explaining why he doesn't believe there's ever a good time to lie, even though it may seem like it's the best thing to do at the moment; like when a girlfriend asks if a dress makes her look fat. I know life is complicated, but I really like the straightforward way Harris makes his case that honesty really is the best policy.

23 people found this helpful

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Inspirational, quick read

I'm writing this review months after listening. I enjoyed the book at the time, but what has me inspired to come back and write a review is the fact that the general premise of this book has stuck with me so well. I used to routinely tell seemingly innocent lies to grease the wheels of easy social interaction. Small things, not big boldface lies. Morality totally aside, the author contends that everyone would benefit from committing to being truthful. Personally, I now find that I really enjoy the authenticity of owning and saying the truth in even the smallest of circumstances. I don't mean hurting people's feelings or anything like that. There is certainly diplomacy and kindness to consider, too. This book argues for the premise that it's just plain smart, emboldening and genuine to be an honest, straightforward truth-teller.

17 people found this helpful

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Insightful - Will Read Again

This is one that I knew I would agree with but fail to implement completely. I plan on reading many times in the future to gain the strength to change. Complete honesty in this society is tough. Loved this book.

11 people found this helpful

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Thought provoking for secular and religious alike

Where does Lying rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Very interesting read. I am a Christian and I am interested in learning about viewpoints that differ from mine. I thought this might be an "attack on religion" book. But I found it to be very well written and I was challenged with some very thought provoking ideas. And Sam Harris packs a lot into a relatively short work.

10 people found this helpful

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The truth as we don't want to see it.

I love everything Sam Harris has written. This book is no exception. I really wish I could argue with some of his ideas, but he makes such a strong case that I often have to resign myself to accept the unacceptable.

9 people found this helpful

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To tell the truth, I recommend this essay

This is an interesting essay. If you are someone who was already convinced of the value of (almost) always telling the truth then the author's training will provide reassuring confirmation that your choice was not just ethical, but seemingly logical. Yea!

If you are not one of those folks, then this essay would be an interesting look at the rational for and benefits of being scrupulously honest.

I think the topic of lying versus telling the truth (there's no English word that is the opposite of lying!) deserves a longer, more rigorous treatment though. This essay's a good start, but nothing more. I seem to remember a book called "The Big Book of Lies" that included lots of background and fascinating historical examples. It was a bit long if I remember correctly, so maybe something in between these two would hit the sweet spot.

In any case, I enjoyed this essay. I've never read anything by this author but may now having tasted this tidbit.

I recommend this essay to you if lying is a topic that interests you at all.

7 people found this helpful

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Persuasive case against lying.

Would you listen to Lying again? Why?

Yes. It is short, and it makes good points.

My favorite quote from the book:
"One of the worst things about breaking the law is that it puts you at odds with an indeterminate number of other people. This is one of the many corrosive effects of unjust laws. They temp peaceful and otherwise honest people to lie so as to avoid being punished for behavior that is ethically blameless."

If you could give Lying a new subtitle, what would it be?

How seemingly trivial lies hurt people and relationships

Any additional comments?

I listened to this book the day before my Eagle Scout board of review. I was asked many questions at the review, and I knew that some of the questions might be about religion. I am an atheist, which would prevent me from becoming an eagle scout. If I was asked about religion and claimed to be religious, I would have caved into an immoral rule and bullied into conformity instead of speaking unabashedly for the truth. I thought of how I would look back at that decision in the future, and I decided that I would rather not lie. However, if I had told them that I did not believe in their religion, I would have been kicked out of scouts. My parents would have been furious, and I would have had to explain the situation to my grandparents. I resolved that I would not lie at my board of review before I read this book, but this book helped convince me further. Religion never came up at my board of review. Kind of anticlimactic, considering I got butterflies in my stomach every time I thought of the board of review for the three months preceding it.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Dorian Stripe
  • 07-12-15

Reeks of arrogant male hubris

Sam Harris thinks he's better than you, because *he* never tells a lie. You must lie all the time. You definitely do. And those white lies you tell to make people feel better about themselves? Those are also terrible and make you a bad person.

Does a friend who is sensitive about her weight, single and struggling with her self-esteem *really* need to hear positive affirmations from a trusted friend, rather than a tirade about how she'll never get a husband if she doesn't go on a diet? Sam Harris does not think so. Similarly, his experience as a white guy going through customs and admitting he'd smoked weed on holiday will definitely be *exactly* the same as the experience of a person of colour.

*sigh* Basically, Harris believes that all actions exist in a vacuum. He's created a black-and-white view of truth and falsehood and refuses to believe it can alter. He takes his experience as ubiquitous and fails to acknowledge all the privileges he has as a white cishet man and how they impact the way he interacts with the world.

This book feels like listening to a white dude toss into a microphone whilst talking about how moral he is. So... if that's your thing? Otherwise, avoid like the plague. I nearly burst a blood vessel reading this.

18 people found this helpful

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  • Judy Corstjens
  • 09-25-16

Disappointingly short and narrow.

This is more of an essay than a book, and it barely scratches the surface of an interesting subject. In fact, a better title would be ‘White Lies’, because that is where Harris focusses his attention and where he has some worthwhile, commonsense, advice. So if you are worried about your ability to handle your reception of a badly chosen gift, this book may help.
Harris rather assumes a well-behaved, well-intentioned population living under a benign government under the rule of law, and misses a whole world of more thorny lying, both the causes and dilemmas. When you have given a youth sanctuary in your house and the murderous pursuer knocks on your front door, should you lie or should you rather consider a truth-respecting negotiation with the putative murderer that would perhaps give him the chance to reconsider his ill-chosen path, and you the chance to hand him to the police without endangering your neighbours? Mr Harris does not consider the case where the murderer is the police, as unfortunately occurs in rather large parts of the globe. Mr Harris does not discuss the impact of Political Correctness on open, honest, free speech, which is certainly even part of ‘White Lies’. He does not discuss how to deal with slanderous lies propagated on the internet and how an innocent person or company should try to countermand this modern pathology. He does not consider how we may lie to ourselves, and ignores the interesting research on dishonesty by Ariely in recent years. So overall, a rather small and limited take on a vast and complicated topic.

Narration. Mr Harris narrates himself. He frequently uses the phrases ‘Human Beans’ and “Lian’” (for lying). Just saying, it’s different from how I pronounce these key words, though I appreciate it’s just a question of accent.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Wras
  • 09-23-16

A wasteland of embarrassment and social upheaval

can be neatly avoided by following a single precept in life: Do not lie.”
― Sam Harris, Lying


A very small book that is a dissertation on lying, and the price we pay for omitting the truth or distorting it, the author argues very eloquently that almost never is a lie a good thing, and builds a case for living in full honesty, even when it appears uncomfortable.

“By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is. Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they can make—and in ways we cannot always predict. Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to.”
― Sam Harris, Lying

He does not frame it in a moralistic way but as a logical conclusion that liberates both the liar and the recipient of the lie from many burdens and possible negative outcomes, while building a better relationship and trust.

“Unlike statements of fact, which require no further work on our part, lies must be continually protected from collisions with reality.”
― Sam Harris, Lying

An excellent exploration of what is a way of life for some or an occasional failure for others; all of us have done it and have had others inflict it on us, making it very personal and useful topic that touches all of humanity. Everyday philosophy served as a very fulfilling read.

“Honesty is a gift we can give to others. It is also a source of power and an engine of simplicity.”
― Sam Harris, Lying

7 people found this helpful

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  • Lee
  • 05-12-14

Interesting essay

For an Audible 'short' it's an Essay on lying and not a lot else.
Not sure what i expected from the book but i wasn't left with anything more than i'd just listened to a guy talk to me over a dinner meeting.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Glenn
  • 09-03-15

thought provoking and inspiring

this is a short book and is basically a manifesto about how lying almost always leads to suffering and distrust. Harris addresses the difference between lying and telling everything well. very interesting is the addendum of readers questions and challenges
it is a very personal account with many practical expels from his life. I would have liked a bit more about other philosophical views on lying. however I recommend it highly.for those willing to consider another way of relating to others.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Yas
  • 01-13-15

Very insightful!

Worth a listen.. or two. Definitely have some food for thought! I w kills recommend.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Keoma
  • 10-17-15

Good but unconvincing

An enjoyable audiobook however in terms of philosophical argument it asks more questions than it answers.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Mr. R. Mallia
  • 01-12-17

Very good essay. Very short

Really good topic very well written and narration was great. However very short with half taken up with answers to questions. I felt it left me with more questions than answers about the truth philosophy

4 people found this helpful

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  • Marius
  • 09-01-15

An uplifting inspiration to live rather morally

The author has done a great job making this book pretty short, constructive and most importantly meaningful at all times. It also gives room for discussion and provides some thoughts of pros and cons in practical real life situations.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Kara
  • 12-03-16

Whistleing

The whistleing through the narrator's teeth when he pronounced words with 's' annoyed me very much and found it hard to listen to.

3 people found this helpful

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  • callum.price
  • 04-28-20

packs a huge punch in a short book

dont listen to many short books that can have a huge impact on my understanding of a subject.
would highly recommend to anyone who lies.. and those who dont

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-28-21

Worthless

By far and away, the worst audible book to which I have listened. I rarely leave full reviews, but this deserves a special mention. I found it comical that his answer to most questions at the end began with: “well, that is a difficult one”, and then he went on a convoluted way of trying to rationalise a white lie/semi-truth. His unnecessary anti-religion sentiment continues as per usual. His dull voice did not suit narrating the audiobook (and this is coming from a listener who generally prefers the authors be the narrators!). All in all, a very disappointing endeavour, and a waste of an Audible credit.

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  • Rachel N
  • 09-10-20

Stupendous

Sam Harris is phenomenal
I love this book, probably my favourite of his books. Great

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  • Beth
  • 12-04-19

worth the read

a great little book about lying and how it effects the people around you and society and the way it effects you.

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  • John P.
  • 09-29-19

Concise and obvious yet rarely followed

As usual, this writing from Sam Harris is written in a way that is so inherently logical is just seems obvious, yet everyone still lies. Helped me to do a reset of my brain, which in turn rid me of much needless anxiety. Highly recommended

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  • Anthony
  • 09-17-19

Being Honest about Lying

Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it’s main benefit was that it provided context and structure to concepts that need to be spoken about and fleshed out.

I would not say that this book provides as much insight as other books written by Sam Harris, but is something to consider moving forward in life and worth the short time it takes to listen to.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-03-19

Made me think

Sam always makes one to question one's believes and ingrained patterns.
I certainly took away some hints on how to phrase things differently.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 08-27-19

Fascinating, but short

Sam Harris exceptionally articulates why lying is such a disgraceful act. Excellent personal reminder to maintain honest communication with everyone in your life. Only negative is that it is very short.

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  • KZ
  • 08-11-19

Intelligent and solid

Really enjoyed this book, a vital acknowledgement for all people of all eras. May more of us flow with truth.

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  • Kirstyn
  • 07-10-19

3 minutes in and hell NO!

Why why why on earth would you get this dude to read this book? Why book ever?
My poor ears
Every time he says the letter S it whistles sharply like fingernails down a chalkboard
The worst!