Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain

Norton. Mar. 2021. 264p. ISBN 9780393652208. $27.95. PSYCH
Many books have been written about the downside of self-deception. Journalists Vedantam (host of podcast and radio show Hidden Brain and author of the best-selling book of the same name) and Mesler provide a counter argument. They maintain that some deceptions are functional, as they enable us to accomplish social, psychological, and biological goals. In the introduction, Vedantam makes the case that believing what we want to believe and seeing what we want to see is often the result of one’s circumstances. When thinking of deception, the authors urge readers to ask more complicated questions: What are the costs and benefits? Whom does the falsehood serve? In a particular situation, is it more important to be honest or kind? Referencing both historical resources and popular culture, the authors show how the lies we tell are often societal niceties. The chapter on the founding myths of the United States, and what it means to be a nation, make for urgent reading. It is essential not to miss the authors’ more significant proposition: to compassionately consider others’ perspectives even if they do not seem rational or true.
VERDICT This excellent narrative nonfiction work will engage a variety of readers, and is a solid choice for book clubs who like to discuss current events.
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