Thoughts, notes, review on Lying by Sam Harris

Narrated by: Sam Harris
Length: 1 hr and 15 mins
Release date: 11-19-13


Got a recommendation for Sam Harris from a friend, and someone else told me they listen to his podcast called ‘waking up with Sam Harris’ , so as this was a smallish book, and I didn’t want to take the time to take notes on another book I’m currently listening to, I went for this.

What’s it about?

It is… exactly what you think it’s about given the title.

Its only 1 hr 15 mins long, however in fact its actually about half that.  Because the 2nd half is about answering questions that people had when the book was originally and e-book publication.  Questions that people brought up about his previous writing.

The book goes through what is a lie, why it is important not to lie… how this impacts other etc. etc.

Reflections for myself.  Beneficial at all?

To be honest, I feel like the book wasn’t directly written for a person like me, because I don’t hold lying to be a normal part of my value system. That’s not actually how I see it, and its not how others see it. But its more that I am abhorrently against lying, and others seem to more casually accept it as a useful tool.

I want to not lie as much as possible because I don’t feel it gets anywhere….unless its actually tactful to do so.

At the same time, I feel like this book is ammunition to combat people around me that have these tendencies.  Which IS definitely useful.

I know some people that… for whatever reason just embrace lying as a normal part of life… and when I point it out that what they’re saying is not true… they get angry. So in understand how lies affect others, and the consequences as outlined in this book has given me confidence to approach these people next time something like this comes up.

The 2 types of lies he lists out, – choosing to falsify something or cheat by actively engaging in the lie, and 2. Choosing to leave things out, lying by omission. Was quite interesting.

As is the brief explanation on White lies. As he states – By lying (white lie) we deny our friends access to reality.

So lots I agree with, and still a lot that could help dealing with people around me.

I wish they’d read this book themselves… but chances of that is slim.

I think his most important point was – ‘To lie is to deny reality’.

Conclusion – should you get the book?

Yeah, why not. Find it on a sale, it really is just 1 hr long, so it’s not going to be ‘worth’ a credit from audible or anything like that.

But it’s a worthy listen, something you can do in 1 long car trip somewhere.

The book is decent, but short, but its reasonably concise.

One thing I wish he brought up, which he didn’t

What about the situation in which a person is ignorant and not necessarily lying (as lying is not telling the truth with the intention to deceive) yet is not aware of the reality of the situation?

As a friend of this person, are we to remain complicit in the lie that we are now part of, because we DO know the truth, and we have the opportunity and the obligation (going to what he was saying earlier in the book) to inform them what they don’t know?

Keeping in mind some of the things stated in the book:
“False encouragement is a kind of theft. It steals time energy and motivation that somebody could put towards some other purpose.

-In many circumstances in life, false encouragements can be very costly to a person.

-Lying can sometimes be seen as a clear failure of friendship.

-In lying to them, you’re not only not helping, but denying them useful information and potentially setting them up for failure in the future.

-Deciding how much a person should know about himself sounds like the quintessence of arrogance.”

Yet if they’re happy in their ignorance…. What should be done?


‘The Ethical Analyst’ – Apparently a course that he took that was meant to be pretty good.

To lie is to intentional mislead others when they expect honest communication.

Poker players , magicians are off the hook.

People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true.

Honest people are a refuge.

It’s very rare to meet an honest person.

Knowing we told the truth in the past leaves us nothing to keep track of in the past.

You can be honest and kind. Because the purpose of telling someone he truth is to give them the information that you have…And would want them to have, or for you to have had the roles been reversed.

A commitment to telling the truth requires someone’s to pay attention to what the truth is in each moment.

Steering the topic or holding ones tongue is not the same as lying.

I feel this book isn’t directly for me. However good as ammunition for those people around me that I feel do live their lives by lying.

2 types of lies.

  1. The bad things we do. Acts of commission.
  2. The good things we don’t do. The acts of omission.

For example reaching into a till to steal 4100
Or failing to give back $100 if it had been accidentally given to you.
One is more severe. It’s the intention at the start to lie/ steal/ be disingenuous.

Failure to correct false assumptions is category 2.

White lies

Me. Normally a lie we tell that is done to spare people’s feelings, is disingenuous, however is told out of compassion for another person.

Him. By lying we deny our friends access to reality.
Me. Good point.

Sometimes though the question is ‘how do I look?’
And you think she actually means…Tell me how I look good. Then do that.
But if you think she’s asking how do I actually look, does this dress suit me?

Then you need to tell her the truth.

False encouragement is a kind of theft. It steals time energy and motivation that somebody could put towards some other purpose.

In many circumstances in life false encouragements can be very costly to a person.
Lying can sometimes be seen as a clear failure of friendship.

We aren’t necessarily correct in all our judgments of other people.

Honesty dictates we should communicate any uncertainty we have in the relevance of our opinions.

But if we are convinced our friend has taken a wrong turn in life, it is no sign of our friendship to simply smile and wave him onward.

Maybe the obvious truth is difficult to tell, but background truths are not.

In lying to them, you’re not only not helping, but denying them useful information and potentially setting them up for failure in the future.

Deciding how much a person should know about himself sounds like the quintessence of arrogance.

What the hell is MS? some sort of medical disease or condition.

Think of all the opportunities for love, understanding, compassion that are forsaken by white lies of the kind that you do to ‘protect people’

If we pretend not to know the truth, we pretend not to be motivated by it.

Me. What does he mean by that? And can I reflect on it?


Faint praise.

Telling someone the truth when they don’t what to hear it…Or is difficult to hear it, when the statement is negative…Means that they now have that trust in you when you tell them something positive. You’ve earned that credibility. You’re not just a ‘yes person’.


To agree to keep a secret is to assume a burden.
At minimum, it is to remember what one is not supposed to talk about.

Deciding to lie is to decide that you will never have a genuine friendship with that person.
Me. Is that what he said? And I doubt that’s true.

A liar must take care of what he said and to whom, to take care and maintain all the different lies that he has said.

To maintain them, to not be caught out by his own deception.

It generally means we avoid behaviour which leads to shame or loss.

Must not feel the need to lie about our personal lives.
To lie is to erect a boundary about the true situation and the perception others have about us.

He says lying almost by definition is a refusal to cooperate with others.
Me. Is that true?

By lying we deny others our view of the world.

It determines people’s choices they can make.

By lying to one person, it can often affect others or the whole of societies sometimes.
We can’t tell when, or how it might collide with reality.
Or to what extent.

Lies are the social equivalent of toxic waste…Everyone is potentially hurt by their spread.

Fiction can be both meaningful and fun. So lying about Santa Claus… Or a story book…Or Jesus… Can be OK, (I think that’s his point) provided it doesn’t detract from any important messages about the individual and it is just fun and imaginative.

Me. Maybe that’s not exactly what he was saying. But there’s some truth to that regardless.

In Japan.
Honea is the thought or feeling of what someone really thinks
Tatamei = The opinion you express when the truth is inconvenient or disadvantageous.

People in Japan often shift between the 2.

In his questions. Telling the truth to someone about to have surgery with a slim chance of success would be detrimental for their psychology, and would go against the benefits of the help with the placebo effect in medicine.

Pretty good. But short. Yet at the same time very concise, and important that you take notes.