Books : reviews

William J. Majeski, Ralph Butler.
The Lie Detection Book.
Ballantine. 1988

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 21 August 2004

This book, by an ex-NYPD officer, explains how to tell if people are lying. The technique is reassuringly non-trivial: it requires a lot of self-training in observation and thinking.

Since nearly all the illustrative anecdotes are of police-style "interrogations", it's a little unclear exactly how this approach translates into "social" situations. The attempts at demonstrating such translation, for example the AIDS-risk scenario, show that it doesn't actually translate: you just can't ask those sorts of questions socially, and also the other party is under no obligation to sit around and answer them (or even to sit around in incriminating silence)!

The scenarios described are essentially all about people lying about actual crimes, people who appear to be desperate to confess, too. (Although there is an amusing little sketch of a poker game, with the author using his techniques to spot "bluffing".) The author appears to have more faith in the polygraph than more recent studies, too. And confession appears to the the aim of the game: what about false confessions?

The discussion of asking "open" questions (here called non "yes or no" questions), and the non-threatening approach to questioning, are worthwhile. But it is all too brief.