book-reviews

Liars and Outliers

by Bruce Schneier

Rating:

Given Schneier's background, I was expecting this book to focus on issues of security, and trust in security contexts. It was something of a pleasant surprise to find that his scope was more general than that: in essence, the book is an introduction to social technologies, how they work, and how they fail.

As such, it's certainly not a bad introduction. Schneier writes engagingly, with each chapter driving a set of loose-but-practical classifications of social activity with the application of some attention-holding explanations and examples. These are both classical examples, like the Hawks and Doves, the Prisoner's Dilemma, and the fisheries of the Common, and more modern and personal examples, like the TSA's anti-terror measures. Elements of psychology, sociology and economics (and what you might term 'decision science') are named and demonstrated.

The treatment was however definitely introductory, with mostly quite lightweight discussion of general problems or categories of problem in social technology. The book's level is very good for framing further exploration of particular problems, but it contains relatively little detail on any of them -- making it less likely to be wrong, and correspondingly less helpful.