New York Times contributor Ellin (Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight, and How Parents Can (and Can't) Help, 2005) investigates the art and science of duplicity.
The author’s fascination with liars and lying developed after a failed romance with “The Commander,” an ex–Navy Seal who claimed to be the high-level CIA operative mastermind behind the raid on Osama bin Laden. Dazzled by his charm and doctor credentials, Ellin believed everything he said. When she realized that her lover had been lying about everything from his personal status—he was engaged to another woman during their relationship—to his income, she broke off their involvement. The author then began exploring how and why society regards those taken in by con artists “with scorn, derision, even blame.” Drawing from research studies, interviews, and her own experiences, Ellin probes the phenomenon of lying. She begins with the premise that human beings are “social chameleons” who inhabit a “deceit spectrum.” Some lie to escape their own lives while others do it for predatory reasons. Still others, like the notorious British double agent Kim Philby, do it for professional reasons. Comparing her own experience to those of other victims, Ellin learned that the feelings of betrayal victims feel are often so intense that they can result in PTSD. For women, who, the author argues, feel betrayal more deeply than men, it can have the same traumatizing effects “as sexual assault.” Of course, females are every bit as deceitful as males, although society does not forgive them as easily as it does men. In the end and regardless of gender, people involved with con artists are complicit in their own victimization because they allow “willful blindness” or “self-doubt [to cloud] their suspicions.” Candid and entertaining, Ellin’s book offers insight into the socially and psychologically complex nature of deceit as well as the choices she made as a duped woman.
Lively, provocative reading.