The Lies That Bind
Kwame Anthony Appiah
We often think identity is personal. But the identities that shape the world, our struggles, and our hopes, are social ones, shared with countless others. Our sense of self is shaped by our family, but also by affiliations that spread out from there, like our nationality, culture, class, race and religion.
Taking these broad categories as a starting point, Professor Appiah challenges our assumptions about how identity works. In eloquent and lively chapters, he weaves personal anecdote with historical, cultural and literary example to explore the entanglements within the stories we tell ourselves. We all know there are conflicts among identities; but Professor Appiah explores how identities are created by conflict.
Identities are then crafted from confusions – confusions this book aims to help us sort through. Religion, Appiah shows us, isn’t primarily about beliefs. The idea of national self-determination is incoherent. Our everyday racial thinking is an artefact of discarded science. Class is not a matter of upper and lower. And the very idea of Western culture is a misleading myth. We will see our situation more clearly if we start to question these mistaken identities. This is radical new thinking from a master in the subject and will change forever the way we think about ourselves and our communities.
Appiah believes we're in wars of identity because we keep making the same mistake: exaggerating our differences with others and our similarities with our own kind... [his] writing is often fresh, even beautiful... We need more thinkers as wise as Appiah. -- Anand Giridharadas * New York Times Book Review * There is barely a word in his book I don't agree with -- Afua Hirsch This book will help a lot of people think with far more clarity about some of the thorniest issues of our times. An inspiring and essential read. -- Zadie Smith Appiah's essays are exquisitely and painstakingly argued. * Washington Post Book World * Erudite, personal, timely and deeply humane, this is a book for our time. -- Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of Strangers in Their Own Land [Appiah is] one of the most brilliant philosophers in the English-speaking world. He is an intellectual hero of mine... a brilliant and beautiful thinker. He writes with elan and clarity, erudition and wit. -- Chris Hayes, 'Why Is This Happening?' podcast Not only does that elegant writer and transcendent thinker, Anthony Appiah, clarify the historical gaslighting around color and racial stereotype, he also forges radical new theories of identity as they apply to almost every conceivable aspect of self. The Lies That Bind forces you to rethink what tribe you actually belong to with regard to race and religion, geography and gender, class and sexuality. Sheer genius and a joy to read. -- Mary Karr, author of The Art of Memoir Appiah makes the controversial and difficult subject of identity lucid, edifying, and even fun. When it comes to the humane values that allow us to live with one another, he may be our most penetrating?and entertaining?major philosopher. -- Atul Gawande, author of Being Mortal This wonderful book unravels a tapestry of suppositions about identity. Understanding what draws us together and what tears us apart lies at the core of democracy. This is a vital book, an antidote to violent nativism, and a key to success in the human experiment. -- Louise Erdrich, author of LaRose The terrible power of bad ideas is best resisted, as The Lies That Bind shows, by subjecting them to serious critical scrutiny. Identities central to contemporary cultures can be both historically grounded and utterly misconceived. There is so much to learn from Anthony Appiah's splendid book. -- Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics The Lies That Bind ranges even more widely in time and space than [Francis Fukuyama's] Identity... The point of this entertaining, meandering journey is that identities are less solid than is frequently thought. * Economist * The Lies That Bind is a wise and erudite introduction to this most vexed of subjects. -- Houman Barekat * Irish Times * Excellent... Appiah hopes to inspire a rethinking of our restrictive and therefore divisive notions of who we are. But if that seems an impossible task, should the massive obstacles stop us from trying? [Appiah] brings to the task a number of insights and the mind of a realist... if the solution to the fracturing of our world remains elusive, this book at least helps us think clearly about the problem. -- Clifford Thompson * The Washington Post * If you are going to read only one book on identity this year, Appiah's is the one * The Guardian * A topical study, particularly given today's societal divisions in the US and UK. * The Tablet * The Lies that Bind is a small volume of mighty power. In his lucid prose, Appiah elegantly dismantles the humbug, dogma, pseudo-science and propaganda that have long dogged our attempts to discuss 'identity,' and offers in their place a practical and philosophical tool-kit, as subtly radical in its aims as it is humane in application. From the illusions of 19th century ideas of biological destiny, to the late-capitalist logic of our contemporary 'cultural appropriation' debates, this book will help a lot of people think with far more clarity about some of the thorniest issues of our times. An inspiring and essential read. -- Zadie Smith Through this meditative journey, Appiah calls on us to buckle down to the difficult task of living with complexity -that is, the task of being modern. Erudite, personal, timely and deeply humane, this is a book for our time. -- Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of Strangers in Their Own Land Kwame Anthony Appiah again demonstrates that he is one of our foremost writers on identity, culture, and difference. With his trademark clarity, elegance, and rigor, he is a most useful guide to thinking through some of the complicated problems of who we are and what we can be. -- Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer A provocative and brilliant intervention into the current discussion of the role identity plays in our society. We're doing it all wrong, as Appiah demonstrates with characteristic erudition, clear thinking, and elegant prose. -- Annette Gordon-Reed, co-author of the bestselling 'Most Blessed of the Patriarchs'
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