In his new book for young readers Mark Kurlansky’s lens is the art of the “big lie,” a term coined by Adolph Hitler. Kurlansky has written Big Lies: From Socrates to Social Media for the next stewards of our world. It is not only a history but a how-to manual for seeing through big lies and thinking critically.
Mark Kurlansky’s bestselling works of nonfiction view the history of the world through unexpected lenses, including cod, salt, and paper. In this new book for young readers his lens is the art of the big lie. Big lies are told by governments, politicians, and corporations to avoid responsibility, cast blame on the innocent, win elections, disguise intent, create chaos, and gain power and wealth. Big lies are as old as civilization. They corrupt public understanding and discourse, turn science upside down, and reinvent history. They prevent humanity from addressing critical challenges. They perpetuate injustices. They destabilize the world.
As with his book World Without Fish, Kurlansky has written A History of Big Lies for young readers, the future stewards of our world. It is not only a history but a how-to manual for seeing through big lies and thinking critically. “I hope that you will keep asking yourself what is true as you read this book and live your life,” he entreats readers at the outset. “If the Age of Enlightenment is not to be followed by the Age of Chaos, we have to think for ourselves.”
A History of Big Lies soars across history, alighting on the “noble lies” of Socrates and Plato, Nero blaming Christians for the burning of Rome, the great injustices of the Middle Ages, the big lies of Stalin and Hitler and their terrible consequences, and the reckless lies of contemporary demagogues, which are amplified through social media. Lies against women and Jews are two examples in the long history of “othering” the vulnerable for personal gain. Nor does America escape Kurlansky’s equal-opportunity spotlight.
The modern age has provided ever-more-effective ways of spreading lies, but it has also given us the scientific method, which is the most effective tool for finding what is true. In the book’s final chapter, Kurlansky reveals ways to deconstruct an allegation. Is there credible, testable evidence to support it? If not, suspect a lie. A scientific theory has to be testable, and so does an allegation. Who is the source? Who benefits? Is there a money trail? Especially in the age of social media, critical thinking counters lies and chaos.
“Belief is a choice,” Kurlansky writes, “and honesty begins in each of us. A lack of caring what is true or false is the undoing of democracy. The alternative to truth is a corrupt state in which the loudest voices and most seductive lies confer power and wealth on grifters and oligarchs. We cannot achieve a healthy planet for all the world’s people if we do not keep asking what is true.”
Mark Kurlansky is an American journalist and writer of general interest non-fiction. He has written a number of books of fiction and non-fiction. His 1997 book, Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, was an international bestseller and was translated into more than 15 languages.
Eric Zelz (Bangor, ME) is a designer, illustrator, and educator who enjoys travel and hiking with his family. Eric's illustration, design, and journalistic work has been recognized by organizations including the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Society of News Design. He is the illustrator of Pass The Pandowdy, Please and Read This Book If You Don't Want A Story, and shares his work at www.ericzelz.com