Book review: Post Truth by Matthew D’Ancona

Book review: Post Truth by Matthew D'Ancona [Cover image from Netgalley.com]Post Truth: The new war on truth and how to fight back by Matthew D’Ancona
Publication date: 18 May 2017
Genre: Non-fiction (Adult), Politics
Length*: 2 hours 16 minutes
(*based on the time it took me to read this title)
Published by: Ebury Publishing, Penguin Random House UK
Available at: Amazon.co.uk, Goodreads
My rating: 3 out of 5

Publisher’s description:

Welcome to the Post-Truth era — a time in which the art of the lie is shaking the very foundations of democracy and the world as we know it. The Brexit vote; Donald Trump’s victory; the rejection of climate change science; the vilification of immigrants; all have been based on the power to evoke feelings and not facts. So what does it all mean and how can we champion truth in in a time of lies and ‘alternative facts’?

In this eye-opening and timely book, Post-Truth is distinguished from a long tradition of political lies, exaggeration and spin. What is new is not the mendacity of politicians but the public’s response to it and the ability of new technologies and social media to manipulate, polarise and entrench opinion. Where trust has evaporated, conspiracy theories thrive, the authority of the media wilt and emotions matter more than facts.

Now, one of the UK’s most respected political journalists, Matthew d’Ancona investigates how we got here, why quiet resignation is not an option and how we can and must fight back.

My review:

I have gone back and forth for the last week thinking about what rating I would give this book. On the one hand, a four because it is a book flagging an important issue of the moment that we should all be vividly aware of, no matter which end of the political spectrum we identify with; but a three because the title and the publisher’s description led me to think that the book would be more instructive in ‘the ways to fight back’ than it actually is.

The book is well-written, clearly explaining its thesis. It reads like a very long political feature article, with the effect that it is accessible and easily consumed. The book illustrates where we find ourselves, some of the history that has got us here, and why we should all be concerned. The book goes on to say that we should do something about it, that it is our intellectual (and perhaps even moral) responsibility to act in defiance to information that contains emotive hooks but little or no factual evidence. I agree.

However, the final chapter, which is where this book states itself as a manifesto and call to arms, contains little more than a reinforcement of the arguments stated in the previous chapters while pointing out that what makes ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ so compelling are their emotional hooks and a suggestion that in our attempts to give a voice back to truth based on hard facts we should make sure we present them in a way that appeals on this compelling emotional level; facts should be presented in such a way that a non-expert can understand the resulting impact and why it should matter to them. This may be all that is needed to be said if your audience are people from the media industries and industries that routinely output information for mass consumption, but what about the ‘normal’ person who is seeking a way to tackle misinformation on a daily basis? The only advice offered is to independently verify facts for yourself before taking them as truth. But what if you are an ordinary person who already does this, who already employs critical thinking in all areas of your life? If this book is to truly be a call to action, it needs to equip ordinary individuals in how they can directly tackle and dilute fake facts, disarming them, reducing their power to become the new truth. I found this information to be lacking, which was disappointing as this was my primary interest in the book. (Or perhaps I simply misunderstood what was written.)

That said, I maintain the idea that this is an important book to read, if only to provoke debate and self-interrogation in search of everyday means to neutralise the growing trend of a select few deciding what is truth, even in the face of the facts that should (but no longer seem to) show that the truth lies somewhere else.

Thank you to Ebury Publishing, Penguin Random House, and Netgalley for providing me with an advance e-book of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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