The Lies That Bind

Rethinking Identity

Kwame Anthony Appiah (Author, Princeton University)

Logo markA Liveright book

 

From the best-selling author of Cosmopolitanism comes this revealing exploration of how the collective identities that shape our polarized world are riddled with contradiction.

Who do you think you are? That’s a question bound up in another: What do you think you are? Gender. Religion. Race. Nationality. Class. Culture. Such affiliations give contours to our sense of self, and shape our polarized world. Yet the collective identities they spawn are riddled with contradictions, and cratered with falsehoods.

Kwame Anthony Appiah’s The Lies That Bind is an incandescent exploration of the nature and history of the identities that define us. It challenges our assumptions about how identities work. We all know there are conflicts between identities, but Appiah shows how identities are created by conflict. Religion, he demonstrates, gains power because it isn’t primarily about belief. Our everyday notions of race are the detritus of discarded nineteenth-century science. Our cherished concept of the sovereign nation—of self-rule—is incoherent and unstable. Class systems can become entrenched by efforts to reform them. Even the very idea of Western culture is a shimmering mirage.

From Anton Wilhelm Amo, the eighteenth-century African child who miraculously became an eminent European philosopher before retiring back to Africa, to Italo Svevo, the literary marvel who changed citizenship without leaving home, to Appiah’s own father, Joseph, an anticolonial firebrand who was ready to give his life for a nation that did not yet exist, Appiah interweaves keen-edged argument with vibrant narratives to expose the myths behind our collective identities.

These “mistaken identities,” Appiah explains, can fuel some of our worst atrocities—from chattel slavery to genocide. And yet, he argues that social identities aren’t something we can simply do away with. They can usher in moral progress and bring significance to our lives by connecting the small scale of our daily existence with larger movements, causes, and concerns.

Elaborating a bold and clarifying new theory of identity, The Lies That Bind is a ringing philosophical statement for the anxious, conflict-ridden twenty-first century. This book will transform the way we think about who—and what—“we” are.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • Forthcoming August 2018
  • ISBN 978-1-63149-383-6
  • 6.1 × 9.3 in / 256 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide including Canada, Singapore and Malaysia, but excluding the British Commonwealth and the European Union.

Endorsements & Reviews

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

“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, a National Book Award finalist

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, author of Swing Time and Changing My Mind

“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

“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”

“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

“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

Also by Kwame Anthony Appiah All

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