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Lie Detectors The History of an American Obsession

ISBN-10: 0743259882
ISBN-13: 9780743259880
Edition: 2007
Authors: Ken Alder
List price: $27.00
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Description: The story of the lie detector takes us straight into the dark recesses of the American soul. It also leads us on a noir journey through some of the most storied episodes in American history. That is because the device we take for granted as an  More...

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Book details

List price: $27.00
Copyright year: 2007
Publisher: Free Press
Publication date: 3/6/2007
Binding: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Size: 6.20" wide x 9.25" long x 1.00" tall
Weight: 1.144
Language: English

The story of the lie detector takes us straight into the dark recesses of the American soul. It also leads us on a noir journey through some of the most storied episodes in American history. That is because the device we take for granted as an indicator of guilt or innocence actually tells us more about our beliefs than about our deeds. The machine does not measure deception so much as feelings of guilt or shame. As Ken Alder reveals in his fascinating and disturbing account, the history of the lie detector exposes fundamental truths about our culture: why we long to know the secret thoughts of our fellow citizens; why we believe in popular science; and why America embraced the culture of "truthiness." For centuries, people searched in vain for a way to unmask liars, seeking clues in blushing cheeks, shifty eyes, and curling toes...all the body's outward signs. But not until the 1920s did a cop with a Ph.D. team up with an entrepreneurial high school student from Berkeley, California and claim to have invented a foolproof machine that peered directly into the human heart. In a few short years their polygraph had transformed police work, seized headlines, solved sensational murders, and enthralled the nation. In Chicago, the capital of American vice, the two men wielded their device to clean up corruption, reform the police, and probe the minds of infamous killers. Before long the lie detector had become the nation's "mechanical conscience," searching for honesty on Main Street, in Hollywood, and even within Washington, D.C. Husbands and wives tested each other's fidelity. Corporations tested their employees' honesty. Movie studios and advertisers tested their audiences' responses. Eventually, thousands of government employees were tested for their loyalty and "morals" -- for lack of which many lost their jobs. Yet the machine was flawed. It often was used to accuse the wrong person. It could easily be beaten by those who knew how. Repeatedly it has been applied as an instrument of psychological torture, with the goal of extracting confessions. And its creators paid a commensurate price. One went mad trying to destroy the Frankenstein's monster he had created. The other became consumed by mistrust: jealous of his cheating wife, contemptuous of his former mentor, and driven to an early death. The only happy man among the machine's champions was the eccentric psychologist who went on to achieve glory as the creator of Wonder Woman. Yet this deceptive device took America -- and only America -- by storm. Today, the CIA still administers polygraphs to its employees. Accused celebrities loudly trumpet its clean bill of truth. And the U.S. government, as part of its new "war on terror," is currently exploring forms of lie detection that reach directly into the brain. Apparently, America still dreams of a technology that will render human beings transparent. The Lie Detectorsis the entertaining and thought-provoking story of that American obsession.

Preface
The Athens of the Pacific
"Science Nabs Sorority Sneak"
Policing the Polis
A Window on the Soul
Monsterwork and Son
The Simple Home
Poisonville
"Subjective and Objective, Sir"
If the Truth Came to Chicago
The City of Clinical Material
Machine v. Machine
Testing, Testing
Traces
A Science of the Singular
Fidelity
Truth, Justice, and the American Lie Detector
A Lie Detector of Curves and Muscle
Atomic Lies
Pinkos
Deus Ex Machina
Frankenstein Lives!
Box Populi
Epilogue
Note on Sources
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Acknowledgments
Index

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