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The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession Paperback – April 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


“The lie detector and its strange persistent grip on the American imagination offers rich material for Mr. Alder to work with. How many stories require William James, Gertrude Stein and Dick Tracy for the telling, not to mention criminals like the Torso Murderer of Cleveland? Stir into the mix a mutually hostile coterie of inventors, scientific visionaries and outright hucksters, and you have the ingredients for a heady brew.”—William Grimes, New York Times

“A rollicking good time.”— Robin Marantz Henig,
Wall Street Journal

“This engrossing portrait of two lives ruled by the lie detector is enhanced by Alder's cultural clarity about the credence accorded to the mechanical confessional.”—Gilbert Taylor,

“Alder spins a yarn of scientific innovation and personal vituperation set against the backdrop of mid-20th-century America. . . . While painting a rich, complex portrait of these men, Alder remains admirably skeptical of the machine itself, which he says is a uniquely American invention, designed to satisfy “a nation obsessed by criminal disorder and political corruption.’”—
Publishers Weekly

“[Alder] offers us a rich history, organized around the careers of the individuals who conceived, developed and marketed the lie detector. He does not shy away from discussing larger questions about the culture that embraced the machine and allowed it to flourish, but he patiently waits until the developments in his story beg such discussion.  The result is a fluent tale, personal yet pensive, well researched yet far from stuffy. This is Alder’s distinct style, and it has made him of the very few academic historians of science who have been able to cross over and attract large numbers of lay readers.”—Tal Golan,
American Scientist

“[A] revealing, colloquial social history.”—David Wallace-Wells,
Washington Monthly

The Lie Detectors, Alder has penned the definitive account of the device's invention and its explosion on the American stage."—Jon M. Sands, Jurimetrics

About the Author

Ken Alder is a professor of history and the Milton H. Wilson Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error that Transformed the World and Engineering the Revolution.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Bison Books; Illustrated edition (April 1, 2009)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 368 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0803224591
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0803224599
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.09 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 0.76 x 9 inches
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