Photo credit: Petr Hlinomaz
Describe your book.
The 2016 presidential campaign and the first year of the Trump presidency made it clear that facts and the very idea of truth are under assault. The Washington Post
calculated that President Trump made 2,140 false or misleading claims during his first year in office — that’s an average of nearly 5.9 claims a day. And Trump is only the most shameless and visible purveyor of “alternative facts”: his Republican enablers in Congress, the right-wing media that amplifies his message, and Russian trolls who spread fake news far and wide over social media are all examples — and accelerants — of the mendacity and misinformation that is flooding the world and undermining the foundations of democracy.
In The Death of Truth
, I wanted to look at how we got here: how we lost our sense of a shared reality, how observable and basic scientific facts came to be routinely contested, how relativism — the belief that everything depends on your point of view — took root in popular culture.
Watergate, the war in Iraq (and failure to find WMDs), and the financial crash of 2008 all played understandable roles in a growing public cynicism, and a loss of confidence in government, the media, and big business. So, too, have broader social dynamics — including the ever-growing polarization of our politics, the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, the elevation of subjectivity over objective truth, and the proliferation of filter-bubbles and echo chambers on the Web, which has made “confirmation bias” and the cherry-picking of information increasingly common. The partisanship of our politics has resulted in a virulent tribalism that defies Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s common-sense wisdom that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,” while Trump and Russian trolls amplify discord and division for their own self-serving ends.
The Death of Truth
also explores the grave consequences of these developments. When the public comes to believe that all politicians lie and that all policies are transactional (a view that Trump promotes with his unprecedented volume of falsehoods and deliberate sowing of chaos), nihilism replaces trust. Without truth, there is no way for voters to make rational decisions at the ballot box, no way for government officials to make judicious policy decisions, no way for the public to hold politicians accountable.
What was your favorite book as a child?
A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L’Engle.
What does your writing workplace look like?
Half a dozen teetering stacks of books on the desk and the floor. More stacks of file folders, legal pads, marble-cover composition books, and print-outs of articles and drafts. A small snowstorm of Post-it notes and index cards in assorted colors.
Introduce an author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Don DeLillo's White Noise
Offer a favorite sentence from another writer.
F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby
: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
Popeyes fried chicken and TV reruns of The Twilight Zone
Five Great Memoirs:
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers
Dreams From My Father
by Barack Obama
Out of Egypt
by André Aciman
The Liars’ Club
by Mary Karr
The Hare With Amber Eyes
by Edmund de Waal
÷ ÷ ÷
, former chief book critic for The New York Times
, is the author of the forthcoming book The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump
. Follow her on Twitter
and on Instagram.