Nudge continues his quest to gently reclaim human nature from its dysfunctional proclivities in this slender treatise on a slight"/>

On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done

Cass R. Sunstein, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $22 (100p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9473-8

The coauthor of the bestselling Nudge continues his quest to gently reclaim human nature from its dysfunctional proclivities in this slender treatise on a slight problem. Sunstein, a legal scholar and Office of Management and Budget adviser, insists that false rumors are a real scourge, now made exponentially direr by the Internet's facility in disseminating them. Rumors, Sunstein says, can cause financial panics and undermine democracy itself by fueling unfounded suspicions of leaders and institutions. He buttresses this thesis with a laborious exposition of the psychology of rumormongering, delving into experiments that prove, among other truisms, that people tend to believe rumors that gibe with their preconceptions. Sunstein's alarmism seems unfounded—are rumors really more threatening today than in the pre-Internet dark ages when they sparked pogroms?—and the book feels like a padded-out magazine article, climaxing in a few unobjectionable but underwhelming proposals to modestly tighten up libel law. The intellectual turf he has staked out, bounded by law, social regulation and pop psychology, seems played out—so perhaps he should let it lie fallow awhile. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 07/20/2009
Release date: 09/01/2009
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