The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity Review

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.

Title:The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

    Some Testimonial About This Book:

  • Robin Friedman

    A Nightmare A Body's Got To Live With In The DaytimeRobert Coover's, recent novel "Huck out West" carries the story of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and related characters through the Civil War to 187...

  • Sara

    The author is a Ghanian/ British philosopher who has spent most of his career in the US. He gets a little academic at times, but does a brilliant job of dissecting and debunking ideas of identity arou...

  • Jackie Law

    Divided into five main sections – creed, country, colour, class and culture – The Lies That Bind is a philosophical exploration of what is meant by identity in our contemporary world. To better un...

  • Steve

    Liked this book so much! Reminded me of his Cosmopolitanism book. Very good discussions of things like race, nationality, sex but I most of all liked his treatment of religions and cultures....

  • Mythili

    Reads like a series of undergrad lectures. I generally agree with him and enjoyed the board range of references he drew from but didn’t feel challenged or pushed or particularly surprised by anythin...

  • Jo

    I enjoyed this book. It was broad ranging and 'introductory' in nature - if you have specialised experience of some of the particular areas then it wouldn't take you into new territory - but the whole...

  • Chris

    When I read Cosmopolitanism, it was exactly what I needed; finally somebody was making sense, finally someone with global morals. Here, Appiah comes very close to Cosmopolitanism (which I consider his...

  • Robert Stevenson

    The book starts off with a decent beginning about how identity as a word evolved out of Erik Erikson sociological research in the 1960’s and then it adds nothing. After the intro, the book quickly d...

  • Salvatore

    A good primer on the subject. Identities are necessary to growth, to self-awareness, to challenge. And yet identities/groups/sub-groups don't explain the nuances. It's a delicate balance, a continuous...

  • Sam

    One of the better philosophy books I've read in awhile. It's well written and easy to comprehend (which says something for the philosophy genre) and the ideas are interesting and thought provoking. I ...