Book Review | Telling Lies by Paul Ekman

Updated: Jun 26

Birth: February 15, 1934, Washington, DC, USA


Telling Lies by Paul Ekman - 1985

Paul Ekman is an American psychologist who is a pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. He has created an "atlas of emotions" with more than ten thousand facial expressions, and has gained a reputation as the best human lie detector in the world.


He is also the author of world famous books such as Moving Toward Global Compassion, Nonverbal Message, Emotional Awareness, Emotions Revealed and Telling Lies.



The title of this book is actually not inclusive, "I Know What You Think" could be a better title.

The book is about the psychology of lying, the physiological reactions that occur when someone is being deceptive, and an analysis of the profession of lie catchers (polygraph examiners, investigators, interrogators, etc.) and their efficacy.


Interesting read from an intellectual curiosity standpoint, but I wouldn't say everyone must read this.



“Smiles are probably the most underrated facial expressions, much more complicated than most people realize. There are dozens of smiles, each differing in appearance and in the message expressed.” /Paul Ekman
“People also smile when they are miserable.” /Paul Ekman
“Most often lies fail because some sign of an emotion being concealed leaks. The stronger the emotions involved in the lie, and the greater the number of different emotions, the more likely it is that the lie will be betrayed by some form of behavioral leakage.” /Paul Ekman
“Remember that the polygraph test is not a lie detector. It only detects emotional arousal.” /Paul Ekman
“Emotions change how we see the world and how we interpret the actions of others. We do not seek to challenge why we are feeling a particular emotion; instead, we seek to confirm it.” /Paul Ekman

“No important relationship survives if trust is totally lost.”

“Suspicious people should be terrible lie catchers, prone to disbelieving-the-truth” /Paul Ekman
“The unhappy person is expected to conceal negative feelings, putting on a polite smile to accompany the “Just fine, thank you, and how are you?” reply to the “How are you today?” The true feelings will probably go undetected, not because the smile is such a good mask but because in polite exchanges people rarely care how the other person actually feels.” /Paul Ekman
“Emotions can override…the more powerful fundamental motives that drive our lives: hunger, sex, and the will to survive. People will not eat if they think the only food available is disgusting. They may even die, although other people might consider that same food palatable. Emotion triumphs over the hunger drive! A person may never attempt sexual contact because of the interference of fear or disgust, or may never be able to complete a sexual act. Emotion triumphs over the sex drive! And despair can overwhelm even the will to live, motivating a suicide. Emotions triumph over the will to live!” /Paul Ekman
“A broken promise is not a lie.” /Paul Ekman
“In some instances, you may care so much about the person who has hurt you, or be so unable to be angry with him (or with anyone), that you rationalize his hurtful acts by finding some basis in your own actions for his hurtful behavior; you then feel guilty rather than angry. Put in other terms, you become angry with yourself rather than with the one who hurt you.” /Paul Ekman

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