Book Review: Trust Me, I’m Lying… by Ryan Holiday

If you spend any amount of time online, either writing blogs or reading blogs, then prepare to have one of two reactions when you read Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday:

1) You will read nothing you didn’t already know and you will be decidedly nonplussed.
2) You will be aghast at the nature of online media and you will feel like all hope is gone.

Now, I don’t exactly consider myself to be an online media babe in the woods. In fact, as a point of disclosure, I am close friends with someone quoted positively in the book as well as someone listed in the acknowledgements. (Also, I just think the cover and the design is cool as hell, while I’m opening up about things.) But the point is that I would not have previously considered myself to be naive about the way things work.

But goddamn.

There’s a level of gore and viscera revealed in the media slaughterhouse that was still shocking to me. It’s possible that you have spent years inside what Holiday calls the “boiler room” of professional blogging so maybe you’ll fall into the nonplussed category. But more likely, you’ll be shocked and surprised like I was.

Page after page is devoted to explaining how bloggers regurgitate press releases, mercilessly attack subjects, and generally sling shit around without any regard to veracity, thoughtful explication, or expertise. Although I like to think that lit blogging is a tiny bit of a different world than covering celebrities or politicians, it’s entirely possible that I’ve committed some of the crimes that Holiday details. Certainly, after finishing the book, I find myself examining my blogging and journalistic past and digging through my own dirt.

None of this is intended as a criticism towards Trust Me, I’m Lying. The book is engagingly written and offers a detailed explanation of the concepts that shape media coverage today. Wide-ranging sources and references from Perez Hilton to Wharton School research projects to Kierkegaard provide a wealth of support for Holiday’s arguments. And if you want to pick up some how-to tips about generating buzz for your new book or new video project or whatever, that information is certainly present. But it’s just as likely that you’ll end up depressed as you finish the book. Holiday offers no easy answers, no quick fixes for the state of our current media industry. Rather, he’s providing an dirty and grimy look inside the factory that shapes our cultural opinions and perspectives.

I’m not necessarily happy that I read Trust Me: I’m Lying. I don’t feel good right now. But that wasn’t Holiday’s intention. His goal was to explain, and he does that, candidly and openly.