A history of labels

The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah (Profile Books; £14.99) reviewed by Meltem Osman.

The Lies That Bind is a global and up-to-date examination of identity. Bringing together literature from psychology, philosophy, sociology, and theology, to provide a thoughtful exploration of creed, country, colour, class, and culture, Appiah intriguingly unpicks the different axes along which we have come to define ourselves, and how these labels of identity have come to define us. By reviewing the literature and tracking the formation of identity labels historically, Appiah demonstrates how our current definitions can constrain us and contribute to harmful narratives in society.

This book is educational and thought provoking, particularly given the current context of major divisions in our society. The impact of science, including psychological research, on the formation of substantial divisions along identity lines is also considered. For example, Appiah highlights the harmful effects of the eugenics movement, including the use of IQ to facilitate oppression, providing a crucial reminder of the importance of conducting research and using science ethically.

Throughout this dense, academic read, having a dictionary to hand was certainly useful at times. However, Appiah’s academic storytelling, weaving tales of historical figures and personal anecdotes through the literature, helps alleviate the intellectual density, bringing the ideas presented to life. Ultimately, The Lies That Bind is a wonderful demonstration of how human psychology can be complemented by philosophy and the continuous questioning of our assumptions about identities and their hold on us.

Reviewed by Meltem Osman, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, University of Plymouth

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