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Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
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How False Statements Are Undermining America, from Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff

missing imageInvestigative reporter and author of Blood Sport: The President and His Adversaries (1997), Den of Thieves (1992), DisneyWar ( 3 of 5 Stars May/June 2005), and Heart of a Soldier: A Story of Love, Heroism and September 11th (2002), Pulitzer Prize winner James B. Stewart examines an epidemic of lies based on the example of four recent and highly publicized scandals.

The Topic: "We appear to be on the brink of becoming a society where perjury is the norm," James B. Stewart writes in his examination of an epidemic of lying in America. "The consequences are devastating." The four personalities who figure prominently in the book--Martha Stewart, Scooter Libby, Barry Bonds, and Bernie Madoff--have become as famous for their deceptions as they ever were for their achievements while working at the top of their respective professions. Those false statements--on the surface, they seem to amount to little more than victimless crimes--undermine, surely and insidiously, the necessity for honesty and transparency in everyday life, Stewart contends. Why has perjury become commonplace? Pride, greed, loyalty--sure, those all matter. But the real reason, Stewart writes, "seems only too obvious: they thought they could get away with it."
Penguin. 496 pages $29.95. ISBN: 9781594202698.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"Journalist James B. Stewart has earned a reputation as a sober and diligent reporter primarily in the financial field. ... His latest book has a sense of outrage and disgust fueling it because Mr. Stewart has come to believe that ‘perjury has infected nearly every aspect of society,' a trend reflected in the dozens of instances of lying under oath from former President Clinton down to former star pitcher Roger Clemens." Bob Hoover

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"James B. Stewart's new book on the epidemic of lying in America is timely and uses recent cases ... to show how perjury and false statements are overwhelming the legal system and every aspect of our culture." Jeff Baker

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In his provocative and hard-hitting new book, James B. Stewart warns of the risks from an epidemic of perjury. ... His absorbing, well-documented narratives allow readers a rare opportunity to ask themselves how they would respond if they had to raise their hands and testify under oath." Sissela Bok

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"It is an exhaustive--and exhausting--bit of reporting, and narrative writing. ... In the end, you wish for less arcane detail (which includes long conversations) and more analysis." Scott Martelle

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"A gifted storyteller with a knack for parsing technical terms and arcane practices, Stewart raises important questions about insider trading, national security leaks and the determination of the press to protect confidential sources. He does not, however, make a compelling case that in recent decades lying has become more pervasive or is less likely to go unpunished." Glenn C. Altschuler

Critical Summary

James B. Stewart proved a capable and attentive documenter of politics and finance in Blood Sport: The President and His Adversaries, an examination of political power in the Clinton administration, and Den of Thieves, which is based on his award-winning coverage for the Wall Street Journal of the insider-trading scandals of the 1980s. That attention to detail gives Tangled Webs a substance that goes beyond a superficial look at lying and its consequences. For Stewart, the four cases under consideration suggest a systemic blight that threatens the very fabric of our society. Whether the author makes his case as fully as he might have liked is open to debate. Still, Stewart is a gifted writer and journalist and his legwork impeccable, including a comprehensive canvassing of those close to the cases and access to court transcripts and other newly released documents. We know lying is bad. Stewart, as always, brings those you-are-there details that make that foregone conclusion interesting.