Wednesday Book Review On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt

On Bullshit by Harry G. Frankfurt

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Book Triggers: None

Honestly, this is not the type of book I ever planned on reviewing for this blog, but it was too amazing to pass up. I picked up this book, On Bullshit, while looking through one of the self-help sections in the library near my house. I thought it was funny that someone wrote a book that was just about the word bullshit. I figured it would be a short read that would tickle my odd sense of humor and I was right, what I did not expect was to actually learn a lot about myself from this book.

On Bullshit was an essay written by Hank G. Frankfurt in 1986, which was later published as a book in 2005. Frankfurt’s goal was to define what bullshit actually was and why it seemed like there was more of it going on in 1986 than in the past. This essay holds up well today, where it feels like everyone is always trying to sell us something we may or may not want.

The first thing I learned in this book was that the word humbug is an actual word and has nothing to do with Christmas. I always thought it was just something Scrooge said, as a child, I never actually wondered what the meaning was. According to the Oxford dictionary, it means “deceptive or false talk or behavior.” Who knew?

Anyway, Frankfurt goes on to recant Max Black’s essay, The Prevalence of Humbug. In this essay Black describes“a Fourth of July orator, who goes on bombastically about ‘our great and blessed country, whose Founding Fathers under divine guidance created a new beginning for mankind.’ This is surely humbug.” I don’t know why, but the thought of someone calling this humbug made me laugh so hard. He explains that it is only humbug because the man does not care rather or not what he says is true, just that you think this is his core belief. Frankfurt goes on to explain that while humbug and bullshit are similar, they are not the same thing.

There are more examples like this throughout this book that just tickle me to the bone. He goes on to explain the meanings of bull, bull session, and even excrement it’s self. There is a very serious part where he compares excrement to speaking hot air” and I almost died. This book is not meant to be funny in any way and is very educational, but I can not get over the fact that someone wrote a whole essay on the meaning of bullshit.

What really made me want to review this book is how he explains the difference between an honest person, a liar, and a bullshitter. “It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth.” An honest person knows the truth and speaks it, a liar knows the truth and tries to make you believe something else. While a bullshitter does not care if what they say is true or not, just how they are perceived. He goes way deeper in the book, but reading his comparisons made me think about how many times I’ve bullshitted my way through things that I didn’t have to. I do it as a defense mechanism, to protect myself from judgment. But is that something I really have to do?

Frankfurt goes on to explain why it feels like there is so much bullshit in the world today. While this was written in 1986 it still holds true for one very important reason. “Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about.” He goes on to say that we live in a world where you are expected to have an opinion on everything, even more so with politics. There may also be times in your career and life where you may be expected to speak on things you know nothing about, so you have to bullshit your way through it.

Overall, this is a very dry read. It was an essay written for Princeton University, after all. With that being said, it’s a great little book. It may seem odd to look for answers about yourself in a book that’s only exists to define the word bullshit, but we have to remember that anything can spark a moment of self-reflection. I highly recommend this book, not just for the educational bits, but also for the philosophy behind it. Who knows, maybe you’ll realize you’ve been a bullshitter all along. 

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