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Lying in State: Why Presidents Lie and Why Trump is Worse (June, 2020)

Praise for Lying in State



"In highly engaging prose, Eric Alterman shows how the power of the presidency corrupts both those with the best of intentions, and those with the worst. No one reading this provocative work of history will ever think of our mightiest heroes of state the same way again."

—Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money


"A colorful history. Alterman seduces his readers into an intelligent conversation about all the lies—the necessary lies, the white lies, the pathetic lies and the quite consequential lies. And by the end of the story he explains the media's culpability in the rise of Trump and why this president's lies are so very different from all the others. An absolutely compelling book for our troubled times."

—Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Prometheus


"An astounding and methodical inventory of presidential lying from George Washington to Donald Trump. Alterman shows how the strategic lying of past presidents about specific episo

des of war, corruption and injustice has given way in the Trump administration to indiscriminate lying about everything. This is a cogently written, timely and profoundly troubling book for the new age of conspiracy theory, fake news and online disinformation.  Democracy is in peril—and that's no lie." 

—Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-8)


"Eric Alterman's superb book, Lying in State, is full of direly needed insights. First, he offers an account of how Trump's constant lying to undergird his failed policies compares with the falsehoods of past presidents. Alterman rightly concludes that Trump is far worse than any other. When his supporters say that 'Everyone has done it,' Alterman can correctly label that another lie. Second, Alterman -- by virtue of his in-depth research -- enables us to deal with an all-important question: Why so many Trump followers have become addicted to what Republican Senator Jeff Flake termed the 'sugar high of populism, nativism, and demagoguery.' "

—Walter LaFeber, The Andrew Tisch and James Tisch Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, Cornell University


"Nation columnist Alterman delivers an administration-by-administration analysis of presidential deception from FDR to Donald Trump in this vigorously argued account…Alterman makes a strong case for the links between presidential dishonesty and the expansion of executive powers since WWII, and for the media's culpability in failing to hold presidents to account." —Publishers Weekly


Flap copy:

If there's one thing we know about Donald Trump, it's that he lies incessantly and indiscriminately—from false claims about the size of his inauguration crowd to his whole cloth invention of a terrorist attack in Sweden or his assertion that Democrats are planning to give free cars to undocumented immigrants. But while he may lie more frequently and brazenly than previous American presidents, he is certainly not the first to mislead the public.


In Lying in State, bestselling journalist and historian Eric Alterman sets out to show how we ended up with such a pathologically dishonest commander in chief. There's no question that Trump's lying is unprecedented, but as Alterman points out, it builds on a long tradition of presidential mendacity. From early on, American presidents have relentlessly sought to expand the country's territory, power, and hegemony on the basis of lies—from James K. Polk's lies about the Mexican-American War, to Lyndon Johnson's lies about Vietnam, to George W. Bush's lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Over time, these deceptions have had a cumulative and pernicious effect: each lie a president tells makes it easier and more acceptable for subsequent presidents to lie. In recent decades, many in the media have abandoned their responsibility to hold the powerful accountable, giving politicians license to take even greater liberties with the truth and driving a surge of extremism in the Republican party. Donald Trump's dishonesty, then, should be understood as the culmination of a slowly unfolding crisis that we have ignored for far too long.


Full of vivid historical examples and trenchant analysis, Lying in State is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand how we arrived at this dangerous moment in our history.



Lying in State: Why Presidents Lie and Why Trump is Worse (June, 2020)


In Kabuki Democracy, bestselling author and Nation columnist Eric Alterman asks why President Barack Obama has been unable to deliver on the promise of his 2008 campaign. He argues that while Obama’s compromises have disappointed many of his supporters, his failure is primarily due to a political system that stymies democracy when voters choose progressive change. From the archaic rules of the senate to the political dominance of the finance industry to the decisions of the Supreme Court to the failure of the press to the rise of anti-government movements, structural and ideological impediments to democracy make passing progressive legislation almost impossible.

Brilliantly blending incisive political analysis with a clear agenda for change, Kabuki Democracy cuts through the clichés of conservative propaganda and lazy mainstream media analysis to demonstrate that genuine transformation will come to America only when enough people care enough to challenge the system.

Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals (2008)

Thanks to the machinations of the right, there is no dirtier word in American politics today than “liberal”—yet public opinion polls consistently show that the majority of Americans hold liberal views on everything from health care to foreign policy. In this feisty, accessible primer, bestselling author Eric Alterman sets out to restore liberalism to its rightful honored place in our political life as the politics of America’s everyday citizens.

In Why We’re Liberals Alterman examines liberalism’s development and demonstrates how its partisans have come to represent not just the mainstream, but the majority of Americans today. In a crisply-argued, though extensively documented counterattack on right-wing spin and misinformation, Alterman briskly disposes of such canards as “Liberals Hate God” and “Liberals Are Soft On Terrorism,” reclaiming liberalism from the false definitions foisted upon it by the right and repeated everywhere else. Why We’re Liberals brings clarity and perspective to what has often been a one-sided debate for nothing less than the heart and soul of America. Why We’re Liberals is the perfect election-year book for all of those ready to fight back against the conservative mud-slinging machine and claim their voice in the political debate.

When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences

Crack political journalist Alterman (What Liberal Media?, 2003, etc.) examines the culture of deceit that has marred the American presidency, footnoting every word.
Here, he traces four instances of presidential lying that have returned to haunt the republic, undercutting not only the policies they were intended to support, but the integrity of the presidency. He's not interested in transgressions of a private nature, targeting instead "presidential lying about matters of state that is alleged to be undertaken for the public
good." In other words, bad statecraft based on the premise that the people are too ignorant or emotionally immature to see all cards. Public trust,
the bond between government and the rabble, gets a screwing. Alterman zooms in on four instances of deceit that had unintended systematic consequences
as old as the Greek hubris-nemesis sequence; each created self-destructive blowback wherein not only the nation was deceived, but the deceivers fooled themselves. The first is the painful irony of the 1945 Yalta conference: Stalin, "vicious killer atop the Soviet evil empire," honored the deal struck there, while Roosevelt and Churchill, "perhaps the twentieth century's two greatest champions of freedom and democracy," reneged, with the subsequent disavowal of their concessions leading to the Cold War. Then came Kennedy's fibbing about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the undisclosed trade for Turkish missile sites that made the US stance look terrifically tough. The secret American aggressions that brought the US to the Gulf of Tonkin, and the unparalleled war-making powers granted to the presidency, crushed the work of Lyndon Johnson, who had "begun to build a domestic legacy that might even have surpassed that of FDR." And perhaps the most appalling fallout of the Iran-Contra imbroglio was the collapse of the press as an investigative agency: lying was mundane and not worth the bother of reporting. As for Bush II, "the virtue of truth...for all practical purposes, became entirely operational."

Throws bones worth chewing on long and hard.

-- Kirkus Reviews [Starred review]

Buy When Presidents Lie:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)Leads America (2004)

"The two progressive champions make no effort to hide their dislike of Bush, but the weight of their evidence and their reasonable tone makes it difficult to dismiss them as ideologues. Alterman and Green provide up-to-the-minute information on several issues. From this voluminous record emerges a portrait of Bush as an ideological bully who knows how to 'fake left and drive to the right,' passing himself off as a populist while launching initiatives that benefit only his hardcore supporters."
--Publisher's Weekly

What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News (2003)

with a new chapter on media coverage in Iraq

"'What Liberal Media' is bold, counterintuitive and cathartic."
--The New York Times Book Review

"A polemic is nothing without passion , and Alterman's argumentative vigor is engaging [and]... the meticulous care with which his arguments are sourced and footnoted is in commendable contrast to the efforts of some of his more fire-breathing opponents."
--The New Yorker

“A well-documented, even-tempered and witty answer, I might say antidote, to such toxic recent bestsellers as Bernard Goldberg's "Bias."
--Los Angeles Times

Sound and Fury: The Making of the Punditocracy (1993, 2nd edition, 2000)

The best book yet on the insider culture of Washington.
— Bill Moyers

“Alterman is literate and a master stylist with a sophisticated sense of humor…. Spengler himself could not have put it better.”
-George Reedy in The Washington Post

“The most witty—and sadly—profound analysis of the debilitating state of American politics published in years…. I nominate Alterman to be our next H.L. Mencken.”
-Kai Bird in The Nation

It Ain't No Sin to Be Glad You're Alive : The Promise of Bruce Springsteen

“This concise, passionate appreciation of the dominant rock musician of his generation is almost entirely free of show-biz gossip and trivia. Alterman deploys biographical detail sparingly but well, always to the purpose: elucidating his subject’s extraordinary body of work.”
-The New Yorker

“No mere book can take the place of a ticket to Bruce's recent sold-out tour, but [It Ain't No Sin...] might be the next best thing…. , "It Ain't No Sin" is as eloquent and sweet a testament as you're likely to find.”

"A well-researched, passionate, musicologically informed and politically astute appreciation of the great rock 'n' roll artist."
- E. L. Doctorow

Who Speaks for America? Why Democracy Matters in Foreign Policy (1998)

"Who Speaks for America? is both a powerful rejoinder to those elitist assumptions and a populist blueprint for greater citizen participation in U.S. foreign policy."
-The Washington Post.

“Meticulously researched and cannily argued, Who Speaks… is at once an elegant and passionate plea for the restoration of democratic control to the making of American foreign policy.”
-Journal of American History

“Eric Alterman, a trained historian turned journalist …[his] great strength is that he writes with great erudition and thoughtfulness about a much neglected historical question, so fundamental that cutting-edge scholarship should not ignore it.”
-Diplomatic History