Truth: A User’s Guide

by Hector Macdonald, Bantam, 352pp, £20

Don’t be put off by the title of this book. At first glance, you could be forgiven for assuming that it was about “fake news” or our “post-truth” society – fashionable tropes that have come to dominate political discourse. Nor is this book concerned with a more long-standing question: is all truth relative, and is your truth as good and valid as mine? You will find no postmodern philosophising here.

Rather, Truth: A User’s Guide accepts from the outset that some things are facts and others are falsehoods. But it contends that what truth you accept or assert depends upon your point of view, upon which truth is useful to you, and which truth you would prefer to accord to your point of view.

For example, in 2015, both of these statements would have been true: “A teacher on a salary of £28,000 is earning below the average income”, and “A teacher on a salary of £28,000 is earning above the average income”. Both are true because the first statement is based on a mean average income that year of £31,000, the latter on a median average of £22,400.

Or consider, elsewhere, the fact that Canada and Australia have the highest rates of kidnapping in the world. Their figures are higher than those of Mexico and Colombia – but only because their governments included parental disputes over child custody in kidnapping statistics. Similarly, Sweden has the second highest incidence of rape in the world, because Sweden has one of the broadest definitions of rape.

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