Book Review: Trust Me I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday

By Jon Elordi

Trust Me I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday was recommended to me by my boss. And when your boss recommends a book, you read it. The other excellent book he recommended was Alchemy.

This is a unique marketing book. Most marketing books are filled with abstractions and colorful language about what you “should” or “ought” to do. Not Trust Me I’m Lying. Trust ME I’m Lying is about what you “could” do. It’s an actionable book that tells you pretty much how to manipulate the media. Instead of telling you to “surprise and delight” your customers, he tells you exactly where to sign up and who to send emails to.

I read the 5th-anniversary edition that was “revised and updated for the Fake News Era.” I say that because you can tell a lot has been added since the book first came out.

The book is divided into three sections. The first is “How Blogs Work.” This is the how-to guide of the book that is phenomenal. The second is “What Blogs Mean.” This is the not-so-great part of the book. Ryan does a lot of moralizing in this section. The Third is technically an appendix, but I found it very interesting. It’s when he interviews other media manipulators. They’re quite candid and give some great insights.

How Blogs Work

The first section of the book(roughly 150 pages) is really what you’re paying for when you buy this book. In this section, he explains exactly how “the news” is made. The refreshing thing about this entire book is that he names names. The steps are clearly documented. He tells you exactly how the incentives of blogs work, and how to exploit them. Here are the titles of the chapters from this section:

  • Tactic #1: The Art of The Bribe
  • Tactic #2: Tell Them What They Want to Hear
  • Tactic #3: Give ’em What Spreads
  • Tactic #4: Help Them Trick Their Readers
  • Tactic #5: Sell Them Something They Can Sell
  • Tactic #6: Make It All About The Headline
  • Tactic #7: Kill Them With Pageview Kindness
  • Tactic #8: Use Technology Against Itself
  • Tactic #9: Just Make Stuff Up

It’s a wonderful how-to guide on how to exploit our current media landscape.

What Blogs Mean

This is the part of the book you can skim. If you’re aware of the media environment and marketing, you likely already know a lot of what is said in this section. When this book first came out in 2013 I’m sure it was novel and interesting. However, we’ve been in the era of fake news now for almost five years. We know a lot if not all the pitfalls.

Do I really need a guy who’s gotten rich and famous off of our media telling me how bad our current media is?

However, if you are new to the earned media space this chapter will be informative and will explain to you how we’re all screwed.

The Appendix

One of the more valuable parts of this book can be found in the appendix. In the appendix, Ryan Holiday interviews several other prominent media manipulators. From Mike Cernovich to Peter Young these guys tell their tricks of the trade. The Peter Young interview is particularly good as he gives you bulleted step-by-step guides as to how he does his stunts.

The funny thing about all these media manipulators is that they all have this intense justification for what they do. They’re either zealot activists like Peter Young. Or right-wingers who hate the press like Mike Cernovich. It makes sense. All of these people have made a living lying to the masses. To be that depraved you better be justified.

Even Ryan Holiday falls into this camp. At this point in his career he mostly just sells books on stoicism. He feels like an exiled man who is ashamed of his past life. Trying to make amends for his sins by selling a decent albeit cliched philosophy. The fact that he chose a cliched sellable philosophy tells me he’s still a marketer at heart. Had he chosen Islam or Orthodox Christianity then maybe I’d think his turn sincere.

Wrapping Up

It’s a good book and anyone working in media, marketing or PR should read it. Trust Me I’m Lying will crystalize what you instinctually know into a framework that makes sense. The book filled in a lot of gaps in my understanding of the media ecosystem. Heck even if you’re just a consumer of news, you should probably read this book. It’ll help you spot the BS and media stunts.

One of the more interesting things about this book is how antiquated it already feels. The fifth edition came out in 2018, and it fails to capture the movement of prominent people to self-publishing. When Ryan Holiday wrote this book the major publications still had most of the authority. It seems that times have changed and now individuals have the authority and reputation. Case and point, the rise of companies like substack and Patreon. It goes to show you how quickly things change.