Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

12425881.gifby Ken Alder

General Collection HV8078 .A53 2007

Lie detectors (or polygraphs, for sticklers) combine two American obsessions: our search for truth and our native love of gadgetry. Ken Adler, who last regaled us with a history of the meter (The Measure of All Things), returns with a social history of the astonishing rise and fall of fib-finding devices. Lie detectors, or cardio-pneumo-psychographs, were first developed in 1921 by John Larson, a policeman with a doctorate in physiology. The invention might have languished had it not been improved by multi-talented inventor Leonarde Keeler and arduously championed by Berkeley police chief August Vollmer. With telling (and often amusing) detail, Adler recounts how fierce jealousy erupted among these pioneers and describes the sadly flawed record of “truth machines.” (

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