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VOL. 43 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 13, 2019

Think twice before buying ‘Cheaters Always Win’

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Print | Front Page | Email this story

Honesty is the best policy, isn’t that what your mother always said? You hate when people lie to you, so you shouldn’t lie to them – although, as you’ll see in the new book “Cheaters Always Win: The Story of America” by J.M. Fenster, you wouldn’t be the first to do so.

Follow the rules.

That’s another thing we were told, growing up. Keep on the straight-and-narrow, pay attention to whatever rules govern our society and you’ll be fine. It seems like a good recipe for success, except that voluntary compliance is needed. There are always rule-rogues and will always be people who protect cheaters to some degree, often through peer pressure.

And that’s doubly disturbing because it’s not true that “cheaters only cheat themselves.” Fenster says cheaters – except in the example of cheating at solitaire – always leave behind a victim and are basically thieves, whether they’re stealing business secrets, coveted jobs, better work conditions or a new love interest.

Covering for a cheater is almost tantamount to covering up a crime, however minor.

The very act of cheating has many facets.

Fenster cites a long saga of cheating Native Americans that involves big corporations, minor players and government agencies over the course of decades.

She says cheating at golf is interesting because it requires complicity among multiple roles.

Cheaters Always Win: The Story of America

by J.M. Fenster

c.2019, Twelve

$28

272 pages

Cheating on a family member or close business associate is a devastation of a “special sort.” Even some researchers who study cheating appear to have massaged the data.

So why not cheat, if everybody seems to be doing it these days?

The main reason, Fenster says, for not cheating seems to be the fear of getting caught. Religious teachings and morality have some factor in honesty, as does a lack of opportunity and laziness: cheating, skulking and keeping a story straight is a lot of hard work.

As is the sense-making of this little book.

It’s true that there are a lot of illustrative anecdotes inside “Cheaters Always Win,” and they’re excellent examples of cheating. But they’re mostly from the more-current worlds of sports, academia and personal relationships. Thus, they’re not historical, as the subtitle of this book suggests. If it’s solid history you want, there’s little of it here.

It’s also true that readers will find takeaways on why people cheat and why they don’t. The author offers several examples, but those psychologically fascinating, insightful and helpful nuggets are buried in so much superfluous blah-blah and head-scratching snippets of idea, readers could easily miss them.

One could argue that there’s humor in this book, and that’s correct. But it’s pretty thin and sometimes confounding. Lighthearted statements often come haphazardly in the middle of serious passages, and their placement feels misleading.

Indeed, you might feel, well, cheated.

If you feel up to a fact-finding foray, you can finish this book with mission accomplished but it’s going to take time and effort. For most readers, “Cheaters Always Win” is skippable, to be honest.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.

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