Demonstration of how malleable the human memory can be.
75 pages, ★★★★ (must be read following Three Cups of Tea)
In Three Cups of Deceit, author Jon Krakauer accuses Greg Mortenson of two major ‘crimes’:
- Lying — changing the sequence of events and making stories up, sometimes in stark contrast to the truth;
- Spending charity money irresponsibly — up to $23 million was spent on flights to exotic places to promote his own book, and the company finance records were patchy at best, and fabricated at worst.
I believe that both authors are telling the truth as they remember it. The discrepancy arises from the fact that Jon Krakauer has successfully altered his memory, and now believes this alternative version of the truth.
Human memory remarkably elastic. It can exaggerate events and fool itself into believing things happened differently to the truth. Books such as The Invisible Gorilla and Think! explain the science behind this process.
Memory-alteration is a very useful skill. We can delete troubling episodes, exaggerate happy ones, and re-write history to fit our goals in the present. People do it all the time to great effect.
Memory-alteration is troubling, though, and conflict can arise when people stubbornly believe different versions of the truth, with sometimes devastating consequences. The co-author of the original book, Three Cups of Tea, for example, committed suicide this month. I wonder whether accusations of ‘lying’ and ‘irresponsibility’ were among the stresses on his mind before he did it.
Read this pair of books to understand the flexibility of human memory. ★★★★
- Book: Three Cups of Tea (jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com)
- David Oliver Relin, Co-Author of Three Cups of Tea, Commits Suicide at 49 (people.com)
- David Oliver Relin, Adventurous Journalist, Dies at 49 (nytimes.com)
- ‘Three Cups of Tea’ Co-Author Dies (abcnews.go.com)
- David Relin: Author accused of fabrication (independent.co.uk)
- Three Cups of Tea co-author David Relin dies at 49 in Oregon (guardian.co.uk)