True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy L. Otis

 True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy L. Otis,  Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan), 9781250239495, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5+

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book?  If you’ve been looking for the one new nonfiction book your library HAS to have this year, congratulations, you’ve found it. This beautifully designed and extremely engaging book was written by Cindy Otis, who really was a CIA analyst. Amazingly enough, I think this is her first book and definitely a first journey into YA nonfiction. Otis writes with a lot of personality and clarity; her prose is warm and immediate, conversational but never condescending. She opens with a history of misinformation: in ancient Rome, during the French and American Revolutions, in 19th century U.S. (science sensationalism, racist conspiracy theorists, the rise of yellow journalism), and in the 20th century (wartime propaganda).  She also touches on a host of contemporary misinformation incidents: Pizzagate, the 2016 elections and the rise of the meme. The second half of the book returns to the premise of the title; how to spot and handle fake news. Here Otis gives many examples for us to analyze and prescriptive lists of steps to take to catch and contain viral stories. She also lays out explanations of confirmation bias and point of view in news stories. Many of these lists and examples could be adapted for classroom lessons. I really enjoyed reading this book and appreciated her advocacy for personal responsibility and education in helping to combat “fake news”; although more action by the federal government and social media outlets are also needed. The book has extensive end notes, but no index.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Just two things. One, I hate the term “fake news.” It’s an oxymoron, right? If it’s news, it’s true, because that’s the definition of news: accurate information about current events. If it’s not true, then it’s a rumor, propaganda, an honest mistake — something other than news. Reading an interview with Otis by Becky Albertalli, I did learn more about Otis’s definition of the term and why she chose to use it, but that information desperately needs to be in this book. She also doesn’t address Donald Trump’s weaponization of the term in his attack on professional journalism, although she does point out that “fake news” does not come from professional media outlets. Two, I really am opposed to the design trend of printing supplemental or high-interest asides in white type on black pages. I know it looks cool, but it’s difficult to read (especially for those with print disabilities) and is also really hard to photocopy (all that toner!).  There’s a lot of those black pages in this book.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Everyone, from grade 7 to adult. If it could be accessed as an ebook through Hoopla or purchased in paperback, it would make a great all-school summer read.

Who should buy this book? Middle school, high school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it?  070.43

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? YES!

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: September 4, 2020


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