Both comprehensive and finely focused, SINCERITY succeeds at giving context to a notion that bedevils the modern age - our need to believe that people are saying what they REALLY think or feel. The subtitle hints at the fact that this is not an effort to convince the reading public to be more sincere - it is rather a sophisticated tracing of how the idea morphed from one thing to another, then another in European and American history. Though it traces something like 500 years of history, the book is at its best when dealing with modern-day America - in its introduction and the latter 80 or so pages. Indeed its point of departure is Sarah Palin: the modern political personality who most insisted on - and seemed to convince at least part of the public of - her own sincerity. Magill points out that being sincere doesn't mean that you are right, or that you've thought about what you've said, or that you are honest even: it just means you're more or less allowing the world a glimpse at how you FEEL. This, he argues quite persuasively, is not what we want in our politicians - we might rather ask them to be competent, honest, or other things, rather than demanding emotional transparency. He also finds sincerity buried under the modern ironic style as practiced by media figures like Steven Colbert and John Stewart - the ache for the 'real thing' that can only express itself through layers upon layers of irony. Very interesting stuff.
The book is just slightly less timely than it might be this fall because sincerity is not the hot-button issue of Election 2012, as it was when Sarah Palin appeared on the scene in 2008 and one political party seemed to have a lock on the concept. But Magill doesn't limit himself to politics - he exhumes the hipster sensibility that has evolved form irony to a kind of strained sincerity and dissects it with wit and style. Highly recommended read.