Ryan Chartrand

Is it ever OK to judge a book by its cover? Although your parents probably taught you otherwise, “I Can Read You Like a Book,” by Gregory Hartley and Maryann Karinch, shows that sometimes the impulse to evaluate the interior based on the exterior is justified and maybe even helpful.

Imagine Hartley as a type of Jack Bauer character. Sure, he teaches, writes, and has an endearing affinity for “Star Trek,” but he’s also one badass interrogator for the army. Deciphering subtle body language is his job.

In 2005, Hartley and collaborator Karinch published “How to Spot a Liar.” This year they’ve rejoined on “I Can Read You Like a Book,” a fascinating look at what body language denotes about meaning and emotion.

Hartley draws upon decades of research in the battlefields (literally) and even more importantly, the interrogation chambers, to produce a book that is as surprisingly applicable to daily life as it is captivating. The book touts itself as an appeal for those in business, journalism, law enforcement, medicine, parents and those “in a relationship or looking for one.”

Yet, as I read, I couldn’t help thinking that another group is being entirely overlooked: This book is gold for anyone interested in acting. In snappy and accessible language, Hartley and Karnich describe typical facial expressions, movements and other giveaways for nearly any emotion or attitude.

For instance, what might it mean if a classmate says “hi,” but doesn’t raise his eyebrows? Don’t count on him remembering your name because it’s most likely a sign he doesn’t recognize you.

“I Can Read You …” describes itself as a body language guide, but is so comprehensive that it also serves as a social sciences handbook, a guide to the gestures and customs of other cultures, and a reference companion through the jungles of the “shaved ape” (the human – Hartley’s own version of Desmond Morris’ “naked ape”).

As humans, we attempt to distance ourselves from the fact that we are essentially animals, and Hartley brings the reader down to earth with the realization that most of our subconscious gestures are so inborn that they link us to the rest of humanity, as well as the rest of the animal kingdom.

The book is structured by a system Hartley calls R.E.A.D. This stands for Review, Evaluate, Analyze and Decide, all referring to body language. Part of the book’s appeal is its universality. Whether the reader is old or young, male or female, from Portland or Palm Beach, we all want to make sense of those around us.

Rarely is nonfiction so engaging. Hartley uses references to current events, popular culture (Jennifer Aniston, Jackie Kennedy, Bill Clinton) and laugh-out-loud humor to hold the reader’s attention.

Essentially, “I Can Read You Like a Book” is a tool to aid interpersonal relationships in a day and age where we have grown so far from our caveman ancestors that communication is rarely straightforward.

So instead of trying to assume what your girlfriend really means, stop the guesswork and pick up the book. As Hartley says, “you will never look at yourself or anyone else the same way.”

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