Monday, December 12, 2016

But What If We're Wrong? - Chuck Klosterman

But What If We're Wrong?
Title: But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past
Author: Chuck Klosterman
Publication Date: 6/7/16
Pages: 272
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember, but I'm so glad I did.
Date Completed: 11/17/16

Summary: We like to think we are the zenith of human civilization. More likely, however, is that we are yet another step in the progression of human progress. So how will our descendants look back at the twenty-first century? Klosterman has set out to answer that question - or at least ponder its possible answers.

What I Thought: When the first chapter focuses on exploring the idea of what contemporary books will one day be considered classics, I know I'm in for a treat.

Klosterman has really put together a series of essays - although he expressly denies that qualification in the introduction. Each chapter looks at a different issue (books, television, gravity, football, etc.) and imagines how our descendants will think similarly or differently from us on these topics.

Klosterman does a nice job of blending academic, high-brow thought with a conversational tone - and not just because he includes "curse" words in the text. Rather, he makes complex issues and ideas understandable and something about which you could genuinely see yourself having a dinner conversation. It's rare that a book both expands my vocabulary and is something I bring up in conversation with friends. This one did. 

Not every chapter is as interesting as others, of course. I struggled through the sections on more scientific topics because that's not my realm. I understood a lot less of what Klosterman was even talking about there, so I admittedly skimmed some of that content. Other sections were surprisingly interesting to me. I never would have thought a discussion of the future of football and organized sports in our country and around the world could be so interesting - and yet it was. 

The book speaks from a very up-to-date perspective; I suppose that's part of the point here. Klosterman references very current pop culture and events. Though the book was published this summer, there were definitely moments that felt particularly relevant to our current political climate, including a brief look at Pauline Kael's quote about Nixon's election and how easy it is to only know people with whom you agree politically. 

For me, this book was a big win. It was intellectually stimulating and has given me some good fodder for holiday dinner table conversation (anything to avoid politics). I found the topics absolutely fascinating and Klosterman sent me on some fascinating mental rabbit trails as I applied his logic to other areas in our world or my life. The only disappointing, but necessary thing is that we will never know the answers to the questions Klosterman has raised. By the very nature of this topic, we'll all be long gone before we know how the legacy of our culture will be determined. 

Quotes I Loved:
  • "We're starting to behave as if we've reached the end of human knowledge. And while that notion is undoubtedly false, the sensation of certitude it generates is paralyzing."
  • "A book becomes popular because of its text, but it's the subtext that makes it live forever."
  • "History is defined by people who don't really understand what they are defining." 

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yes, likely
If You Liked This, Try: Hamilton / Big Girls Don't Cry / How to Be a Heroine

A Reduced Review: Looking for interesting dinner conversation this holiday season? Klosterman's book will have you well on your way, and stretching your own cognitive muscles, as well. 

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