Review: How to Be Wrong, James O’Brien

Rating: 3 out of 5

I listen to Mr O’Brien often enough to know what he thinks about most topics. Therefore, I wasn’t really surprised by the discussions and viewpoints here—some of these I’ve heard live on air after all—nor by the general message that we are often wrong, and it takes a big heart (mind?) to acknowledge this. This difficulty in turn creates new problems because that acknowledgement is, often, so very difficult for us to make.

The author had chosen his topics—marriage, racism, equality, weight issues—quite carefully even though, originally, it looks as very much like a random list. These concern the broad themes in society which cause so much ruckus, but are often used as a distraction from the really important topical events. Yet, despite the claims that Mr O’Brien is now tries to err into any topic as carefully as possible or, rather, with due consideration to the other viewpoints, quite often his tone is overly bellicose. This means that his debate opponents don’t get the time they need to make a coherent argument.

However, what makes for good radio does not make for as good a book which meant that I was rather relieved to see that there were only a few calls transcribed. What is left unacknowledged in those bellicose dialogues, after all, is the difficulty with which many would reach for the best words to explain themselves while the author himself is clearly trained in this (by his daily profession). This also means that the due consideration the author says he is trying to offer to his callers isn’t really there as often as it should be—perhaps another item for him to reconsider in the future.

Yet, it was good to read what had changed Mr O’Brien’s mind about certain topics. These triggers won’t be the same for everyone, but I remember how I would have argued for certain policies in the past that would have no appeal for me now. However, knowing that I think something differently now makes it no easier to utter those words that everyone should say every now and then—and what the author’s thoughts consolidate around and help us become more familiar with—”I was wrong.”

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