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We Learn Nothing

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  1,551 ratings  ·  255 reviews
In We Learn Nothing, satirical cartoonist Tim Kreider turns his funny, brutally honest eye to the dark truths of the human condition, asking big questions about human-sized problems: What if you survive a brush with death and it doesn’t change you? Why do we fall in love with people we don’t even like? What do you do when a friend becomes obsessed with a political movement ...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published June 12th 2012 by Free Press
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Steal Like an Artist by Austin KleonShow Your Work! by Austin KleonNewspaper Blackout by Austin KleonRework by Jason FriedWe Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider
Show Your Work reading list!
5th out of 19 books — 12 voters
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver SacksOutliers by Malcolm GladwellMusicophilia by Oliver SacksThe Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Radiolab Suggested Readings
51st out of 179 books — 187 voters

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Community Reviews

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Fabulously irreverent...
“Most of my married friends now have children, the rewards of which appear to be exclusively intangible and, like the mysteries of some gnostic sect, incommunicable to outsiders. In fact it seems from the outside as if these people have joined a dubious cult: they claim to be much happier and more fulfilled than ever before, even though they live in conditions of appalling filth and degradation, deprived of the most basic freedoms and dignity, and owe unquestioning obedie
I was asking myself, Who is Tim Kreider, and why did I order this book? Then I read the beginning of the first essay, "Reprieve": "Fourteen years ago, I was stabbed in the throat. This is kind of a long story and less interesting than it sounds. . . . After my unsuccessful murder I wasn't unhappy for an entire year."

And I thought, Oh yeah, THIS guy!

Here is what else Mr. Kreider had to say in essays about politics, friendship, "outrage porn," human fallibility, and discovering in his early 40s th
Kerri Stebbins
Some of these were really good: interesting and thought-provoking and discussion-inducing. Some of them were immature and uninteresting, and read like weak arguments made by a seemingly insecure man.

[Three stars for thoughtful insights amidst shallow word fights.]
"Fourteen years ago, I was stabbed in the throat. This is kind of a long story and less interesting than it sounds....After my unsuccessful murder I wasn't unhappy for an entire year."
This first essay, Reprieve, is a short reflection on how his outlook on life changed afterward. His first year was a feeling of euphoric escape from death, but this becomes submerged by the everydayness of life. That one was my favourite.
Family relationships, friendships with current friends, defriended friends, lo
Hit or miss. So juvenile in spots - a forty-something trapped at the maturity of twelve, or maybe sixteen - and yet insightful in others. Give it a go if you're prepared to give up on the essays that drag?

[3.5 stars, but mostly because I'll be thinking about bits and pieces of his writing for a long time.]
Dec 31, 2012 Margie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Margie by: Nancy
Sister Nancy gave me a copy of Nancy Pearl's review along with this book for Christmas. The review sounded so good that although I was still mid-Plutocrats I thought I'd read one of these essays and then get back to my "real" reading.

I read it straight through.

The joy of this book is, in part, that the topics into which Kreider delves are largely mundane and easy to relate to. He takes events and experiences which are remarkable (like being stabbed in the neck, meeting his half-sisters when he
This is a collection of personal essays and cartoons by NY Times columnist Tim Kreider. I really loved this book and not just for its use of em dashes and colons. I thought Kreider was completely unique, profound, darkly funny, and incisive. It is the only book for a long time where I have read passages to my husband. It isn't for everyone, but I'm pretty sure that if I met Kreider in person, I would follow him around like a groupie, which would really bug and fascinate him at the same time.

Davida Gypsy
Tim Kreider spent years (decades) as a barroom philosopher. He has come out on the other side as something of a barstool sage. The debauchery and fecklessness is still there, but it is tempered with wisdom and a touch of weariness. I inadvertently conjured images of Denholm Elliott in Scorchers. Kreider has reached a place where he has learned something, despite the title, and wants to share his truths. He knows that they may not be your truths, but this was hard-earned wisdom and he wants to im ...more
First came across Tim Kreider's writing through the NYTimes blog post: The Referendum. I've usually followed his blog posts accidentally. The really good ones that stayed in my mind longer turned out to be by him (I barely notice the author's name most times).

'We learn nothing' is a superb collection of essays. He writes mostly about things that are common, that we observe and experience in our lives. Parents growing old, 'defriending', the eternal seeking of happiness, different kinds of frien
Paula Johnson
I found Tim Kreider through his NY Times essay on busyness, which was just perfect. I did a little digging around the web, found his cartoons, and thought: "Oh, Wow. This guy is way to the left of me politically. And he seems rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth angry, to boot." I almost didn't buy the book, expecting a screed. And yet, that essay . . .

So I took the plunge and I'm so glad I did. The essays are funny and sad at the same time, and in the best way possible. Many of them have to deal with t
Jared Lipof
After having stumbled upon cartoonist/essayist Tim Kreider's collection by chance, wandering down a random Amazon rabbit-hole, I'll be honest and say that it was the "Kreider rules" blurb left by DFW that made me buy it. He really does, though. While on the surface these essays seem like humorous bits of business, the world seen through the eyes of a forty-something problem drinker, single, childless, perhaps emotionally stunted, every one of them, in the end, reveals keen insight and a throbbin ...more
Awash on the great social, political and scientific tides of the last three decades, Kreider's essays remain deeply personal. Relationships trump all "larger" issues and Kreider explores his own with lovers, friends, and family in unsparing clear-eyed detail leavened by a dose of self-deprecating humor. How does one deal with broken love affairs? No-good friends? A psychotic criminal uncle? A friend who changes gender? A dying mother? A birth family discovered in middle age? Kreider deconstructs ...more
Tim Kreider's essays in the New York Times made me think he would be a good person to drink a beer with, and this book did nothing to change my mind. His politics, his views on (not) having children, his ability to tell a good yarn -- yep, this is a guy I would want sitting on the stool next to me. (I would certainly drink less than he does, or at least did). Even his thoughts on booze are interesting: "I respect people who had to quit drinking lest it kill them, but those who never saw the appe ...more
Kevin Koskella
I took Tim Ferriss' recommendation on this one based on the chapter he played on his podcast about laziness, which I loved.

I found myself LOL'ing a few times during the book. I liked his chapter on the choice to have or not have kids a lot. His stories are easily relatable, especially being a guy in his early 40s with no kids as well.

At times I was kind of annoyed at his black and white view of the US, as if everyone is either politically on "one side or the other", and anyone right of center i
This book is a kind of a personal narrative, autobiographical in some ways and philosophically inclined in others, but it's full of hilarious anecdotes from a self-proclaimed liberal – “a term used almost exclusively by conservatives, and is loosely synonymous with queerbait; progressives are what liberals call themselves now that liberal is a slur (it’s what developmentally delayed is to retarded); and as far as I can tell leftists are liberals who get mad if you call them liberals because libe ...more
Rick Patterson
Because there seems to be an ever-increasing number of people who feel obligated to unload every tidbit of information that has ever fascinated or entertained or perplexed them, and because the Internet has provided way too many opportunities for them to get an audience through blogs or tweets or whatever the next onomatopoetic channels might be, you may be forgiven for not expecting great things from Tim Kreider's collection. And you would be pleasantly surprised at how great this is. I lost co ...more
Erin Sterling
There are very few books where I want to underline passages--I'm just not that type of reader. This is one of those few books where I would (if it weren't a library book) because it is smart, witty, sometimes poignant, and the kind of pretentiousness I actually enjoy because he is aware of it. A book of essays and cartoons that makes me feel more intelligent upon reading and has me envy his thrilling life while simultaneously make me treasure mine, a rare feat.

"I have known some friends who sel
Copy received through Goodreads’ First Reads program.

Although autobiographical essays often fall prey to one of several problems - bad writing, very limited life experience (tell me more about your freshman writing seminar, 22-year-old author, as it is an excellent and relatable metaphor for life!), and an inability to overcome the basic question of “who cares?” - Tim Kreider avoids all of these potential pitfalls in this thought-provoking and compelling collection. Kreider is a cartoonist (his
Bill Breedlove
This is an interesting collection of "essays" and cartoons related to the topics covered. I do not think I have ever seen any of Mr. Krieder's cartoons before reading this book. The back cover has some impressive star-power blurbage--Judd Apatow, Richard Russo, etc.--to help convince skeptical browsers of the greatness within. The reason I put quotation marks around "essays" is I am not entirely certain what these selections would qualify as technically, but I guess "essays" is close enough. To ...more
Full of essays I wish I'd written, _We Learn Nothing_ is one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I've ever had. Its essays are truly essays, not arguments or journalism or anything else that masquerades as essays in so many collections and anthologies. Through his honesty and humor and meandering, Kreider convinces me that he's using his words to try to make sense of life's weirdness, and he does it in a way that evokes the important moods of existence. This collection's best essays are th ...more

Once a year on my stabbiversary, I remind myself that this is still my bonus life, a round on the house.

I’ve demonstrated an impressive resilience in the face of valuable life lessons, and the main thing I seem to have learned from this one is that I am capable of learning nothing from almost any experience, no matter how profound.

The goal of a life is not to provide material for good stories.

Anytime I hear about another one of us gone berserk, shooting up his ex’s office or drowning her
Caroline Barron
Tim Kreider is damn funny. I get the feeling he might have been a bit of a pain in the butt in his younger years, but age and experience bring with them wisdom. He's looking down the barrel of his life and taking stock of the 'big' questions: Why doesn't being stabbed in the throat change me more? Why did Felix stop returning my calls? And how do I break up with a mate? Is it ok to pretend my friend Skelly is lying about a made up life?

And then there are the endless and very funny anecdotes on
3.5. A man in his forties, a political cartoonist who lives in New York and has never married, tells stories about his friends and his life. The writing in this is equal to the best of David Sedaris, although his style is a little more verbose, a little less punchline. But I didn't care for the cartoons at the end of each chapter or his newspaper editorial page drawing style.

I loved the essay about getting stabbed, the essay about losing touch with his Peak Oil obsessive friend, as well as his
Do you have one of those books where just from reading the first few lines, you decide to buy the book. Where after a few pages, you know you’ll read it a second time. Where halfway through, you fall in love with it. Where you become desperate for it not to end, and even before it does, you vow to recommend it to everyone you know?

We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider is that book for me.

Whenever I tell my well-read friend S, who studied Lit and is the most bookish person I know, that I don’t read too
Nov 11, 2013 Molly rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Molly by: book club - Leslie
I had zero interest in reading this book. I'm so glad I did.
I don't usually care for books of essays by people I've never heard of, but I read this in two days and was laughing out loud by page 12. (It was a really good chapter about love. "Often you don't know whether you're the hero of a romantic comedy or the villain on a Lifetime special until the restraining order arrives.")
I also especially enjoyed his chapters on defriending and on how old friends eventually turn out as adults diverge
surprisingly good. i thought he was just another midlife male ranter, but he had great insights and a wry wit. My favorite essay was the Secret Skelly one. but each essay had bits to love. (each essay also contained a whiff of the midlife male ranter.)
spoiler alert: he never does give any more details about his stabbing beyond the first chapter. i was really waiting for it.
This is one of those books I read from time to time, where I start it one night and finish it the next day.

But this is also one of the very few books I can think of that will make you a better person for having read it. Not that I think I'm a better person.

Oh, hell. Just read this book. Tim Kreider draws the way I wish I could draw, but he writes even better than that.

ADDITIONAL COMMENT: I just read it again. I honestly wish I could put this book into the hands of every single person I love. It'
This has been a summer of re-reads for me, and I always knew I would return to this book. And this time I'm getting it into Goodreads!

I really, really like this book, but I wonder if I would have liked it when I was in my twenties or thirties. Certainly "The Referendum," an essay on the choices we've made and the life we've picked, will resonate more with someone in midlife than with someone just starting on our their journey. Kreider notes:
One of the hardest things to look at is the life we did
Tim is a single writer in his 40s (mid-life) reflecting on lessons he's learned, focusing around specific episodes in his life. The book is a series of essays, each with its own morals, reflections, and lessons.

I really enjoyed his writing, his self-deprecating and incredibly self-aware style, the vividness of his imagery, and the lessons he's taken away over his years.

What's really great about the book is that the questions he asks about life and the ways in which he tries to answer them with h
Off The Shelf
Etinosa Agbonlahor reviewed We Learn Nothing on

Funny, Sad, and Strange: The Wonderful World of We Learn Nothing by Etinosa Agbonlahor

What do you do when a lifelong friend suddenly abandons you à la Lloyd Schwartz? Or when another becomes so obsessed with peak oil that he moves to Missouri to avoid high-density areas (in case the world’s economy crashes and people desperately fight each other for food), stocks up for Armageddon, and sends you nine-page emails in response to your
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Tim Kreider is an essayist and cartoonist. His comic "The Pain--When Will It End?" ran in the Baltimore City Paper for 12 years and was collected in three books by Fantagraphics. His first collection of essays, "We Learn Nothing," was published by Free Press in 2012. He has written for The New York Times, The Men's Journal,, The Comics Journal, and Film Quarterly. He is at work on a new ...more
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The Pain—When Will it End? Why Do They Kill Me? Twilight of the Assholes Introducing Sociology:  A Review of Eyes Wide Shut Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on Their Decision Not To Have Kids

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“One reason we rush so quickly to the vulgar satisfactions of judgment, and love to revel in our righteous outrage, is that it spares us from the impotent pain of empathy, and the harder, messier work of understanding.” 44 likes
“Often you don’t know whether you’re the hero of a romantic comedy or the villain on a Lifetime special until the restraining order arrives.” 23 likes
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