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Night Thoughts

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  418 ratings  ·  89 reviews
In this stirring rumination, Wallace Shawn considers justice, inequality, blame, revenge, eleventh-century Japanese court poetry, decadence, Beethoven, the relationship between the Islamic world and the West — and the possibility that a better world could be created.

Librarian's note: See alternate cover edition of ISBN 1608468127 here.
Hardcover, 112 pages
Published June 13th 2017 by Haymarket Books (first published May 22nd 2017)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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 ·  418 ratings  ·  89 reviews

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Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a thought-provoking work of one of my favorite minds, Wallace Shawn. However, I regretted paying 9.99 for what is essentially an essay that I read in one sitting (in addition, an article I had just read about it--which prompted my purchase--contained most of the important information covered). Definitely worth reading: Shawn's take on how we, as human beings don't know and can't trust ourselves. Also, how if we're going to survive, we're going to have to change. Not groundbreaking but el ...more
Nov 06, 2017 rated it liked it
At some point in my cultural education I learned that Wallace Shawn, in addition to being the 'inconceivable' actor, was also a writer and the son of long-time New Yorker editor William Shawn. But it wasn't until I read several interviews he did to coincide with the publication of this essay that I learned that he was a bit more leftwing than the political orientation we might describe as "moneyed liberal who reads the New Yorker." In fact, he's apparently so leftwing that he was interviewed in ...more
May 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
By the time I had lived long enough to seriously understand what had been explained to me about civilization in that small apartment so many years before, by the time I had seen enough examples of the “story of civilization”—the endlessly repeating story of a strong person holding some squirming weak person’s head under the water—seen it enough to really get the message—the vast machinery of civilization itself seemed to be stretching, weakening, and pulling apart . . .

Sitting alone in a hotel r
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. It is beautifully written, wise, and unexpectedly uplifting.
Rob Christopher
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sharp, direct, unnerving. And, of course, like Wallace Shawn's other work, often pretty funny too. Pair this with Brooke Gladstone's "The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time" for a real bracer. Just what the doctor ordered for 2018. ...more
Mar 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
Thoughtful and empathetic musings on life, particularly good on the notion of the lucky and unlucky as well as the West's attitude to Muslims in the wake of 9/11. Made me want to be a better person. ...more
Jonathan Maas
Aug 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A small book with one big idea - the world is roughly split into two parts - the lucky and the unlucky.

Shawn himself is in the lucky camp, and you may be as well.

Though he brings modern day events into his writing, his themes are so broad that there is a certain timelessness to his prose.

I recommend this to just about everyone!
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So many people know who Wallace Shawn is without knowing who he is. He's the guy who says "Inconceivable!" from Princess Bride, or "Never get involved in a land war in Asia." That's probably where most people know him from. "My Dinner With Andre"? That rings a few bells. Most people don't know what a brilliant and thoughtful writer Wallace Shawn is.

I was first introduced to his writing with his play, The Designated Mourner. His latest, Night Thoughts, is a great introduction to the writing of t
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A smart, very-typically-Wally essay - one that rambles and spins off on seeming tangents, but one that pulls together to a concise and potent focus by the end. We can save our world, if only we try. We reading this right now might be the lucky ones, but that doesn't mean we always will be. And so when thoughts strike you in the night, let them. You never know what they might lead to. ...more
Sep 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This extended essay should offer up some interesting dinner-table discussion! I will never think about civilization in the same way. If you're reading my review, I suggest that you read Night Thoughts yourself! ...more
Jan 22, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-essays
I borrowed this 72-page, large-pocket-sized book from the library and read it in two sittings (lyings, really), but you could read it in its entirety standing in the library stacks or while at the few remaining bookstores. If you do this at a bookstore, you should also buy something (I mean a book, NOT a latte) because they are a business dammit and deserve your support.

Sorry off topic. Shawn leads a strange double life as a beloved comic actor and a writer of decidedly uncomic stage plays. The
Nick Klagge
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I picked this up after reading a great interview with Shawn in Jacobin. While, like most people, I know him from the Princess Bride, actually my most extended exposure to him is as Grand Nagus Zek on Deep Space 9! Although I love DS9, Zek is a pretty annoying character (by intent).

"Night Thoughts" is really an essay more than a book, but its style and content match what interested me in his interview. I found his intentional use of plain language interest
Merritt K.
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shawn's prose is beautiful, but aesthetic pleasure is about all there is to be had in this essay. The book introduces a very simple idea of inequality, then argues that punishment, revenge, and violence against the powerful are wrong because we cannot know if the powerful (the "lucky", in Shawn's terms) could have acted any differently.

I'm sympathetic to the notion that retributive justice is an oxymoron but Shawn doesn't offer any alternative here. Instead, he simply hopes that over time, the
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was ok
I wanted to really like this book. I came across it on a lark-- a new entry at our local public library. I liked the short size (about 75 pages), recognized the author from My Dinner with Andre, and was intrigued by his additional identities as an essayist.

The author is clearly a swell, caring guy. He means well and is humble. The biggest plus of the book is his perspective of sorting people into lucky vs unlucky buckets. Most of the world is the latter. Wally does not harshly judge anyone from
Tom Polek
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Wallace Shawn's Night Thoughts is an introspective look into his own privilege, and his spot in civilization. He puts society into two sections - the lucky, and the unlucky. His clever phrasing and personal experiences growing up in the upper class puts things into a new perspective, and helped me realize some of my own internal struggles with class. I highly recommend this book as it is a short journey into Wallace's mind - and a great way to see what someone else's outlook on the world might b ...more
Hoyin leung
Mar 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Aren't we LUCKY that we could be reading (or listening to audio books) during this time of pandemic without worrying too much about income? Wallace Shawn's book sees people as 'lucky' or 'not lucky', expanding his discussion on such uncontrollable factor to larger realms of middle-East politics, art-making, culture, etc. A short book. The arguments could be written in a tighter manner. Yet, it's inspiring enough for me to reflect upon myself .... (again, how luxuriously lucky of me....) ...more
Doug Dillaman
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Kind of thought this would just be some witty bon mots, as I didn't know anything about Shawn's politics, and it turned out too be a deeply forceful meditation on free will, privilege, social justice, and much more. A slim book that carries great weight. ...more
Peter Landau
Sep 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Wallace Shawn really is the sexiest writer working today. His prose makes me swoon.
Terry Clague
Jan 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shortform rumination on structural despair/luck, told in the style of an internal monologue awaiting sleep. Twenty twenty visions.
J Earl
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In Night Thoughts Wallace Shawn offers his ideas and opinions based on both his studies and his life experience. Those ideas and opinions are about the state of the world: physically, politically, and with regard to the idea of morality.

There is little to truly argue against as far as his observations are concerned. Only the most arrogant would claim that what came before has not affected what is currently, or that what came before wasn't built to a very large extent on the labors of those who w
T Fool
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed-books
Shawn is an actor second only to being a playwright. It turns out, an essayist as well. The persona he’s developed on screen is analytical, intelligent, maybe irritated with what he’s facing. Take a short look at one film.

My Dinner With Andre presents him as a decided contrast to Andre Gregory, and on first exposure to that movie, it’s hard for an audience not to think of Gregory someone so experimental as not to see the world for what it is, a hyper-idealist willing to join psychological ventur
I'm actually not completely certain what I think about this.

As a writer, Shawn is splendidly entertaining. He has wonderfully light turns of phrase, and infuses a gentle wit into the text while musing on this, that, and the other. His opening and closing pages, in which he blesses the night for letting him muse on the world, are delightful, and I very much would like to read more of his writing, to enjoy his rambling sentences and thoughts again.

But the essay content leaves me a little...well,
Mar 06, 2018 rated it did not like it
1.5/5 stars. A feeble attempt at surface-level, shallow, and deeply problematic metaphors.

The book started out with promise, but then Shawn became highly hypocritical and way too general.

He makes a sweeping generalization about the "lucky" people for lacking originality, boldness, or imagination on page 60, and then on page 61 says the lucky people, if they are awful, become that way through the same process that applies to everybody. He is saying that lucky people are both inherently bad, and t
Nov 14, 2020 rated it did not like it
mostly confused why haymarket published such shallow analysis streamed from absurdly privileged actor tears
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Upon spending an evening watching the nightly news, Wallace Shawn became disturbed by the idea that civilization continues to crumble, unable to learn from it's past and improve upon the present to build a better future. The result is this essay which, although wanders and rambles (at times maddeningly so), is still able to strike a chord in the reader that will sound as loud and clear as a clarion call. He speaks of the sins perpetrated by capitalism, the shameless exploitation of laborers by t ...more
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had the good luck to see Wallace Shawn do an interview and read from this book recently, with the book being included in my ticket cost. It's a short essay in a small book; it totals a mere 75 pages. Shawn's droll stream-of-conscious commentary on the state of things proves to be more fun than it is enlightening.

Shawn himself said he wanted to write a bit about what he's learned over the course of his life. His philosophy of the world. He made a joke about how if he had learned more or thought
Kerry Pickens
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2020
This is a 120 page eloquent rant about the current state of civilization and how the center seems to have taken a ride down that slippery slope of morality. Wallace Shawn grew up in a wealthy home in New York (his father was editor of The New Yorker) as part of the baby boom generation, and like many of our generation chose to live on a downward mobility spiral. This worldview is in part from being first generation American and having the luxury of liberal college educations, and delayed adultho ...more
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
"A process of decay has infected the lucky in various parts of the world, and very notably in the United States, leading many even of the luckiest to turn vehemently against complex thought in general and the cultivation of the intellect in particular - and even to turn against complex pleasures. And in certain circles, crude thought and ignorance are openly respected and praised, while the concept of basing one's conclusions on evidence (or on replicable experiments) - and even the principle of ...more
Marie Kos
Jul 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Wallace’s prose is lovely, and I think he has innocent motivations for writing and publishing an essay like this one. It is a decent secular morality exercise with a humble title. However, it does suffer from Shawn’s unwillingness to address his own privilege, even as he discloses tons of other personal beliefs and thoughts. I can’t excuse an incomplete- and uneasy-feeling essay based on its humble title alone.

But I would read other books by Wallace to see what else he might have to say—on a sma
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Goodreads Librari...: Alternate cover? 3 18 Mar 26, 2018 10:34PM  

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Wallace Shawn, sometimes credited as Wally Shawn, is an American actor and playwright. Regularly seen on film and television, where he is usually cast as a comic character actor, he has pursued a parallel career as a playwright whose work is often dark, politically charged and controversial. He is widely known for his high-pitched nasal voice and slight lisp.

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  Every year in the U.S., we observe National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 through October 15. And this is the perfect...
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“Revenge and punishment both imply, “Even if I’d been you, and I’d had your life, I would never have done what you did.” And that in turn implies, “I wouldn’t have done it, because I’m better than you.” But the person who says, “I’m better than you” is taking a serious step in a very dangerous direction. And the person who says, “Even if I’d had your life, I would never have done what you did” is very probably wrong.” 5 likes
“She knows very well that the way to find happiness in this world is not to hate your life but to somehow learn how to accept your life. Take pride in your work, whatever it is. Derive whatever pleasure you can from whatever surrounds you—the sky, the people you like, the light falling on the brick wall.” 2 likes
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