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Night Thoughts

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  229 ratings  ·  52 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
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3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  229 ratings  ·  52 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
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. It is beautifully written, wise, and unexpectedly uplifting.
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: edelweiss
Night Thoughts is a dangerous book. Actor/playwright/essayist Wallace Shawn is best known for his role in The Princess Bride ("Inconceivable!") as well as in My Dinner with Andre (and so many more movies and television shows), and before he died he left us with a few of this lifelong thoughts. 

This is a short book and a quick read, but it's difficult and time-consuming to process. He questions whether civilization itself was worth the trouble, if humans are capable of meting out justice without
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
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars. I grabbed this short book (really a long essay) while browsing the new nonfiction in the library. The author’s name caught my attention (I’m familiar with Shawn’s acting) but the opening page made me check it out. Shawn is excellent at creating mood and his diction is superb, but unfortunately there’s not much marrow in the bone, so to speak. The book is loosely structured -- to the point of rambling, at times -- and the concepts he covers are nothing new: the world is separated into ...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
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, essays
I've never read the book form of My Dinner with Andre, but I have seen the film many, many times and Night Thoughts reminds me, in many ways, of that film. This time, instead of two friends, it is a single man puzzling his way through thoughts with no clear or easy answers. He seeks truth and wisdom, unsure if he will find them. He wants to make some sense of this world but it appears to elude him. He reaches no conclusions but, really, was that the point? Could conclusions be definitively reach ...more
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
good example of something you could never ever get published if they used masked review. then again i took it off the shelf at library because i recognize him from My Dinner with Andre and thought it might be interesting.

and it is at times. he can definitely write, but this is a slight [75 small pages] polemic about the unfairness of the world's having both comfortable/rich ("Lucky" per the author) and oppressed/poor ("unlucky") people, and an explication of the author's sense that you just have
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
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
Attracted to this from Shawn's movie work, but it disappointed.
He's sincere and well-intentioned, but I wasn't looking for something moralistic.

It brought to mind a Woody Allen line (Sleepers?):
"If you want to improve the world, make funnier movies."

Good luck from the beginning. ... large apartment, the help, ... Books and music from the very beginning. ... Now downwardly mobile. ... shop for groceries, carry bags, climb stairs ... Father never did.
Tales of Genji
the lucky and unlucky on
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
A succinct and entertaining essay on the lucky vs. the unlucky, what it would take to change the balance between the two, and the likelihood the balance will ever change. I have a few nits to pick with some of his examples and arguments for being too overarching to convince, barring more specific evidence. But if—like me and Shawn—you've put to proper use the good, expensive education your parents provided you by becoming downwardly mobile, you'll agree with most of what he says, and smile in ap ...more
Steve Schaffer
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This short book is best read in one sitting. Mr. Shawn shares his thoughts as an observer of the world as it is from the inequities and cruelties in human society to the inner warmth of human interactions. His observations are simple, but, in their simplicity, deep. This book struck a chord with me and I think that it hits on several universal truths that exist within in all (or most) of us. I felt like I could have written this book in this sense that his ideas and explanations very much aligne ...more
Payge Rustad
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
While walking past the shelves of books at the library, I spotted a small hardcover poking out at me. Wallace Shawn's Night Thoughts may be the smallest book that's ever had an impact on me. It's thought provoking. It's funny. It's relatable. It's weird in some parts, I am not going to lie to you, but his voice flows into the pages. The writing style in this essay is much like if you were laying in bed at night thinking out loud. Thoughts string together, sometimes they get lost, but eventually ...more
Dec 18, 2017 rated it did not like it
This is more of a pamphlet than a book: I read the whole thing on the commute one day. Had it not been so short, I probably wouldn't have finished it, since it's a cri de coeur about the state of the world (roger that), making all sorts of empirical claims (I'm here for it), without even pretending to provide empirical evidence when the gap can be filled with strong feelings instead. Shawn can turn an elegant sentence, but stream-of-consciousness polemic isn't my taste.
Mar 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This extended essay contains thoughts on "Morality", "Civilization" and "Civilization as Specialization". The lucky and the unlucky. Examples and musings offer up no concrete solutions. Wallace seems to imply that there might be a way to a sane world but does not know what and/or how. The final lines: "This could be our night,and during this night we might be able to stop. Stop. Think. and start again in a different way."
Jan 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Picked the book up in the library and didn't recognize the author or his picture on the cover until after I red the book. Pretty interesting I must say. Not for everyone but for people that have a mind and can ponder ideas. I won't forget this book. I will remember it always. Some strange ideas.
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reductionist in some useful and clarifying ways. The dichotomy of lucky/unlucky allows for some interesting thoughts. Didn't agree with all the conclusions but a rather large percentage of them and there were moment of legitimate transcendent thoughts that occurred.
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Goodreads Librari...: Alternate cover? 3 17 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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“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.” 1 likes
“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.” 1 likes
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