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But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking about the Present as If It Were the Past
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But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking about the Present as If It Were the Past

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  15,418 ratings  ·  1,727 reviews
New York Times bestselling author Chuck Klosterman asks questions that are profound in their simplicity: How certain are we about our understanding of gravity? How certain are we about our understanding of time? What will be the defining memory of rock music, five hundred years from today? How seriously should we view the content of our dreams? How seriously should we view ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by Penguin Books (first published June 7th 2016)
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Hannah Looking into the past with eyes colored by the present. (Using culture, science, ideas, etc.)

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 ·  15,418 ratings  ·  1,727 reviews

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As the opening chapter questions whether we could be wrong about the existence of gravity, I thought this would be a book about philosophy and the nature of existence. Of course, I should have looked closely at the author's name - Chuck Klosterman writes about the arts and pop culture, so rather than questioning the nature of existence, mostly this book questions our value judgements on the arts and pop culture. The chapter on books asks just how wrong we can be about who will be the voice of th ...more
Excuse me. I just have to go pat myself on the back for ninety minutes for having read nonfiction voluntarily. My brain is bigger than yours, and I am the greatest person alive.

I don’t run, so I don’t know what a runner’s high feels like and I never will and I never want to, but I imagine it’s a lot like finishing a nonfiction book you read without anyone making you. Because, like, wow. I feel like I just won a MacArthur grant, or discovered a new law of physics, or something.

Despite the fact t
Just Think Apocalypse

The trouble with ideals is that they become less than ideal almost as soon as they’re stated. When we articulate them, to ourselves or others, we subject them to reflection and discussion. We immediately learn something that makes us want to change, refine or amend them. But our emerging commitments to these ideals inhibit any change in direction. Who wants to be considered flighty or lacking in serious thought?

It’s not just ideals of course. Our preferences, our expectation
Dec 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5-4 stars

I loved this book up until about half way through. It was covering topics like string theory, the multiverse, and our understanding of gravity. One of my favorites- "As a species, the concept of infinity might be too much for us. I suspect the human conception of infinity is akin to a dog's conception of a clock". -love this!

Discussions with Tyson and Greene-Aristotle and Galileo make appearances throughout-I also loved the chapter on history- with Klosterman's saying, "history is def
Kevin Kelsey
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Posted at

I’m thirty-four years old and have only just now read a Chuck Klosterman book—or a Chuck Klosterman anything to be more precise. He’s been on my radar for about a decade, and I’ve had a copy of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs on my shelf for almost as many years, but I've never even cracked the spine. I never felt traditionally cool enough to read Klosterman. I’ll be the first to admit that none of this was based on anything remotely resembling an informed decision. Lookin
Apr 26, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Don't go into this book if you really expect to learn something or encounter firm opinions from Chuck Klosterman (except, of course, his wholly incorrect view on the movie Independence Day). I thought I might hate this book going by the first chapter, which seemed to talk in circles about doubt and certainty. Fortunately, subsequent sections are arranged around different themes, and the focus does Klosterman a world of good. Nobody wants to read nearly 300 pages of that annoying devil's advocate ...more
Sam Quixote
In his latest book, Chuck Klosterman takes a look at the present as if it were the distant past, posing some interesting thought experiments: what will people think of the early 21st century in 500 years’ time? Will rock music still be popular and who will be remembered as the epitome of the genre? Will team sports like football still be popular? Who will be remembered as the most significant writer of this time? Has science reached an impasse or are we about to discover a major new bountiful fi ...more
Jul 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first Klosterman book and my first nonfiction book in a minute as the kids say. I really liked most of the book. It's pretty abstract, there aren't any answers to the questions he's asking since we can't see into the future, but I enjoyed the discussion and trying to gaze into the crystal ball.

The premise of the book is trying to look at the present as if it were the past, basically putting ourselves into a time machine and looking back at our current times from a variety of angles.
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: futurology
The starting point of this book is absolutely interesting: let us imagine what people would think about our own age in 500 or 1,000 years, assuming that there still are humans. Not a simple matter, of course, but there is a strong tendency to immediately conclude that what we now take for granted will turn out to be completely wrong, just as we now see that what was thought 500 or 1,000 years ago largely was wrong or at least not adequate enough.

Klosterman illustrates this by asking, for example
Jul 06, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I really want to give this more stars, I should have liked it- but, ugh. Yes, I'm sure lots of the things we now believe about reality may one day be proven wrong, but so what? How does that effect our lives? Well, as the author states it doesn't because most people don't care. The shepherd in 1500 A.D. who was suddenly told the earth went around the sun and not vice versa, was shocked and then went back to his sheep. We're just the same, centuries from now when we finally unlock the secrets of ...more
Apr 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fun book. I received an ARC in exchange for my review, and I have to say that I would strongly recommend this to anyone who loves to ask "What if?" This is one of those books you just can't take seriously at all, but if you're willing to follow the author down the hypothetical scenario rabbit hole, it's quite amusing. You will ponder who the next Kafka will be, whether the Beatles will still be historically important in the far future, whether there is another version of you (or multi ...more
Peter Derk
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best thing I've read this year.

The premise is pretty simple. Basically, Klosterman spends most of a book...not PROVING that we're wrong about just about everything, but asking questions that make us think, "If I step outside myself for a second, I COULD be wrong."

You'd be amazed the places he goes with this. He starts with fucking gravity! STARTS with. Not proving that gravity is nonexistent as we experience it, but that it may be an emergent force, which is a force that results from other thing
Stevie Kincade
I don't always read non-SF/F but when I do, I like to make sure it's the kind of non-fiction that makes me incredibly annoying at parties. God, you should have seen me the year I read Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink", I could hammer the thought-candy from that book into any conversation about anything at all.

Gladwell's premise is that throughout history we have been completely wrong about everything SO, what things that we accept as completely true now, will we look back on in 500 years and laugh a
Aug 08, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Every time I read an essay by Chuck Klosterman -- and, given my interest in music and pop culture, I've read a number of them -- I'm struck by his self-deprecating tone. It's the written equivalent of throat clearing and foot shuffling: parenthetical asides, wryly humorous footnotes, run-on digressions from his central point. It can be charming.

But in small doses, and in the right context. In "But What If We're Wrong?" it becomes, frankly, annoying.

The book's conceit is a good one: What will mat
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
No. No. No. I'm not sure what went wrong. I usually love books like this...really! This type of nonfiction, even the absurd, are books I enjoy. But this one....not so much. I think my main issue was that I did the audio and the author liked himself and his topics of discussion enough for both of us....way more than I ever could. He sounded like he was the greatest thing and everything was so important. Bottom line: I wasn't feeling it. He thought he was so witty, and that was such a huge turn of ...more
Eric Lin
Jun 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You may expect this book to be filled with doubt (and it is), but even more so, it advocates humility.

In But What If We're Wrong?, Chuck Klosterman jumps from topic to topic, questioning some of the opinions that society has more or less reached consensus on. Some of these are objective (our understanding of gravity), and some are subjective (who will be considered the greatest writer of the 21th century?), but it's interesting to think about "Opinion" in the macro sense of what society believes
Michael Buonagurio
I usually love reading Klosterman, but this book was difficult to get through and on the whole not enjoyable unfortunately. It's fun to listen to him on Bill Simmons' podcast present unorthodox views on sports or cultural events, and his celebrity profiles are always fresh and have a distinct slant to them. But I felt his writing style, which was unnecessarily convoluted at times, wasn't a great fit for this subject matter. High brow writing about low brow topics is where he seems to excel. It f ...more
Sense of History
Futurism is not a science and it will never become one, unless of course I am mistaken, and the chance that I'm wrong is actually pretty high. Perhaps this statement makes you dizzy, but this book is full of such contradictory propositions. And that is not surprising, most of them are actually open doors. Klosterman, for example, offers a nice sample of predictions and imaginations of the future, made in the past, that turned out completely wrong. And that is rather easily done, of course, becau ...more
Apr 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
“History is defined by people who don’t really understand what they are defining.”

This was a really fascinating and thought-provoking read! Klosterman takes a sociological look at several cultural facets, asking sometimes bizarre, but poignant questions. I particularly liked the part about authors and writing (naturally!) and the section on the US Constitution. Overall, a great read!
A book-long pointless intellectual exercise, but a really fun and interesting one. This is my favorite Klosterman in a while: it's both more serious and thoughtful, and funnier, than his last few efforts. If you'd like the experience of a truly excellent semi-sober dinner conversation with a smart, surprising companion but in book form, well -- here it is! ...more
Nathan Shuherk
Apr 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’ve enjoyed Klosterman’s writing in several of his other books, but never really loved any of them. A great pop writer, but enough tangents or views or arguments I never really would classify any of those books as great, but this was different. This book is geared toward me in ways his other stuff isn’t. I’m not sure this is actually a 5 star book, but it is for me.
Peter Tillman
Interesting premise, shaky execution, indifferent writing. Abandoned and returned. Not for me.
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There's a subset of readers who will adore Chuck Klosterman's most recent book, But What if We're Wrong?, and a second (likely larger) subset who will view it as frustrating and pointless intellectual masturbation. I'm firmly in the first camp, and not just because my job demands I have a high tolerance for frustrating and pointless intellectual masturbation. I've been a fan of Klosterman's for years, mainly because he speaks my middle-aged pop-culture-obsessed nerd lingo. And while that side of ...more
Caitlin Cramer
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lhrs
1.5 stars. This isn’t the sort of book I would have picked up if I weren’t in a book club and it didn’t help that I really wasn’t in the mood for it. It’s not that I don’t occasionally enjoy the sort of “what if?” musings referred to in this book as beer’s just that his delivery reminds me too much of the smug white guys who each believed to his very core that his personal taste in movies was the height of cinematic art that I tried hard to avoid in college.

Klosterman’s writi
D.L. Morrese
From the title and the blurb I expected this book would address basic assumptions that we, as a culture, seldom question but which are not necessarily true. It doesn't do that. Although there is a little about science and some philosophical underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution, most of the book looks at pop culture—fiction, TV, music, and sports—and asks if the assessments of contemporary critics will reflect how people of the future judge these things.

My initial reaction was something like, "
Aug 08, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like the premise. It’s a thought experiment that asks the question: How will the distant future remember the present. An early example is John Phillip Sousa. You might recognize the name as a renowned composer of marching music, heard at countless high school football games. Chances are you couldn’t name a second marching music composer despite it being a prevalent musical form in the late 19th century. He’s the single placeholder for an entire genre.

200 years from now who will be the name th
James Murphy
Oct 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a terribly interesting book. Klosterman speculates about what in our present lives will still have significance in the far future and how it will be perceived. It's a book about perspectives and also a book of criticism. He devotes time to questions about which books of our time will still be read 200 or 300 yearss from now, what songs and artists will be perceived as epitomizing our age. What is the future of sports? What is the future of American democracy? Are we at the end of science ...more
Lorilin || thegoodbug
The premise: what if we're wrong about what we know "for sure" now, and how will we see our past selves in the future?

Klosterman discusses (and dissects) the concepts of gravity, the NFL, TV, art, and democracy, among others.

This book is well-researched and well-written...and I hated every minute of it. Klosterman comes across as self-important and arrogant. He makes his point...and then continues to explain it for another 30 pages. It's honest-to-God mental masturbation at its finest. I final
Andrea McDowell
So, the longer review:

Klosterman seems unable to really think through his central thesis: how will the present look from the future? As a result, his book is incredibly dated only five years after publication, despite it being meant to take a view of 500 years from now. This is due largely to two things: Klosterman doesn't understand that other people have vastly different values and perspectives from himself (and oh the irony), and doesn't understand the relative strangeness of our current mome
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-reads
The questions that obsess Klosterman are not ones that keep me up at night. A few years ago I tried to read Kathryn Schulz's Being Wrong and I hadn't been compelled to finish. But this was a lot of fun to read, and it required a lot of thinking (I claim to enjoy that, but sometimes this made my head hurt. Don't know if it was the thoughts or CK's meandering writing style.) He's sort of conducting Gedankenexperments, so I thought of those terms like "backcasting" and "hindcasting", but I don't kn ...more
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Charles John "Chuck" Klosterman is an American author and essayist whose work focuses on American popular culture. He has been a columnist for Esquire and and wrote "The Ethicist" column for The New York Times Magazine. ...more

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“When The Matrix debuted in 1999, it was a huge box-office success. It was also well received by critics, most of whom focused on one of two qualities—the technological (it mainstreamed the digital technique of three-dimensional “bullet time,” where the on-screen action would freeze while the camera continued to revolve around the participants) or the philosophical (it served as a trippy entry point for the notion that we already live in a simulated world, directly quoting philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s 1981 reality-rejecting book Simulacra and Simulation). If you talk about The Matrix right now, these are still the two things you likely discuss. But what will still be interesting about this film once the technology becomes ancient and the philosophy becomes standard? I suspect it might be this: The Matrix was written and directed by “the Wachowski siblings.” In 1999, this designation meant two brothers; as I write today, it means two sisters. In the years following the release of The Matrix, the older Wachowski (Larry, now Lana) completed her transition from male to female. The younger Wachowski (Andy, now Lilly) publicly announced her transition in the spring of 2016. These events occurred during a period when the social view of transgender issues radically evolved, more rapidly than any other component of modern society. In 1999, it was almost impossible to find any example of a trans person within any realm of popular culture; by 2014, a TV series devoted exclusively to the notion won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series. In the fifteen-year window from 1999 to 2014, no aspect of interpersonal civilization changed more, to the point where Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner attracted more Twitter followers than the president (and the importance of this shift will amplify as the decades pass—soon, the notion of a transgender US president will not seem remotely implausible). So think how this might alter the memory of The Matrix: In some protracted reality, film historians will reinvestigate an extremely commercial action movie made by people who (unbeknownst to the audience) would eventually transition from male to female. Suddenly, the symbolic meaning of a universe with two worlds—one false and constructed, the other genuine and hidden—takes on an entirely new meaning. The idea of a character choosing between swallowing a blue pill that allows him to remain a false placeholder and a red pill that forces him to confront who he truly is becomes a much different metaphor. Considered from this speculative vantage point, The Matrix may seem like a breakthrough of a far different kind. It would feel more reflective than entertaining, which is precisely why certain things get remembered while certain others get lost.” 14 likes
“History is a creative process (or as Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “a set of lies agreed upon”). The world happens as it happens, but we construct what we remember and what we forget. And people will eventually do that to us, too.” 12 likes
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