There’s no point having a mind if you never change it In his bestselling How To Be Right , James provided an invigorating guide to how to talk to people with bad opinions. And yet the question he always gets asked is ‘If you’re so sure about everything, haven’t you ever changed your mind?’ In an age of us vs. them, tribal loyalties and bitter divisions, the ability to change our minds may be the most important power we have. In this intimate, personal new book, James’s focus shifts from talking to other people to how you talk to yourself about what you really think. Ranging across a dazzling array of big topics, cultural questions and political hot potatoes, James reveals where he has changed his mind, explains what convinced him, and shows why all of us need to kick the tyres of our opinions, check our assumptions and make sure we really think what we think we do. Coloured with stories of changing minds from the incredible guests on his podcasts and callers to his radio show, and spanning big ideas like press regulation and brexit, through to playful subjects like football and dog-ownership, How Not To Be Wrong is packed with revelations, outrage, conversations and lots of humour. Because in a world that seems more divided than ever, if you can’t change your own mind you’ll never really be able to change anyone else’s.
James Edward O'Brien is an English radio presenter and podcaster. He is one of the presenters on talk station LBC, presenting on weekdays between 10 am and 1 pm, hosting a phone-in discussion of current affairs, views and real-life experiences. He hosted a weekly interview series with JOE titled Unfiltered with James O'Brien. He has previously occasionally presented Newsnight for the BBC.
In his best-selling How to Be Right, James O'Brien provided an invigorating guide to how to talk to people with bad opinions. And yet the question he always gets asked is: 'if you're so sure about everything, haven't you ever changed your mind?' In an age of us vs them, tribal loyalties and bitter divisions, the ability to change our minds may be the most important power we have. In this intimate, personal new book, James' focus shifts from talking to other people to how you talk to yourself about what you really think. Ranging across a dazzling array of big topics, cultural questions and political hot potatoes, James reveals where he has changed his mind, explains what convinced him and shows why all of us need to kick the tyres of our opinions, check our assumptions and make sure we really think what we think we do. He asks us to consider that over time as people we have unwittingly formed both conscious and unconscious bias through the opinions we are exposed to, including those of our family members, our education systems and our place in society. The types of media we consume also feeds into these biases, including television, press and social media.
Coloured with stories of changing minds from the incredible guests on his podcasts and callers to his radio show, and spanning big ideas like press regulation and Brexit through to playful subjects like football and dog-ownership, How Not to Be Wrong is packed with revelations, outrage, conversations and lots of humour. Because in a world that seems more divided than ever, if you can't change your own mind you'll never really be able to change anyone else's. This is an accessible, fascinating and important read which argues that we should be more self-aware and reflective and challenge our own opinions. It's a compelling book that is written in a conversational style and you can tell it has been extensively researched. It also features some interesting anecdotes throughout and proposes that only through challenging our own thought processes can we learn to be more intuitive and come to understand that changing your mind, provided it is in an informed manner, helps us mature as people and be more open-minded in the long term. Highly recommended. Many thanks to WH Allen for an ARC.
I thought How Not To Be Wrong was excellent. I don’t listen to James O’Brien but I enjoyed his previous book, How To Be Right very much and tried this on the strength of it. It’s a very different book, but just as good and just as important.
The message of the book is summed up in its penultimate sentence: “I have finally learned that admitting to being wrong is infinitely more important than using skills and tricks and weapons and tools to look ‘right’, and that there is no point in having a mind if you can’t change it.” It’s an important message; what that sentence doesn’t convey, though, is what a remarkably honest and courageous book this is. O’Brien talks openly about some of the times he has been, in his words, “horribly wrong” either about an idea or about the way in which he has treated someone. It makes quite painful reading sometimes; it must have been very difficult to write and I think he deserves great credit for what he has done.
He has a lot to say about the way in which early experiences at school in particular gave him a mindset of always expecting attack and how he built a set of verbal tools to fend off attacks and to “win,” rather than to really listen to and empathise with what people with different life experiences may be saying to him. It took a major family crisis for him to realise that these tools did not make him a good father or husband in these circumstances and, again to his credit, he sought counselling even though he was mightily sceptical and cynical about the whole process. His description of how this affected him and the subsequent re-evaluation of much of how he behaves toward people is readable, fascinating and moving in places. Much of what he says applies to an awful lot of us (especially men, I would suggest) and is a salutary read.
I can recommend How Not To Be Wrong as an engrossing, thoughtful and thoroughly illuminating read. One of my best books of the year so far.
(My thanks to Random House, WH Allen for an ARC via NetGalley.)
Romanian review: În această carte, James O'Brien abordează câteva subiecte foarte controversate precum white privilege sau drepturile transexualilor, dar și subiecte ceva mai puțin controversate precum existența școlilor private, felul în care sunt percepuți oamenii cu tatuaje în societate sau ironizarea persoanelor supraponderale, însă este foarte clar încă de la început că părerile lui O'Brien, deși destul de bine-întemeiate, nu sunt importante, ceea ce este cu adevărat important este felul în care acesta și le schimbă. Toate subiectele discutate de autor sunt extrem de interesante și relevante pentru societatea în care trăim, însă cel mai interesant este felul în care James O'Brien explică mecanismul prin care oamenii își formează anumite convingeri, convingeri greu de schimbat, majoritatea acestor convingeri având la bază probleme emoționale sau chiar traume a căror rădăcină se găsește în copilărie. James O'Brien pledează pentru importanța schimbării opiniilor, insistând că degeaba ai o minte dacă nu ești dispus să o folosești pentru a-ți reconsidera propriile convingeri.
English review: In this book, James O'Brien addresses some very controversial topics such as white privilege or transgender rights, but also less controversial topics such as the existence of private schools, the way people with tattoos are perceived in society or fat-shaming, but it is very clear from the outset that O'Brien's views, while well-grounded, are not important, what really matters is how he changes them. All the topics discussed by the author are extremely interesting and relevant to the society in which we live, but the most interesting part is the way James O'Brien explains the mechanism by which people form certain beliefs, beliefs which are hard to change, most of these beliefs being based on emotional problems or even traumas rooted in childhood. James O'Brien argues for the importance of changing opinions, insisting that there is no point in having a mind if you are not willing to use it to reconsider your own beliefs.
"There is no point in having a mind if you never change it."
I enjoyed O'Brien's last book and was intrigued by the concept of this new writing and how he admits and accepts his wrong attitudes. The reflective and critical analysis of O'Brien's own experiences and opinions was a perfect introduction to exploring your own faults.
A brilliant example of how to critically analyse your own opinions and beliefs to become a better and more understanding human being.
"There's no point in having a mind if you're not going to change it," LBC broadcaster James O'Brien says at the very end of this excellent rumination on how to examine what we think and shift it when necessary. Hear hear.
Being wrong is something I excel at. Twenty-plus years ago, if you'd asked (and thankfully, almost no one did), I would have adamantly declared that gays in the military would be a distraction for heterosexual soldiers, that we were evolutionarily engineered to eat meat, that if we were invading any country in the Middle East it was because there were some bad people there who needed us to take care of them but good, and that glam rock was a necessary reprieve for American pop culture after the horrors of the eighties and the oncoming sludgy philosophy of grunge.
I still sort of believe the last, but over the years, I've been fortunate to be challenged by a number of people close to me, and my thinking on these matters and many others has shifted. Weird how, for a guy who quotes Emerson's "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" so freely in the classroom has spent so much time yelling "No it's not!" when clearly it was over the years. This book provides a useful commentary on the process of examining one's preconceptions and prejudices, without the crushing burden of ego interfering with a more clear-eyed analysis. When have we ever needed this more?
O'Brien distinguishes between "winning" an argument and having a more honest, productive exchange, and he lays out his own shortcomings over the years as an LBC broadcaster to provide evidence and context. The book has eight chapters, each of which dives into a singular issue or issues and shows transcripts of O'Brien fumbling the ball when talking to people on his program about issues he says he is "well meaning but ill informed" about. Probably I was most interested in the chapters on attitudes concerning traditional marriage because I too am susceptible to some of society's prejudices about wedded vs. nonwedded couples (though I didn't realize it until I read the book), and O'Brien's admission of his own hypocrisy concerning meat eating is one I share as well. (Like him, my diet is a "work in progress.") The one issue, I think, he is careful to point out he's not completely sold upon is transgender rights, and his admission that he holds two contradictory points of view on the subject, and therefore must be wrong somehow (he isn't sure how yet) is fascinating to look at. (It's summarized a bit in the midst of this exchange he had with Piers Morgan last October, when the book came out.)
I wasn't quite so convinced about his point concerning Israel: that any criticism of the state must take into account the fact that the world's Jews look to it as "a place to go to when it (the Holocaust) happens again." Maybe it's because I haven't thought enough about it; maybe it's because most of the criticism of Israel I come across is written or spoken by practicing Jews who seem to have no trouble differentiating between anti-Semitism (which is real) and horror at Israel turning Palestine into an occupied police state. When O'Brien cautions us that, if we're spending more time criticizing Israel than we are any other country, I come off okay--for me, my primary responsibility is to hold myself and my own country responsible for my/their own atrocities--and I'm perfectly willing to discuss the issue further, calmly, quietly, without any urge to make, or tolerance to endure any yelling of thinly-veiled or not-so-thinly veiled anti-Semitic bellowing about the Soros-controlled media. Gold star, please?
O'Brien is downright seductive to listen to. He is Socratic, thoughtful in the best sense, and an antidote to the poisonous bile of strident partisanship masquerading as dialogue in the media today. His being on the other side of the Atlantic only helps schlubs like me who sometimes struggle with basic geography, and he's erudite and conversational simultaneously. I maintain that his advice in his last book, How to be Right, contains the best advice possible for critical debate: get your opponent to explain what they mean. If it's sound, great; if it's not, it collapses under the weight of the facts. Here, the thesis seems to be that if you're not willing to do that to yourself, you're doing thinking wrong. Point taken.
Another great book from James O’Brien, which was refreshing to read as it offered an insight into how we can all re-evaluate our internal issues and understand how often we project these onto others and their views.
Fascinating discussions of how someone has changed their mind on many key issues, as well as the importance of letting those with real-life experiences speak to their own lives rather than assuming what is best for them.
Always an enjoyable and eloquent read from one of Britain’s few liberal radio show hosts.
I've enjoyed listening toJames O'Brien on the radio, regularly dismantling other people's opinions on a wide variety of subjects. Many of his viewpoints I agree with: the one's I don't I have sometimes found myself shouting frustratedly at the radio. Either way, it's entertaining.
This book follows on from his previous best seller How To Be Right, and his focus shifts from looking outward and always trying to win the argument to looking inside and discovering (partly via counselling) why he thinks the way he does, what his thoughts are about the way his opinions have been formed , and whether, in light of that, they are right or wrong (or a mix of both).
This book aims to encourage us to do the same: to examine the most steadfast of our opinions and ask why: to examine the other viewpoint open mindedly rather than with the intent to rubbish it; to listen to that little voice that sometimes talks inside our head; and to actively listen to other people because their personal opinions have drawn them to a different conclusion., and it's interesting and enlightening to find out why. He asks us to be aware of our unconscious biases and try to look outside our usual reading material. We all surround ourselves with friends who have similar opinions, and read media that aligns with how we think about the world. We could do better: to read other media, to see the other side of the story may lead to a better understanding of why people think differently. It may also lead you to change your own opinions at times - not a bad thing!
The text is interspersed with conversations from his radio show - some to illustrate how he used to bulldoze people with his opinion, some showing how he now listens, others where changed his mind on a subject just by listening to another person's experience. He also points out that the best way to change someone else's opinion is not to talk over them, to patronise them or to verbally them; but to get them to question their own viewpoint.
We all need to be open-minded enough to listen: even if ultimately we still have the same opinion as when we started, at least we understand the underpinnings of the other person's argument (or maybe that there are no underpinnings: they are arguing from feelings rather than fact and evidence.).
In the last 10 years or so, in the UK at least, we have become much more tribal in our thinking - footballisation as James calls it - not just wanting our team to win, but wanting the other side to lose badly in many other ways. This will never lead to anything good - we need to learn to listen, to understand, to agree to disagree, if we want to get on better and become a united kingdom in actions rather than just a label..
I listen to James O’Brien’s political radio show on LBC almost every weekday and he is, in my opinion, one of the most sensible, reasonable and articulate people with a media platform in the UK today. I have a lot of respect for him and would recommend anyone to listen to his show.
This is a book about changing your mind, and it’s also a very brave book.
James analyses times in his own past when his beliefs on certain topics were a world away from what they are now, and how he came to change his mind. Sometimes he has been helped by callers on his show and he scripts out some of the most interesting and eye opening conversations he’s had which have forced him to do a 180 on his previous views. He discusses topics such as stop & search, trans people, therapy, obesity, Black Lives Matter, vegetarianism and more.
I found it an extremely brave book because how many of us would be willing to hold up our past selves, spouting what we now know to be utter nonsense, for all the world to see? Yet here is James doing exactly that, laying himself bare and saying, ‘Look everyone - look how silly I was then - and this is how I changed.’
I’ve certainly held views in the past that I am now ashamed of and the thought of doing what James has done here would absolutely terrify me, so much respect to him for that.
It’s also a very hopeful book, because it shows how much we can grow if we just give ourselves the space and can open up our minds and listen. We should all be doing more of that.
When I got to the end I could have happily kept on reading this and wished it was a bit longer (something I rarely say about a book). Luckily I have his radio show to go back to for my fix!
A very honest look at James O'Brien's personal views on a selection of topics, which he held passionately and insistantly and how he came to realise he was wrong and change his mind. There are some deeply personal, vulnerable and revealing things here, from his days at school to adult reactions to obesity and the legitamate confusion of trans issues.
His recounting of his corperal punishment as a young boy at boarding school are honestly heartbreaking and it's a very interesting look at how that experience lead him to support the concept of beating children for many years, against what would be thought of as clearly rational and obvious reasons. The complexity of how we protect ourselves emotionally from trauma plays key roles which then inform our lives onwards.
The same with trans issues, which I think he makes honest and important points, that from the perspective of someone outside the direct issue, there is honest confusion which needs to be allowed to be expressed and questions asked before any possibility of understanding and acceptance can happen.
On any subject, people need to be able to make mistakes, ask and probably say the wrong thing, before people can be come to the realisation that we can be wrong. Often about things we feel very stongly and passionately about. We need to be open to having these conversations, with ourselves, with our friends, our families, our communities and society.
Well worth a listen and something I will listen to again, hopefully opening my own mind more in process.
Hmmmm.... this book made me think a fair bit. It makes you think about how you can acknowledge the hurt and pain of a person/group of people by digging deep and learning a bit more about why you are offended of their existence. Or why we might feel the need to sometimes dismiss a grievance or upset. It's often because we are harbouring pain and shame ourselves - a dislike of our own lives. It's about awareness. Listening and researching and being present when someone tells you that they are hurt by your comments. As a radio talk show host, the culture I suppose is often to play people off against each other and to inflate the problem for the sake of entertainment and debate. The point is that earnest discussion is important. Ridiculing people who hold different opinions to us is shutting down the opportunity to actually learn and understand why someone thinks differently to you. Experience teaches us everything.
A good read. Nothing groundbreaking but interesting, nonetheless!
James O'Brien is a journalist and broadcaster. He has particularly come to prominence for his radio phone in show on LBC for which he has been labelled "the conscience of liberal Britain." I knew he had written this book but did not rush out to get it, because although I have enjoyed his phone in show, the title made me think he was going to use his experience to tell us how to be right about things. And the problem I have with that is that a radio phone in is always an unequal forum, and although he frequently eviscerates arguments from opponents of his positions, I felt that his observations might be coloured by the benefit of his unequal status and a general cult of personality.
But then I saw the book in Foyles in London and read the blurb and the Foyles recommendation too, and I realised this book was not what I had expected at all. Instead this is a deeply personal look by the author at the art of self examination of our own views. He candidly and apologetically tells of some of his biggest errors and worst actions. He speaks of his own need for counselling, and most of all he tells us of times he has been forced to change his mind. Again and again.
And that is what the book is about. It is about how it is not only allowed, but right that we should re-examine our settled positions, and be free to change our mind when someone else persuades us we are wrong. He points out that this is a sign of youthful thinking, which I think was spot on. And it is not limited to young people. It is a matter of mental fitness that we can be persuaded to change our opinion on a matter.
And then he talks about trick issues such as the trans-sexual debate where he finds himself frustratingly conflicted (and thus villified by both sides) and uses that to argue for safe space to consider issues and the error in shouting down opposition. Quite right!
This book was deeply thoughtful, very personal and surprisingly good as a result.
I really liked this and have no hesitation in recommending it.
As a keen enjoyer of James O’Brien’s previous book ‘How To Be Right’, it was unlikely that outside of a shift in personality for either of us, I would find this book anything short of interesting. The fact that it challenged me and the way I have gone about certain interactions in my professional and personal life was a troublesome, but ultimately excellent bonus.
Being self aware is one of the most important attributes - and especially so in a climate where divisions run deep across politics, sports, even tribal workplace relationships! Knowing your enemy, so to speak, and understanding different viewpoints, and acknowledging that opposition doesn’t (and shouldn’t in most cases) disparage friendships, is something lost on many of us. And being able to admit that sometimes, you, or your beliefs may not be right, is a relief, even though it may seem impossible at first.
With his trademark repertoire of anecdotes from his radio show to back his many misgivings, and evolving in opinion, that rather than showing something indecisive, portrays a human who when confronted with evidence head on, can acknowledge and adjust his viewpoint. This is what we all strive for, and would make the world far more comfortable with itself. What’s right once, isn’t always, and what’s right next, won’t be forever.
If you’re aware of James and his radio show, no doubt you’ll enjoy this as much as his other work. If you despise him, you won’t like it. But that shouldn’t put you off finding out what he has to say, and discovering how you too can not be wrong.
I binged this book in about a day, and it's definitely one of my new favorite books. I love reading books about the flaws in my thinking, and understanding the psychology behind this has helped save my life. I'm a recovering drug addict, and my big "Aha!" moment was when I realized that I wasn't the smartest person on earth and that I might just be wrong about the way I was living. This is why I love this book from James O'Brien. Most of the books like this (like the one I'm currently writing) explain the psychology behind different biases and heuristics, but this book caught me by surprise because it's about James reviewing how he was wrong about different topics like racism, mental health, obesity and much more.
This book was completely unique with the way it approached this subject, and it was extremely inspiring. Reading the book was almost like reading a philosophy book because James asks such great questions and comes from a place of curiosity. I truly hope more people read this book and are inspired to practice some intellectual humility. I know it inspired me.
Great book and very honest. As with the first book I particularly like the extracts of his radio show and discussions with listeners. These help shed light on topics with much more clarity as they provide real life view points.
I think by highlighting where he was wrong in the past we can actually set a scene for open debate on important issues such as race, gender equality, press etc.
The general principle of it being ok to change your opinion and grow is very important in this day and age where staunchness in your belief is appreciated rather than the merits of the view itself.
Didn't give it a 5 star as there were parts in the book I almost felt he was too apologist for prior views/comments and needed to make his point quicker (like he did in the 1st book and hence its 5 star view).
Still a brilliant read and it's interesting to see the evolution of Liberal ideas and view points of great significance.
Very much enjoyed this book. James puts arguments forward whilst not claiming to be totally correct but instead presents varying degrees of concerns and opinions that he has, a skill someone that anyone who describes people as ‘woke’ simply cannot comprehend.
If more people read this then there would be fewer daily mail thinkers who’s opinions are based on fury-not-fact opinion pieces, curated specifically to sell outrage to a public hellbent on defending free speech but who recoil in horror when criticised for their opinions.
Plus, James absolutely minced ‘Andy from Blackburn’s’ opinions on trans people which was rather funny.
I would absolutely recommend this to Lucy as she’d not totally agree with James on every aspect but she would enjoy the fact that he has an ability to see both sides of the argument without being blinded by the thoughts of the sun newspaper.
A really honest book from James O’Brien. It’s fair to say that O’Brien is an intellectual idol of mine. However, if I had discovered him earlier in my life (as he describes in his book), I would’ve disliked him greatly. Some of his opinions and standpoints were grossly wrong, but he admits that in the book. It’s refreshing to see somebody analyse their old opinions and how they came to change their mind. His last book taught me not to stop at “what I think”, but to go further and explain “WHY I think it”. This book provides another lesson: it’s okay to change your mind. It reminded me of a quote by economist John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”.
I thought this was good. Challenging and insightful and I learned quite a bit from it. It reads a bit like some newspapers columns stuck together, but is really worth that bit of excess. It made me rethink my various more robust views and find ways of accepting the views of others more easily.
I was an occasional listener to James O’Brien during lockdown. He talked a lot of sense. Reading his book made me recognise why I think the way I do about certain things. And why I’m wrong. A very honest book.
Actually really really loved this!! Got it from peter for xmas - not my usual author of choice (old white opinionated LBC presenter) but really refreshing to read how your views can change over time. My dad needs to read it lol. Also whizzed thru a re read of everything I know about love 💜
I very much enjoyed James’ first book, but struggled with this one. I thought parts of it were great and it was excellent to see a man being so open about therapy and his feelings. It lost me in the second half - he spent a lot of time listing all his previously awful opinions (and as I am not a radio listener this was the first time I heard them) which I found distasteful. Parts of this book were also clearly intended to be jabs at Piers Morgan and his ilk, which I found uninteresting to read - save that for twitter. James seems to think the best thing to be is honest, but I think sometimes it’s the ability to be quiet.
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.”
This is the companion piece to O'Brien's other recent book, How to Be Right. The first one was, frankly, a much better read - here O'Brien talks about the power of changing your mind and accepting that you can be wrong about things. That, of course, suggests that eventually you will be right (the topic of the first book), but the value lies in examining why one feels the way one does about different subjects. Penny drop moments abound here, and credit is given where it is due for their occurrence, whether it be from corporal punishment (smacking one's children etc) or vegetarianism or fat shaming; the only problem really is that the juiciest content comes in the first book and not so much here.
Though there are plenty of moments of value in this slim volume, too much seems to have been given over to padding, suggesting that this has been a slightly rushed affair - dare I ask if it was suggested by the publishers as a way to capitalise on the dramatic success of the first volume?