Book of the Year. But what if we’re wrong? by Chuck Klosterman. The central premise of Klosterman’s book about the past, present and future is to ask if the “ideas so ingrained in the collective consciousness that it seems foolhardy to even wonder if they’re potentially untrue” turn out to be totally wrong. He begins with the topic of gravity. Aristotle’s definition of gravity stood for centuries before being overturned by Copernicus and Newton, whose ideas lasted until Einstein, whose ideas are still being expanded upon. Klosterman continues in a series of essays examining topics such as which one artist will be used in textbooks many centuries from now to represent this century’s books or rock and roll music or television the same way we use John Philip Sousa to define marching music (assuming we still have textbooks or even schools). He also questions whether organized sports and democracy will continue to exist and examines things like Phantom Time and artificial intelligence.
Usually, Klosterman’s time horizon is centuries, but readers can easily ask the same questions of current trends: are political gridlock and climate change permanent or is there some transformative event that could happen to change everything again? And what changes will happen just in our lifetimes? When my grandparents were born, the tsars had ruled Russia for over 300 years, the IOC had never hosted an Olympic Games, and the concept of a black or female or Catholic or transgender U.S. President was not to be believed.
This book makes an interesting companion piece to 2013’s Best Non-fiction winner: The Half-life of Facts: why everything we know has an expiration date by Samuel Arbesman.
For all my previous “books of the year” lists, see my dedicated page for these titles.