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When now becomes then But What If We're Wrong?'

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Klosterman book aims to look at the present from a future perspective

Have you ever considered the possibility that we're wrong?

Not about small things nobody is right about EVERYTHING but about big things. It's easy to sit in the now and think that we've got everything all figured out, but the odds of that actually being the case are pretty slim. People from every era, every century have been absolutely sure that they were right about the way the world worked physically, emotionally, culturally, whatever and yet our understanding of it all has been in a nigh-constant state of flux.

We look back at scientific theories and artistic criticisms from the past and marvel at just how far off-base they were. Which begs the question: when people from the future look back, what off-base ideas of ours will be marveled at in turn?

That's the central conceit of 'But What If We're Wrong?' (Blue Rider Press, $26), the latest offering from pop intellectual and cultural commentator Chuck Klosterman. Basically, Klosterman combines his own intellectual curiosity and deep pop culture knowledge with an assortment of interviews from some pretty heavy hitters George Saunders, David Byrne, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Junot Diaz, Richard Linklater and more to try and come up with plausible responses to questions that are currently unanswerable by definition.

It is, as you might imagine, freewheeling and wide-ranging, bouncing from high culture to low and arguing whether the future will see any difference. It is smart and funny and thoughtful and downright exceptional.

Klosterman's starting point is seemingly simple, yet difficult to truly conceptualize. Basically, he operates under the assumption that it isn't necessarily that we have the wrong answers, but that we aren't even aware of the right questions that will be asked.

While the scientific types are understandably reluctant to concede that our fundamental understanding of something like gravity might turn out to be wrong (though there are a couple of guys in there who have some pretty out-there ideas), the context provided through a look back to someone like Socrates and how it took centuries for his now-ludicrous notions of gravity to be superseded is invaluable. People have believed wrongs to be right for centuries at a stretch how can we be sure we're not in such a stretch ourselves?

Unsurprisingly, Klosterman is at his most engaging when he ventures into the cultural realm. Alongside plenty of notable names, he explores the nature of canon and context, arguing that perhaps the artists destined to be most celebrated and beloved by far-future generations are largely unknown to us or even more counterintuitively widely known, but largely disparaged and/or discounted.

Klosterman goes deep in his own areas of expertise music and sports and television. He questions who will be the representative of the 'rock' genre, offering up a number of choices featuring their own respective pros and cons and questioning just what it takes to serve as the sole example of an entire musical movement. He also talks about the possible evolution of the game of football and team sports in general offering up multiple ideas about how that landscape will change (and likely sooner than many of the other notions addressed in the book at that).

And the TV stuff is just great. He puts forth the argument that television will be remembered in the future much like the days of radio are remembered now, as part of a continuum upon which the culture has traveled further. He also builds a formula for determining which TV shows will carry the most perceived value in the distant years to come and winds up with a really surprising answer.

Klosterman has made his reputation as a thoughtful instigator of imaginary hypotheticals and pop culture deconstruction. His previous nonfiction works, while always loosely themed, have largely been collections of essays that could (and often did) stand alone. 'But What If We're Wrong?' is different. Yes, many of these pieces could work on their own, but this is easily his most central idea-driven book 2013's 'I Wear the Black Hat' is the only one that really comes close.

And we're the luckier for it.

Klosterman's best work comes when he bounces his idiosyncratic ideas off others before really digging deep and that's all this book is. Wave after wave of brilliant, respected thinkers writers, musicians, scientists, what have you make appearances, helping Klosterman to mold and shape his ideas into their most compelling and intellectually stimulating forms. And it's hilarious, of course. Klosterman's well-honed wit is readily apparent, adding the perfect seasoning to this mlange of hypotheticals.

'But What If We're Wrong?' is a well-written and utterly engaging intellectual exercise - frothy and funny, yet thoughtful and possessed of surprising depth. It's another outstanding offering from the mind of Chuck Klosterman.


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