How To Be Right
Every day, James O’Brien listens to people blaming benefits scroungers, the EU, Muslims, feminists and immigrants. But what makes James’s daily LBC show such essential listening – and has made James a standout social media star – is the careful way he punctures their assumptions and dismantles their arguments live on air, every single morning.In How To Be Right, James provides a hilarious and invigorating guide to talking to people with faulty opinions. With chapters on every lightning-rod issue, James shows how people have been fooled into thinking the way they do, and in each case outlines the key questions to ask to reveal fallacies, inconsistencies and double standards.If you ever get cornered by ardent Brexiteers, Daily Mail disciples or little England patriots, this book is your conversation survival guide.‘I have had a ringside seat as a significant swathe of the British population was persuaded that their failures were the fault of foreigners, that unisex lavatories threatened their peace of mind and that ‘all Muslims’ must somehow apologise for terror attacks by extremists. I have tried to dissuade them and sometimes succeeded… The challenge is to distinguish sharply between the people who told lies and the people whose only offence was to believe them.’James O’Brien

How To Be Right Details

TitleHow To Be Right
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseNov 1st, 2018
PublisherVirgin Digital
ISBN-139780753553114
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Politics, Audiobook, Culture, Society, Sociology, Humor, Funny, Contemporary, Psychology, Feminism

How To Be Right Review

  • Roman Clodia
    January 1, 1970
    O'Brien is such a sane voice in today's increasingly toxic world... refusing to accept the often unthinking inanities of people incensed by Muslims, migrants, Remainers, uppity women, feminists, gay/trans people, Trump-haters, millenials, the young in general and just about anyone else who doesn't fit into some kind of narrow definition of 'us', he subjects - and importantly - forces them on his phone-in show to subject their often rabid and deeply offensive opinions to factual and cool critical O'Brien is such a sane voice in today's increasingly toxic world... refusing to accept the often unthinking inanities of people incensed by Muslims, migrants, Remainers, uppity women, feminists, gay/trans people, Trump-haters, millenials, the young in general and just about anyone else who doesn't fit into some kind of narrow definition of 'us', he subjects - and importantly - forces them on his phone-in show to subject their often rabid and deeply offensive opinions to factual and cool critical analysis. That he does this with wit, albeit acidic at times, and humour and a kind of dogged refusal to be side-tracked is wholly admirable, revealing and frequently very funny. Although sometimes in a kind of tragic way.O'Brien as a journalist is more generous than I am in blaming not individuals but the right-wing media which feeds, and makes a profit out of, this kind of right-wing scaremongering. He forces people to try to justify their spoon-fed opinions beyond the soundbite that they adopt so easily - some might change their stance, others simply put the phone down when challenged. O'Brien also admits to having his own thoughtlessness in relation to gendered behaviour challenged and changed by the women in his life - and you have to love someone open enough to recognise their own privileged and, thus, implicated position in a patriarchy. There are serious political, social and cultural issues under discussion here - but O'Brien is funny and honest, acute and, you know, sensible. This could have been a book that is depressing to read as there's just so much hatred and ignorance and ill-nature and anger in the people who call up O'Brien's show - but his passion and generosity, his wit and intelligence in the widest sense make it both entertaining (I laughed out loud!) and compensatory. Many thanks to Penguin Random House for an ARC via NetGalley
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  • Sid Nuncius
    January 1, 1970
    I thought How To Be Right was excellent. It is readable, thoughtful, intelligent and humane.James O’Brien writes very well indeed. Drawing on his experience as a print journalist and then as a long-standing and very successful radio phone-in host, he dissects the prejudices, myths and downright lies which pollute our debates so badly these days. What is so striking, though, is that he tries to believe that people are sincere but have been misled by powerful politicians, media outlets and the lik I thought How To Be Right was excellent. It is readable, thoughtful, intelligent and humane.James O’Brien writes very well indeed. Drawing on his experience as a print journalist and then as a long-standing and very successful radio phone-in host, he dissects the prejudices, myths and downright lies which pollute our debates so badly these days. What is so striking, though, is that he tries to believe that people are sincere but have been misled by powerful politicians, media outlets and the like, so he is less concerned with “winning” the argument than with trying to get people actually to analyse and justify their positions. As he says and illustrates well with transcripts from his shows, the absurd, the vitriolic and the hateful rhetoric which is now so common, almost always crumbles in the face of simple questions like “Why do you think that?” or “Can you give me a concrete example?” or “How is that actually affecting you?” He won’t let go of these and explores the logical conclusions of what people say they want to do. It’s refreshing to hear genuine rationality and reality rather than an exchange of pre-digested, unexamined clichés, and his analysis of where we are and its possible future consequences is very shrewd.This is a brief, intellectually stimulating and enjoyable (if often slightly depressing) read. I can heartily recommend it to anyone who values genuine fact and rationality in a world where “alternative facts” and echo-chamber discourse are becoming more and more dominant.(My thanks to Penguin/Ebury for an ARC via NetGalley.)
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  • Claire (Book Blog Bird)
    January 1, 1970
    This was weird. I totally agree with James o’Brien’s opinions, so I thought I would have liked this book more than I did. As it is, I did enjoy it but I didn’t love it. He came across as slightly patronising - he seems to think hat the only reason people hate immigrants or find LGBT folk unpleasant or voted Brexit is because they’ve been drip-fed a diet of low-level hatred for years and years by the Daily Mail. And while that is certainly a factor, and while I think that the Daily Mail is horrif This was weird. I totally agree with James o’Brien’s opinions, so I thought I would have liked this book more than I did. As it is, I did enjoy it but I didn’t love it. He came across as slightly patronising - he seems to think hat the only reason people hate immigrants or find LGBT folk unpleasant or voted Brexit is because they’ve been drip-fed a diet of low-level hatred for years and years by the Daily Mail. And while that is certainly a factor, and while I think that the Daily Mail is horrific beyond measure, the author seems to overlook the fact that THESE PEOPLE ARE CAPABLE OF THINKING FOR THEMSELVES. They have brains in their heads. They don’t have to believe everything they read. Maybe they’re just arseholes? And while I would be very happy to see the Daily Mail banished to the depths of hell for all eternity, maybe we should be encouraging people to, you know, think for themselves.
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  • Kevin
    January 1, 1970
    James O'Brien is a talk radio host on LBC here in the UK. A person with a Liberal conscious, he hosts this radio program and in a very incisive, clever way takes down most of the common arguments in our media regarding contemporary issues that get our lay population angry over; subjects such as immigration, brexit, feminism and Trump all too often get listeners to ring in and think they know the answers who read our right-wing, populist media (such as what is spurned out from newspapers such as James O'Brien is a talk radio host on LBC here in the UK. A person with a Liberal conscious, he hosts this radio program and in a very incisive, clever way takes down most of the common arguments in our media regarding contemporary issues that get our lay population angry over; subjects such as immigration, brexit, feminism and Trump all too often get listeners to ring in and think they know the answers who read our right-wing, populist media (such as what is spurned out from newspapers such as The Sun and Daily Mail which have a a wide readership amongst our general population). Every common assumption, lets take Brexit as an example here - arguing against the most commonly held assumption that 'immigrants' are taking all our jobs away, undercutting the wages in our country (hey that is how Capitalism works, right?) and the the European Unions' Open Borders policy is allowing immigrants and the dastardly 'foreigner' into our country with their different cultures and then end up weighing down our already stressed Welfare State as well as the cost the EU allegedly costs us every year. You know the type of people who espouse these ideas - working people mostly for sure who read this gutter press which leads to, what I call, 'knee jerkism' and believe what they read in our mass popular right-wing media. This book that James O'Brien wrote trys to push a different perspective in the callers into his radio show. The only decent way to combat these views (that I believe led us into this Brexit mess in the first instance) is to challenge these folk who hold these views by using common sense, a healthy amount of knowledge and intelligence without debasing the listeners and callers level of intelligence. He does it cleverly and most arguments (hence I said 'most') he can win over by challenging these populist views, views that are worldwide and allowed Trump to become the President of the US. The mass-media has an right-wing agenda and in this current climate we live is quite scary regarding the hold they have over popular opinion.James O'Brien is a healthy dose of fresh air in our current populist world. Only by challenging these well established, 'ignorant' views in a professional, sometimes quite humorous manner then he does make you and the listeners make you think, just 'think' a little bit more about the agenda our media - allied with Capitalism -has in (almost) thought control amongst the majority of the population (again as I stated allowing Trump, of which there is chapter on him in the book, to become POTUS). We undoubtedly live in quite dangerous times, and it is only people such as James O'Brien and his talk show slot on LBC radio that provide an antibiotic to the bigotry people hold, even if it is innocently held. Just by challenging these callers ideas and knee-jerk reactions, again as I stated by using common sense and a degree of intelligence (without becoming too condescending), then maybe, just maybe we can make people see through the lies they are being sold via the common media and right-wing journalism. He makes a difference. He also has a youtube channel as well, which is worth a glance at to see him at the radio office, usually becoming frustrated. I am going to give this 5 stars, because it was a healthy antidote to all the troubles our world faces today.
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  • Sam
    January 1, 1970
    I wanted to give this book four stars. I like it. It makes me think and makes me question myself. But in places author felt too patronizing. It nearly took off one of the stars, but then(whilst contemplating over this book) I happened to overhear completely different radio show with three callers in a row whose arguments made me stuck somewhere between incurable facepalm and anger. And you know what, James O'Brien deserves not only four or five, he deserves much more stars. For patience and for I wanted to give this book four stars. I like it. It makes me think and makes me question myself. But in places author felt too patronizing. It nearly took off one of the stars, but then(whilst contemplating over this book) I happened to overhear completely different radio show with three callers in a row whose arguments made me stuck somewhere between incurable facepalm and anger. And you know what, James O'Brien deserves not only four or five, he deserves much more stars. For patience and for the will to make conversations with people he will never agree with.
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  • Matt McQueen
    January 1, 1970
    A short read, but very good. Unfortunately, those who should read this book never will.The audiobook is narrated by the author, and I'd recommend it also.
  • el
    January 1, 1970
    super interesting, I have a fair few thoughtsrtc
  • Simon
    January 1, 1970
    A lot of this could be considered preaching to the choir, and many of the radio show transcripts come across as a bit sneering and condescending. It's actually better when he leaves his radio show behind (in any case all the clips are available on youtube) and just writes from his own perspective. The later chapters on the age gap and millennials are the strongest, as he tackles wider issues and their socio-economic causes and consequences.O'Brien's main point is a good one; that many prejudices A lot of this could be considered preaching to the choir, and many of the radio show transcripts come across as a bit sneering and condescending. It's actually better when he leaves his radio show behind (in any case all the clips are available on youtube) and just writes from his own perspective. The later chapters on the age gap and millennials are the strongest, as he tackles wider issues and their socio-economic causes and consequences.O'Brien's main point is a good one; that many prejudices and ill-informed views are never challenged, and when they are they evaporate almost immediately. The title is a little misleading as this isn't a "how to" guide. The main lesson is to do your homework and question everything.
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  • MJ Nicholls
    January 1, 1970
    Senryu Review:Scathing phone-in hostdissects the cant, lies, blustermauling freedom’s face
  • Emilia Barnes
    January 1, 1970
    This is a short, funny and very readable book. It took me two days of intermittent reading to get through the whole of it, and for a large part I was prodding my husband and going "listen to this!" as O'Brien quotes excerpts from his more memorable interviews. If you're familiar with his radio show, you know he's one of those people you wish you could have sitting on your shoulder, whispering just the right come-back when someone breathtakingly ignorant and hateful renders you speechless. If you This is a short, funny and very readable book. It took me two days of intermittent reading to get through the whole of it, and for a large part I was prodding my husband and going "listen to this!" as O'Brien quotes excerpts from his more memorable interviews. If you're familiar with his radio show, you know he's one of those people you wish you could have sitting on your shoulder, whispering just the right come-back when someone breathtakingly ignorant and hateful renders you speechless. If you've ever tried to talk to a Brexiteer, or homophobe, or islamophobe or misogynist, you could do worse than cheering yourself up afterwards by listening to O'Brien walking these people to that moment in every interview where they go, "Oh." and you can hear their unthinking bigotry meet a spark of light. It's satisfying. Thing is, it's also illusory. The truth is that the answer to the question of how to be right does not lie in you learning to talk to people the way O'Brien does (he can't teach you that, anymore than Mozart can teach you to be Mozart). He correctly diagnoses the problem to be much bigger than the individual. And that, in the end, as we are facing a future Prime Minister Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt...... remains dispiriting. I can't stop people from buying the Daily Mail or reading their racist uncle's Facebook posts, no matter how lucid and fact-based my opinions are. And neither, alas, can O'Brien.
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  • Andrew
    January 1, 1970
    In a world at the moment where the loudest voice seems to carry most weight despite the speaker having no factual basis to their assertions this book is a breath of fresh air as the author , unusually liberal host of a radio phone in programme and consequently pariah of the right wing , punctures the current rhetoric around right leaning bug bears such as Brexit, Muslims, immigration, nanny state, lgbtq rights et al. A really engaging and readable voice unfortunately as a reader he is preaching In a world at the moment where the loudest voice seems to carry most weight despite the speaker having no factual basis to their assertions this book is a breath of fresh air as the author , unusually liberal host of a radio phone in programme and consequently pariah of the right wing , punctures the current rhetoric around right leaning bug bears such as Brexit, Muslims, immigration, nanny state, lgbtq rights et al. A really engaging and readable voice unfortunately as a reader he is preaching to the converted and I doubt that anyone with opposite views will want to listen to what appears to be staring them in the face as O'Brien supports his position with factual evidence.
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  • Brecht Denijs
    January 1, 1970
    I rushed through this one, though admittedly it, of course, helps that it caters to my own views. However, in a world where being an open-minded progressive can make you feel rather lonely at times, it is healing to read a book about someone who not only agrees with you but assures you that there are more people out there and that humanity isn't all bad. The main point driving this book is that bigotry and racism are not as largely inherent as we fear and that a lot of it is due to people being I rushed through this one, though admittedly it, of course, helps that it caters to my own views. However, in a world where being an open-minded progressive can make you feel rather lonely at times, it is healing to read a book about someone who not only agrees with you but assures you that there are more people out there and that humanity isn't all bad. The main point driving this book is that bigotry and racism are not as largely inherent as we fear and that a lot of it is due to people being misinformed and living in a culture with "alternate facts" and where asking to back up one's claim with evidence and reason is somehow akin to infringing on their freedom of speech. O'Brien points out the best way to deal with this, rather than trying to argue against it, is to continuously ask them questions to clarify themselves. It takes the sting out of their argument and makes them less persuasive to others and on a few happy occasions even makes them realise the folly of their own arguments. Sadly, with the world being in the state it is, it looks like things are to become a lot worse before (if ever) they get better. But all the same, this book still brought me some comfort to read at present. Heartily recommended.The one thing I didn't like was that O'Brien quoted exchanges from his show from memory. It's a radio show, surely transcripts should be available? As it is, his none verbatim delivery sets itself up for obvious and easy criticism.
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  • Pepperpots
    January 1, 1970
    A welcome voice in today's society.
  • Tariq Mahmood
    January 1, 1970
    This is not an easy job, trying to directly argue with ordinary deranged individuals who are living in a climate of fear. They are insecure, they are afraid, they feel as if they are the real victims. James blames Project Fear of brainwashing these individuals but I think some of the anger is a result of too much change being imposed on a society too quickly. But regardless of the why, James quest to face these individuals on national radio is indeed commendable. The example conversations in the This is not an easy job, trying to directly argue with ordinary deranged individuals who are living in a climate of fear. They are insecure, they are afraid, they feel as if they are the real victims. James blames Project Fear of brainwashing these individuals but I think some of the anger is a result of too much change being imposed on a society too quickly. But regardless of the why, James quest to face these individuals on national radio is indeed commendable. The example conversations in the book are very interesting which made listening to this wonderful audiobook a very enjoyable experience indeed. I do agree with this approach of tackling these individuals as if not challenged their paranoia will only grow.
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  • Elaine
    January 1, 1970
    JO’B is the only person I listen to on LBC and this is really a collection of the reasons for why I choose not to listen to the others James is like the sense that prevails amongst a sea of right wing nonsense. I did enjoy it.
  • Kinga
    January 1, 1970
    I really like James O’Brien so this book was very much in the “preaching to the converted” category for me. Enjoyable though also quite depressing as I can’t see how we’re going to get out of this mess which we’ve created.
  • Joe O'Donnell
    January 1, 1970
    Reading “How to be Right” is a curious experience. I agree with just about every agreement and every word uttered by James O’Brien throughout this short polemic about fake news, the normalisation of hate speech and the populist assault on objective truth. In most respects, O’Brien comes across as a pillar of liberal-minded common sense. So, why did I find myself so frequently – but intensely – irritated by it?“How to be Right” is, in a way, two different books soldered onto each other, one infin Reading “How to be Right” is a curious experience. I agree with just about every agreement and every word uttered by James O’Brien throughout this short polemic about fake news, the normalisation of hate speech and the populist assault on objective truth. In most respects, O’Brien comes across as a pillar of liberal-minded common sense. So, why did I find myself so frequently – but intensely – irritated by it?“How to be Right” is, in a way, two different books soldered onto each other, one infinitely more satisfying and convincing than the other. In the most compelling sections of the book, James O’Brien trains his sights on the charlatans, demagogues and shameless hate-peddlers who have done so much to corrupt political debate – whether in the U.S, the U.K. or across Europe – over the last two decades. He is excellent at analysing how a debased media has accelerated this assault on our institutions and values, its modern-day business model predicated on the notion that “comforting lies deliver more clicks, viewers, listeners and profits than uncomfortable truths”. O’Brien is particularly excoriating about British media outlets like The Daily Mail (a publication purposefully “designed to make [their readers] angry and fearful, not peaceable and thoughtful”), and he expertly traces how they have created a media environment dependent on the stoking of people’s worst fears rather than the challenging of their most base prejudices (“it has always been easier and more lucrative to sell tickets for the ghost train than the speak-your-weight machine”).As host of a lively political radio phone-in on the talk station LBC, James O’Brien has achieved huge prominence through challenging the racists, islamophobes, hard brexiteers, and homophobes who comprise so many of the typical callers to his show. Several clips of these arguments have ‘gone viral’, and transcripts of those clips make up a large chunk of “How to be Right”.And it is here that O’Brien’s book loses its way - and much of the sympathy of the reader. By reproducing transcripts of debates with some of his most vociferously intolerant and blinkered callers, James O’Brien might think he is creating a guide to how racist and bigoted views can be confronted and defeated through the sheer remorselessness of liberal logic. But, reading a verbatim reproduction of O’Brien running rings around some idiot like ‘Jack from Croyden’ – leaving the poor caller dissected like a frog in a biology lesson – undermines the author’s claim that he ultimately has empathy for the deluded saps who phone his show. As a device, it comes across as self-aggrandising and – despite the author’s protestations to the contrary – slightly smug, leaving the reader feeling as browbeaten as O’Brien’s hapless callers. When O’Brien focuses his ire on the political and media elites that have poisoned the well of public opinion, there is much in “How to be Right” than is reflective and persuasive. But, this is a book that would have been vastly improved (if significantly shortened) by dispensing with the reproduced radio transcripts and replacing them with links to James O’Brien’s YouTube channel.
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  • Dan
    January 1, 1970
    This is one of those great books that needs to be read by the people who would never read it, which is such a shame. So many flashbacks to the amount of time I've spent asking (mostly people I'm related to) why they have the angry odd right wing views they love to express and how exactly these things affect their lives. The true answers are usually because of the newspapers they read, and in almost no way whatsoever.
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  • Debby Hallett
    January 1, 1970
    James O’Brien articulates much about what’s wrong in the world today. “When the liars have the loudest voices,the tellers of truth need to find new ways to be heard.” A good, pithy, fast read.
  • Mark Hebden
    January 1, 1970
    For anyone who doesn't know who the author is it is probably worth explaining he is one of the most listened to voices on commerical radion in the UK. The national braodcaster, formerly London only, LBC features his show daily from 10am to 1pm and is regarded as a progressive outlier on a network whose usual target audience is the Daily Mail reading right wing constituency beloved of so much of talk radio. The format of his show is the traditional phone-in; a peramble or monologue on an issue of For anyone who doesn't know who the author is it is probably worth explaining he is one of the most listened to voices on commerical radion in the UK. The national braodcaster, formerly London only, LBC features his show daily from 10am to 1pm and is regarded as a progressive outlier on a network whose usual target audience is the Daily Mail reading right wing constituency beloved of so much of talk radio. The format of his show is the traditional phone-in; a peramble or monologue on an issue of the day followed by an hour or two discussing that subject with callers who either agree or diagree with him on a sliding scale; it's very listenable and this book is very readable as it remains loyal to his radio format; the chapters read like a verbal monologue and for good measure some of the “greatest hits” calls are reprinted to give fans a comfortable feeling of fmiliarity; most of these have gone viral and can be found on various social media platforms, should you want to listen to them in all their jaw-dropping glory. The full title, How To Be Right... In A World Gone Wrong, smacks of an arrogance which O'Brien freely concedes, although throughout he is keen to reference that he has changed his mind on several things such as state intervention in public health awareness and certain aspects of feminism, which he describes as a partially completed personal journey, as it is for most men who see themselves as allies of movements they don't have a racial, sexual or biological link to. The book structure is an introduction followed by chapters under straightforward headings upon which O'Brien gives us his opinion, these are (in order): Islam and Islamism, Brexit, LGBT, Political Correctness, Feminism, Nanny States and Classical Liberals, The Age Gap, and Trump followed by an Epilogue. I have to say I was quite surprised to see the absence of anti-Semitism or the Labour Party from the list of contents, as this is one of his favourite topics on his radio show. I wonder whether the publisher suggested that this might affect sales negatively as the market for this publication is surely a left-of-centre readership. For a progressive, there is little to disagree with here. Some of the bombast of his phone-in show has been dropped in favour of careful consideration of the subject-matter. Any criticism comes more from what is not said than what is. Everything is written in the now, in a very casual way to make the tone almost conversational; there is very little of the history of each topic, no real dissection of how society got to where it currently resides, and how opinions became so polarised, and increasingly seem to diverge into sensibility and extremism, despite the education materials available at all of our fingertips. O'Brien highlights the pernicious elements of the media, often invoking Paul Dacre, the former editor of the Daily Mail, as the shadow behind our riven society, but surely this is too simplistic and takes no account of subversive elements within a wider information superstructure, currently being unravelled by the likes of Carol Cadwalladr and beforehand Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. His critique of classical liberalism, or libertarianism which in itself is a confused and misplaced synonym, talks of the growth in selfish “I'm alright Jack” attitudes that pregnate modern rightist politics, but he fails to mention Thatcher, Reagan, Pinochet, Friedmann or Hayek. It's like coming in late to a football match and it is 4-2 to one team or the other, a person tells you exactly what is happening now on the pitch, but you want to know how it got to 4-2 in the first place. The second critique is a lack of solutions. Perhaps it is unfair to expect O'Brien to come up with workable fixes for all of the problems he hits upon. Each chapter finishes with the image of someone with a great deal of sense throwing their hands in the air (like they really do care) and going “but what can we do?”, almost pleading with the reader to give him the directions he needs. This is the curse of the radio phone-in host; they are brilliant at getting conversations started, keeping them going and provoking a perhaps reluctant interlocuter, but they are not very good at ending them and concluding; everything is open ended and able to return to deeper into the show or at a later date and it is this that makes the book feel somewhat incomplete. Listening to James O'Brien it doesn't take long to realise he is an intelligent man and probably has a lot of fresh ideas and solutions to the miriad issues he discusses here, and I feel it is a missed opportunity to not speak to these in this book; although I accept space is always an issue, especially for a first book and perhaps an overzealous publisher advised against making the book any longer, though at 218 pages it's hardly a tome. For anyone wanting to know more about what James thinks this is clearly an excellent book; it would also appeal to people who want an introductory level publication on some of the issues discussed. Anyone who listens to his show will not be surprised to learn that he is most at home speaking about Brexit; a subject he clearly knows more about than the average Joe and an area I expect he will return to in more detail, in a future book when the debacle this country got itself into is over, one way or another. It is a grim reality that the way things are shaping up, a title of this future work will probably be “I Told You So”.
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  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    In Britain, as elsewhere, there is a sense of a great divide where once there was only a polite distance between different viewpoints. Undoubtedly exacerbated by social media -- or at least, the manipulation and abuse of such media -- the world seems to teeter between reason and irrationality, calm argument and blind rage, sense and insensitivity, even between stability and chaos.James O'Brien is a British journalist and talk show host on LBC Radio (originally London Broadcasting Company, now fl In Britain, as elsewhere, there is a sense of a great divide where once there was only a polite distance between different viewpoints. Undoubtedly exacerbated by social media -- or at least, the manipulation and abuse of such media -- the world seems to teeter between reason and irrationality, calm argument and blind rage, sense and insensitivity, even between stability and chaos.James O'Brien is a British journalist and talk show host on LBC Radio (originally London Broadcasting Company, now flying with the slogan Leading Britain's Conversation). He has developed a huge following, not just for his broadcasts but also for his viral YouTube clips and incisive tweets (@mrjameob). In a Britain where much broadcasting is, to say the least, conservative with a small 'c', O'Brien is refreshingly left of centre.But he is more than just the leftie his critics love to deride: he is one of the few radio broadcasters trying to intelligently engage with listeners, many phoning in with extreme views about current affairs; and he doesn't just engage politely and rationally, posing pertinent queries and interjecting statements of fact, but actually asks the challenging questions that other broadcast interviewers seem to shy away from in their irritating vox pops. And now he's written a book about it all, and more.How to be Right is largely assembled around verbatim phone-in dialogues, with O'Brien giving context to what's being discussed. Despite the serious nature of its topics this is a relatively easy read, light in tone at times but never flippant; often though it's very hard-hitting. The introduction quickly brings us to the issue of immigration, a subject dear to those who like to rattle liberal cages: too many immigrants -- they're living off 'our' benefits -- they're taking 'our' jobs -- 'we' wouldn't do it for that money -- they're lazy but working all hours -- they smell of curry -- yes, I like curry -- there's too many immigrants . . .And so it goes on, circular arguments, non sequiturs, popular clichés, secondhand phrases, contemporary memes, political slogans. O'Brien patiently questions every assertion, tests the depths of their knowledge and understanding. Sometimes a listener will accept that their 'evidence' has no basis in fact, or that their 'argument' is illogical, but often it's frustrating to eavesdrop on a conversation just to find it's going nowhere even when the belief system is demolished. The first chapter goes on to discuss Islam and Islamism, and it's dispiriting to hear similar points of view paraded in all their inglorious inconsistency.You get the picture. Brexit, LGBT, political correctness: the conversations display pre-packaged prejudices and manufactured but misplaced rage in equal measure. Feminism, the nanny state and the victimisation of so-called 'classical liberals' -- the latter better termed as neoliberals who want 'liberty', but just for themselves, to do what they like. When we get towards the end of the book, with chapters on the age gap and Trump, the verbatim phone-ins get fewer though there's no doubting the interconnectedness of these subjects with all the preceding. They can indeed be shown as a graphic in crossword fashion, locked together as they appear to be in the minds of many, proof of a conspiracy by the 'metropolitan elite' and 'unelected bureaucrats' and other undesirables to deny the 'ordinary man' (and it usually is a man) their rightful due.I snorted while recognising many of these false rationales, usually based on fake news, memes and the like, but after the smiles came a distinct melancholy. This was compounded when O'Brien expounded on the generational divide and how today's youngsters have been denied all the social and economic benefits that previous generations have enjoyed, and when he went on to discuss the pernicious effect the election of Donald Trump has had.It's a tragicomedy of epic proportions, because if we didn't laugh we would cry. But I wouldn't blame James O'Brien for that: he has only shone a penetrating light on the mess society and the world is in, and he does it with a little humour and a lot of honesty, leaving us an aftertaste of sadness. A book to read, to perhaps agree with, and ultimately to ponder.
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  • Simon Pressinger
    January 1, 1970
    I used to love watching liberal heavyweights like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins ruthlessly dismantling some stupid or bigoted arguments/opinions. It felt so satisfying to have a pig-ignorant view challenged and the holder of it publicly humiliated. But those days of Youtube dopamine hits have long since burnt out. I've moved away from the anger of militant opposition because, with hindsight, it's struck me as more of a self-aggrandising position than an attempt to peacefully reconcile I used to love watching liberal heavyweights like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins ruthlessly dismantling some stupid or bigoted arguments/opinions. It felt so satisfying to have a pig-ignorant view challenged and the holder of it publicly humiliated. But those days of Youtube dopamine hits have long since burnt out. I've moved away from the anger of militant opposition because, with hindsight, it's struck me as more of a self-aggrandising position than an attempt to peacefully reconcile differences in earnest. Some of James O'brien's on-air rants and take downs in his earlier radio days could easily be mistaken for just that sort of self-important if well-informed bluster I used to love. But he has consistently offered something more that has since I first heard him years ago on LBC remained unshakeable. It's his generosity and humanity. To even his most ardent callers who hold opinions or defend arguments anathema to his liberal listeners, he shows a genuine interest in getting to the heart of their prejudices. He really wants to see a point they have made from their perspective and then get them to question why they think that, without being patronising or sneeringly condemning. I first balked at the idea that I might be able to sell this book (I work at Waterstones) because my initial feeling was that the ones who should be reading it, won't. O'brien is a pretty well known name in the left-field of current affairs and so it's fair to say his name to a Leaver or right-winger hauls the same detestable weight as an Owen Jones or Jonathan Pie, among other popular figures. I doubt these types can be easily persuaded to buy this book. But I do see hope in it for people who might already agree with a lot of what O'brien says. He's offering a tool for perhaps even the hardest lefties to meaningfully engage with people on the other side of the political spectrum; the lessons he's learned through years of hearing the same arguments parroted about read like an exercise in how to calmly and patiently dissolve the dilemma of 'two sides' in UK politics by establishing a middle ground in which we put aside our fears and, however discomfiting, carefully consider what is actually true.
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  • DiscoSpacePanther
    January 1, 1970
    A fascinating and insightful journey into how thinking and reasoning goes wrong, and the shaky foundations of populist notions such as Islamophobia, anti-LGBT rhetoric, anti-feminism, Brexit, US white nationalism and Trumpism that only thrive because they remain both insufficiently understood and insufficiently challenged. (Insufficiently understood because anyone prone to reflection and empathy can see them for the odious and incoherent notions that they are-which makes it all the more difficul A fascinating and insightful journey into how thinking and reasoning goes wrong, and the shaky foundations of populist notions such as Islamophobia, anti-LGBT rhetoric, anti-feminism, Brexit, US white nationalism and Trumpism that only thrive because they remain both insufficiently understood and insufficiently challenged. (Insufficiently understood because anyone prone to reflection and empathy can see them for the odious and incoherent notions that they are-which makes it all the more difficult to understand how anyone can hold these views-and insufficiently challenged due to a media environment that craves simple answers and loud voices in preference to reasoned analysis and sober reflection).James O'Brien's ability to let callers discover the baselessness of their irrational hatreds by asking them to get to the crux of why they are so angry is intriguing to observe.I would thoroughly recommend this book to everyone - it is a quick and easy read, but one that makes excellent points about how pathological mindsets are encouraged and exploited by corporations and politicians.(My favourite part was the chapter skewering those nefarious characters who self-describe as 'classical liberals' who constantly whinge about the 'nanny state' or 'political correctness gone mad'.)
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  • Alberto
    January 1, 1970
    Some time ago I was reading the latest news about Brexit and I ended up listening to James O'Brien asking questions to a caller during his show. Useless to say, common sense and reason prevailed. The same goes for this book. The books tackles social prejudices and problems that our society is struggling with at the moment, like immigration, Trump and of course Brexit, showing indeed that reason and facts are everything that matters. The journalist writes well about what he thinks and indeed he s Some time ago I was reading the latest news about Brexit and I ended up listening to James O'Brien asking questions to a caller during his show. Useless to say, common sense and reason prevailed. The same goes for this book. The books tackles social prejudices and problems that our society is struggling with at the moment, like immigration, Trump and of course Brexit, showing indeed that reason and facts are everything that matters. The journalist writes well about what he thinks and indeed he shows "how to be right". It's a good book that makes you think.
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  • Ben
    January 1, 1970
    Rounding out to 3.5. O'Brien is preaching to the converted here but it's a short, entertaining and engaging book (the audiobook is very well produced too, with example conversations from his radio show reperformed).
  • Becky
    January 1, 1970
    A
  • Phil Duckworth
    January 1, 1970
    A really important read, makes sense of a lot of the current nonsense.
  • Gareth Griffiths
    January 1, 1970
    *WARNING: LONG AND PEDANTIC*I picked this one up in Tesco’s, 2 for £8, along with Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Full disclosure: I’m pretty much on the opposite side of the political spectrum to these two men, who are, in and of themselves, fairly politically disparate. Fairly. Regardless, I thought I’d pick them up for cheap and sample some of the intellectualism of the centre. James O’Brien describes himself as a ‘liberal’, which James erroneously describes as ‘people who don’t subscrib *WARNING: LONG AND PEDANTIC*I picked this one up in Tesco’s, 2 for £8, along with Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Full disclosure: I’m pretty much on the opposite side of the political spectrum to these two men, who are, in and of themselves, fairly politically disparate. Fairly. Regardless, I thought I’d pick them up for cheap and sample some of the intellectualism of the centre. James O’Brien describes himself as a ‘liberal’, which James erroneously describes as ‘people who don’t subscribe to a hierarchy of humanity.’ Risible definition aside (and believe you me, the absurdity of this definition will become obvious), I too would describe JOB as a lib. He generally centres political activity around social issues - racism, xenophobia, feminism, LGBTQ rights. Generally. He’s critical of the right and the left, which vacillates between valid criticism and intellectual cowardice. But that’s neither here nor there, because this is a book review and this book was… on the lower end of ‘fine’. Buckle up, this might be a long one.I started this book 2 weeks ago. I filled the first page (which is only a half a page of text) with annotations and thought, ‘this is going to be a tough one.’ Generally, it wasn’t. The book is perfectly legible, if not a little tedious at times. Primarily, my issues with this book are the intellectual propositions it makes, as well as some of JOB’s assessments on contemporary (and non-contemporary) issues. Moreover, I think a lot of my criticisms of this book stem from JOB himself.JOB introduces this book by outlining his political orientation and praxis (and I am using praxis here very loosely). If you don’t know about his show, JOB fields questions live on air - on the radio - from members of the public discussing whatever political issue is du jour, more often than not Brexit, but not always. JOB explains the thought behind this practice in the first few chapters:‘A true liberal is cursed with desire, even a duty, to understand other points of view. It’s a world view that admits disagreement and dissent but seeks to establish objective parameters by which the fundamental truth of things can be judged.’ If your alarm bells aren’t already ringing, JOB continues:‘The best way to achieve this is to ask the holders of those differing views to explain the reasoning that has led them to their conclusions.’Okay, let’s entertain for a moment that ‘the objective truth of things’ isn’t a completely meaningless philosophical proposition and evaluate JOB’s presupposition that asking bigots live on air about the logic behind their prejudices helps eradicate bigotry. This book gets to be a tough slog for anyone who doesn’t agree with this fundamental assumption. I do not. Namely because JOB and I disagree on where prejudice comes from. JOB seems to be operating on the logic that prejudiced people are just entirely misinformed. I operate on the logic that prejudice is not a logical phenomenon. Hell, JOB proves my point in this book. Prejudice isn’t logical, it’s affective. Racists don’t hate different races because they read an academic paper on the disparities of behaviour in whites and blacks, they hate them because they’re different, because they’re not a part of the in-group, because the whole history and identity of the US and the UK and most of western europe is predicated on the subjugation of the racial other. Imagine, if you will, that you were a talk-show host who regularly holds conversations with bigots. Imagine that you spend your time arguing with bigots, pointing out flaws and inconsistencies within their arguments. You know that none of these positions come from a place of ‘facts and logic.’ Would you not conclude that maybe these people haven’t thought this through and rather none of what they think is based on rational evidence? Would you not immediately come to the conclusion that fighting bigotry with incessant deconstruction was completely futile? Now imagine that, despite your years of doing this, your success margin of people you converted on your show was staggeringly thin, and in fact, instances of hate crimes and support for regressive right-wing political movements was only rising? Would you not think, maybe I should go about this a different way?To use an example from this book. One caller tells JOB that he doesn’t ‘like the way they [Muslisms] smell.’ Tongue-in-cheek writing aside, how do you see this and not immediately think, ‘oh, these people are crazy. Prejudice is entirely arbitrary and completely within the affective realm’? (A quick side note: at least 30% of this book is just excerpts from JOB’s show. Like...that’s just lazy, James. Come on. And he doesn’t even quote them verbatim! He admits after the afterword (which, sorry, another side note: no first edition of a book needs an epilogue AND an afterword, that just means you’ve structured your book poorly) that he is generally approximating what people said! Again, I choose to believe JOB is correct in his estimation of the conversations, but you could easily accuse JOB of straw-manning, if you were so inclined (another side note: apologies, that side note was not quick). If you agree with my assessment of prejudice (which, you may not, in which case - stop reading this now), this book will, at times, absolutely frustrate you to the point of insanity. Even more so because, and I might be getting ahead of myself here, JOB doesn’t even believe this himself. The book isn’t called ‘How to Make the World a Better Place for Women, Gays, and People of Colour’, the book is called ‘How to Be Right.’ JOB dresses it up as political action, but I often get the feeling that these debates are less for the benefit of the caller - or any theoretical ‘fence-sitter’ who hasn’t yet decided if they like brown people or not - but for his own benefit, and sense of security in his own position.The crux of JOB’s worldview, and a recurring motif in this book, is the duplicity of the ‘right-wing British press’:‘Divisive sloganeering and rancid rhetoric have gone unchecked. In short, people are not being challenged to justify their views, or explain why they think what they do.’Let us be charitable for the sake of good faith and my own belief in humanity and call this ‘naivety’ and not a ‘deliberate obfuscation.’ JOB isn’t completely oblivious. He is vaguely aware of the conditions behind the recent rise in the hard-right:‘Financial crises and the ensuing hardening of the daily struggle just to get by have always left populations susceptible to the stoking of ancient hatreds…’One salient term for a lot of this book is ‘missing the forest for the trees.’ JOB, if you admit financial crises and the ensuing hardening of the daily struggle’ (did this book have an editor?) then why not attack the root of the problem? Also, the idea that homophobia and racism - bear in mind the construction of the racial other in opposition to a homogenous ‘white’ and the construction of masculinity as non-homosexual and non-feminine largely dates back to the 19th century. That’s a nitpick, but again, it shows JOB’s ‘naivety’. We get an example of JOB missing said forest early on when JOB describes one interaction on his show where a caller expressed fear that ‘Christianity was being overrun’ and that ‘we are doing too much to accommodate other cultures.’ JOB proceeds to ask for examples and, when the caller lists one, JOB calls bullshit. Fair enough. I too would dismiss the experiences of racists, if not because I actually doubted the veracity of their claims, but to annoy them. But JOB’s missing the point. The caller isn’t literally scared about the decline of whatever ‘Christian values’ are, he’s scared of Muslims, of the racial other. JOB point-blank refuses to read between the lines. No matter how ridiculous the claims from bigots get, JOB treats them entirely at face value. It’s exhausting to read these sections and, a lot of the time, I had to force myself to re-read passages multiple times because my eyes would glaze over at how completely fucking banal and pointless these conversations got. Like a lot of liberals JOB drops not an insignificant amount of casual - and perhaps actual - racism. One caller comes in to complain about not being able to say racist things without being labelled a racist. The caller, Martin, who lived in Saudi Arabia for a time, feels he has ‘legitimate concerns’ about integration: ‘Martin: I’ve obeyed their rules when I lived out there, and in Saudi. Very, very, very strict Muslim countries.James [side note: wouldn’t it be funny if in all of these dialogues JOB referred to himself as ‘me’?]: It stinks. Medieval in the worst possible sense of the word. Now, what’s the question, Martin?Martin: Am I a bigot?James: For what?Martin: I don’t feel comfortable with all that.James: Nor do I. Martin: I would rather in this country they [face veils] weren’t worn.James: I’d be uncomfortable making it law, but I’d love for people to arrive at that conclusion independently…’The correct response to this would be: ‘Who cares what people wear? Wind your neck in!’ But, if you haven’t picked up on the tone by now, you’ll notice that JOB is kind of condescending and petulant during these conversations. He’s asked a simple yes-no question and instead responds with another question to eke out a response that would allow him to signal that he too has ‘legitimate concerns’ about those wacky ‘medieval’ Muslims in the east. Regardless, what this all amounts to, and where I really locate my criticism of JOB’s (let’s call it) ‘soft’ racism, is that JOB constantly gives the benefit of the doubt to some of the worst bigots and racists. He’s not ‘debunking’ racism - because again, racism isn’t logical. JOB’s slogan, as mentioned in this book and pinned on his Twitter profile, is: ‘Contempt for the conmen, compassion for the conned.’ Although, again, JOB is slightly too supercilious in his tone for me to take that too seriously. The chapter after ‘Islam and Islamism’ is about Brexit. Now, one primary criticism levelled at Remainers - especially people like JOB - is that we’re generally condescending and impractical and generally think people who voted Leave are either duped imbeciles or foetid racists.Exhibit A: ‘After the referendum, it had at first been funny, albeit perhaps a little cruel, to lead people gently to the realisation that they had been spectacularly silly, but by now it was downright depressing and not a little horrifying.’Exhibit B: ‘Andy [a call-in guest] is not stupid. He’s a bright, entrepreneurial [*cough cough* fuck off *cough*] professional with his own company and an eye on the future. He hasn’t mentioned immigration (yet) and doesn’t subscribe to some bogus nineteenth-century notion of English exceptionalism. He has - and this is crucial to understand - simply existed for years in a media-defined environment where the depiction of the overarching and negative influence of “EU laws” went so unchallenged it became, for him and millions like him, a simple truth. [...] If what followed seems unkind or even condescending (I don’t think it does but it’s a common criticism), please try to distinguish between the people who led him into this mess and the person now trying to lead him out of it.’And Exhibit C: ‘I still don’t know what they think they won [...] My attempts to shine a light into the dark corners of minds like Dean’s [a caller ‘concerned’ about immigration] were mostly doomed because he, and many others, remain psychologically incapable of entertaining the possibility that the EU might not be malevolent [...] Our reactions have been intuitive and emotional as opposed to evidential and intellectual.’If you read any of that without screaming at whatever screen you’re reading this on and hurling it into the nearest oven, then congratulations, you’re a more resilient reader than I. Where do I even begin with the contradictions here? ‘Voters aren’t stupid, they just fell for tricks I can easily refute!’ ‘Our reactions are emotional and intuitive, that’s why I’m appealing to logic!’ or my personal favourite:‘I’m not looking down on these people, I’m trying to lead them into the right!’ James, buddy, pal, have you ever considered the fact that the people voted for Leave because it would actually benefit them? This is why naivety around racists is particularly suspicious, because it declares the innocence of its perpetrators on the grounds that ‘they know not what they do’ when in fact white people, namely, white Britons whose position of privilege within a racist society gives them economic and material protections PoC don’t have, benefit from it. JOB isn’t ‘saving’ these poor, misguided people, he’s - at best - mocking them, and - at worst - exonerating them. It’s infuriating, and frankly, kind of racist - though I’m sure JOB doesn’t intend it to come across this way. Another recurring motif in this book is JOB coming a hair’s width in reach of revelations about his own positions and views:‘It sounds a little trite to suggest that every homophobe must therefore be struggling with their own hated and hidden homosexuality, but why else are they so desperate to believe that being gay is a “choice” - unless, of course, they are desperate to persuade themselves that not being gay is too?’Yeah, that is trite, and it’s almost like there are limits to how much pure logic can demarcate human behaviour. Also, James, the ‘choice’ rhetoric is there so that homophobes can shift the burden of guilt onto LGBTQ people, because if it’s not a choice, then they can’t be blamed, and that generalised revulsion they feel towards LGBTQ people has no target. ‘As the years have passed, I’ve tried to be more gentle with callers insisting that gay people don’t really exist but I confess that there was a time when I could provoke spluttering fury from men down the phone by suggesting that what they really needed was a boyfriend. Perhaps I’ve matured.’Perhaps! But, you see what I’m talking about? ‘Being gentle’ or giving the benefit of the doubt or just generally acting in good faith with people who are not arguing likewise and are not basing their prejudices in ‘reason and facts’ comes across as awfully redolent of giving them a free pass. I say this because, well, it does. ‘Compassion for the conned’ exonerates bigots from any blame for their actions. They’re not going to change their behaviour by you pointing out the flaws in their argument. Don’t confront them about the reasoning for what they say, confront what they say! If you’re still not convinced, within the same chapter, JOB slides from self-contradiction to abject hypocrisy. When I mentioned his casual / maybe-not-so-casual racism and homophobia, it’s nothing on his transphobia:‘Every time I speak to a trans woman I come away convinced that they deserve to be treated like someone born with female genitals, even if they are in possession of a penis. And every time a non-trans woman [cis, say cis] explains to me that she feels frightened by the prospect of a predatory male pretending to be a trans woman in order to gain access to restricted female spaces, I feel the pendulum of my opinion swinging in their support.’Where the hell is the skepticism you had for ‘immigrants are stealing our jobs’ and ‘Muslims are taking over the west’ for this bullshit claim? If you haven’t heard this pearl before, TERFs argue that by allowing trans women into ‘women’s spaces’ - shelters, changing rooms, toilets - predatory men will start identifying as women in order to do rapes. Where’s JOB’s questioning of the facts and statistics? JOB constantly reserves his credulity for bigots and people within his ingroup - namely, middle to upper class white English cis men and women. See, he hasn’t reached this conclusion through research. I know that because I’ve done the research and it doesn’t support these claims. It’s fear-mongering. Someone whose profession is debunking fearmongering should be able to see through that. No, he believes this for one reason: it’s coming from people he relates to more than he does trans people. ‘“Self-identification’, the legal process by which a biological male can assume every single right currently enjoyed by biological females simply by stating that s/he [THEY SAY THEY] is a woman, is clearly problematic.’Yeah, it’s clearly problematic - because it’s absolute fucking nonsense. If you apply JOB’s beloved naive, superficial, logical reasoning to this, it makes no sense at all. But he doesn’t want to believe that because he trusts cis women more than he does trans women because.... I can’t give you a logical reason why. It’s not logical. Prejudice isn’t logical. Have I made my point yet?At this point in the book, I feel as though both reader and writer are running out of momentum. Also, I wondered while reading a few of these interactions ripped from JOB’s show if JOB genuinely affected these people’s lives, because, presumably, after having these exchanges, they’d just go back to the environment that inculcated these beliefs in them - be it small town England where nobody’s ever seen a Muslim outside the telly-box, or Holland Park, where people have only ever read about ‘the swinish multitude’ in Dickens. But anyway, after that JOB talks about feminism. He brings up incels and Donald Trump and Jordan Peterson claiming that Peterson gives these incels ‘an excuse for their own failures and absolves them of responsibility for their own behaviour’, to which I say, pot, meet kettle. A lot of the Feminism chapter is quite ‘saviour-complex-y’ so if you have a low tolerance for being white-knighted by semi-competent male feminists, give it a miss. There’s a lot of ‘missing the forest for the trees’ in this chapter and at once point JOB refers to ‘transsexuals’ which only further indicates to me that JOB hasn’t done much research on trans issues.>>[Continued in the Comments]<<
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  • Rebecca Hughes
    January 1, 1970
    Despite some useful arguments, the expression of fine politics and decent opinions, the sheer arrogance and self-aggrandisement of O'Brien makes this an onanistic exercise that becomes grating to read
  • Niloy Mitra
    January 1, 1970
    Brilliant book. Definitely worth reading. The last 3 chapters are brilliant and definitely point to challenging times ahead.
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