Klosterman’s latest exercise in pop-culture-infused philosophical acrobatics is an exploration of villainy, or rather, “the presentation of material” on the subject. Basically, the premise gives the veteran author (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) and current “Ethicist” for the New York Times Magazine an excuse to tackle an array of subjects ranging from Machiavelli (whose biggest crime was turning “an autocratic template into entertainment”) to 1980s N.Y.C. subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, who could have been a superhero if he had just kept his mouth shut. “Every forthcoming detail about his life—even the positive ones—made his actions on the subway seem too personal,” Klosterman writes. His circuitous arguments are occasionally self-indulgent and too reminiscent of David Foster Wallace, but the writing is always intellectually vigorous and entertaining. According to Klosterman, being the villain is about knowing the most but caring the least, which has as much to do with self-awareness and public perception as the act itself. Agent: Daniel Greenbert, Levine Greenberg Agency. (July)
The New York Times Book Review - James Parker
Chuck Klosterman understands modernity, laments modernity (while enjoying its products enormously) and is acutely aware of himself as a remote and sparkling consciousness that keeps itself busy thinking complicated thoughts about Taylor Swift. There is a flavor of the abyss in his work that keeps even its trivialities piquant.
Of John Rawls and Keith Richards: Klosterman (The Visible Man, 2011, etc.) returns with a pop-culture–laden meditation on the bad guys of the world and what they mean. Philosophers call it the "problem of evil." Though he holds down the lofty post of ethicist for the New York Times Magazine, Klosterman's take is guided less by the wisdom of the ages than his own gut feeling. In the linked essays here, he's grappling less with supervillains such as Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot (though both figure) than with such less-fraught specimens as Snidely Whiplash, of Dudley Doo-Right fame, and Morris Day, who dared oppose Prince for the love of a righteous woman and top stakes in the battle of the bands. That most of his subjects are from the pop-culture realm, whether Andrew Dice Clay or Chevy Chase or the Eagles, does not diminish the underlying sophistication of Klosterman's guiding questions: Why is it that grown-ups are more comfortable with the grays of a black-and-white world while being drawn to the dark side of the force? Which is to say, why do kids love Luke Skywalker while adults secretly cheer for Darth Vader? Well, not all adults do, of course--just as not all adults will forgive Klosterman his roundabout defense of Newt Gingrich as a Very Bad Guy who doesn't give a monkey's backside for what other people think of him. Still, there are some fruitful exercises in the author's brand of such forgiveness: quantifying, say, who was to blame in the Monica Lewinsky affair ("The larger vilification was ultimately split five ways. Mr. Clinton, of course, was first against the wall") and running through the moral calculus to determine whether, à la Jeffrey Lebowski, we should not all deem the Eagles the most evil band in history--as, it seems, we should. A fine return to form for Klosterman, blending Big Ideas with heavy metal, The Wire, Batman and much more.
"Klosterman considers how inconsistent, unpredictable and surprisingly elastic the concept of villainy has been in American culture since the 1970s....the entertainment value of his thought processes and the quality of his prose are high."
New York Times
"Highly entertaining...a beach classic."
“Very much a product of his generation and as plugged into the popular culture as Mencken was antagonistic to it, Klosterman is in that same direct line of cultural critics as Bierce, Mencken, and more recently, P. J. O’Rourke, and his posture is similarly arch and iconoclastic…[I Wear the Black Hat] will amuse and/or outrage but, either way, it should enlarge his audience.”
"Masterfully blending cultural analysis with self-interrogation and imaginative hypotheticals, I Wear the Black Hat delivers perceptive observations on the complexity of the antihero (seemingly the only kind of hero America still creates). I Wear the Black Hat is a rare example of serious criticism that’s instantly accessible and really, really funny."
Los Angeles Times
"Klosterman has a knack for holding up a magical high-def mirror to American pop culture that makes all of our vanities and delusions look painfully obvious. Spend enough time reading I Wear the Black Hat, and you might even start to recognize, in its pages, your own silly assumptions, your snap judgments, your stubborn loyalties and your badly rationalized prejudices….By underscoring the contradictory, often knee-jerk ways we encounter the heroes and villains of our culture, Klosterman illustrates the passionate but incomplete computations that have come to define American culture — and maybe even American morality."
Time Out New York
"Klosterman's prose exhibits the same firecrack fizz and pop, and his endearing/unnerving polemical habits remain in place."
New York Magazine
“Klosterman offers up great facts, interesting cultural insights, and thought-provoking moral calculations in this look at our love affair with the anti-hero.”
"A gleeful and often funny explanation of villainy, both fictional and real."
“With the aplomb of a modern Machiavelli surveying our ever shifting moral landscape for examples that prove his point, Mr. Klosterman takes the reader on a grand tour of villainy's outposts in popular culture, sports, politics and American history. "I Wear the Black Hat" is an erudite, provocative and playful survey of the ever shifting face of villainy in the American experience.”
"Klosterman attacks his subjects with intellectual rigor and humor... you should read this thought-provoking book."
Las Vegas Weekly
“[Klosterman’s] best work since Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs….If you’ve ever sympathized with Darth Vader, second-guessed Muhammad Ali or wondered how Bill Clinton got away with what he got away with, you’re not alone. Read I Wear the Black Hat and see for yourself.”
What, the "Ethicist" for the New York Times Magazine (and best-selling author of books like Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) is proclaiming a fondness for the villain? Having once sided with Luke Skywalker, he now cheers Darth Vader's embrace of evil. Sharp but funny cultural criticism about where we draw the line between hero and villain—and the meaning of villainy in our society; with a six-city tour.
Read an Excerpt
I Wear the Black Hat
One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.
— Klaus Kinski, super nihilist.
I’m gonna quote a line from Yeats, I think it is: “The best lack all conviction, while the best are filled” . . . oh, no. It’s the other way around. “The best lack all conviction, and the worst are filled with a passionate intensity.” Now, you figure out where I am.
— Lou Reed, super high.
I’m not a good guy. I mean, I don’t hurt anybody. But I don’t help, either.
— Louis C.K., super real.