Chuck Klosterman’s Top 10 Books to Make You Unconventionally Smarter

For more than a decade as a fiction writer and essayist, Chuck Klosterman (Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) has devoted himself to examining and analyzing the minutiae of the every day: the political movements, music, and pop culture detritus that weave together into the post-modern tapestry we call the 21st century. His latest book, But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past considers whether what we think we know know about the world around us—those things we all hold to be true, starting with gravity—are as based on misconceptions and ignorance as the once universal belief that the Earth was the center of the universe.

To celebrate Klosterman’s latest ode to thinking differently, we asked him to offer up his top 10 books to increase your unconventional knowledge base.

The Fourth Dimension: Toward a Geometry of Higher Reality, by Rudy Rucker
Some of the math in the middle passage gets tough, but the beginning and ending of this book are revelatory. It effortlessly describes a seemingly indescribable vision of the universe and explains how a fourth dimension would appear to people trapped in a three-dimensional world. I can’t remember another book that exploded my mind more dramatically—it opens with the question, “Is this all there is?” and never relents from that problem.

Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man, by David Maurer
This book first came out in 1940, so a few of the details are a little outdated. Very often, the confidence games described within seem several levels more complicated than simply getting a regular job (a few of them require the con artist to open and sustain a fake retail storefront. But the language is amazing and the history is fun, and (if nothing else) it will dramatically amplify your enjoyment of movies directed by David Mamet.

The Secret War Against the Jews: How Western Espionage Betrayed The Jewish People, by John Loftus and Mark Aarons
I’m not Jewish, but I found this pretty fascinating. It’s very long and weirdly comprehensive.

Archaic Revival, by Terence McKenna
Inside my memory, one of the central arguments made by this book is that the evolution of primates dramatically accelerated when a tribe of prehistoric apes consumed a specific variety of psychedelic mushroom. Now, it’s been a long time since I read Archaic Revival, so maybe I’m remembering this incorrectly. Maybe that particular argument is not even in this particular book. But if I’m wrong, it’s almost certainly because of books like this.

A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, by Michael Barkun
I own a lot of conspiracy literature, and the consensus is that this is the best of those kinds of books. But perhaps that’s just what they want you to believe.

And Party Every Day: The Inside Story of Casablanca Records, by Larry Harris, Curt Gooch, and Jeff Suhs
This is the history of an illogical record label who popularized disco music and KISS during the 1970s, mostly through a non-traditional three-pronged process: (1.) When your business has no money, claim that you are rich. (2.) When your business has plenty of money, claim that you are broke. (3.) When in doubt, consume cocaine.

Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media, by Seth Mnookin
People often complain that stories focusing on the media itself are too solipsistic and “inside baseball,” but reporters writing about reporters seems to be one of the rare situations where the central objectives of journalism are actually realized. This book is a prime example.

Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, by David Shields
Here is a book comprised of other books, arguing that fiction no longer has a meaningful role in society, written by a man who started his career as a novelist. It feels like it was inorganically generated by a version of the future that has already happened.

Them: Adventures with Extremists, by Jon Ronson
Deep, sympathetic reporting on the cultic fringes of society. Ronson’s stuff on the Bilderberg Group is especially useful.

Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings by Yoko Ono, by Yoko Ono
“Draw a map to get lost.”

Order Chuck Klosterman’s But What If We’re Wrong? available now.

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