Book Review: I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)

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I have to admit; I’m completely biased when it comes to Chuck Klosterman. The New York Times ethicist/pop culture guru has been a huge influence of mine going on 10 years now (wow) and continues to floor me with his exceptional criticisms both online and in print. So, that being said, it’s probably not a shock that I pre-ordered his new non-fiction book, and anxiously awaited its arrival like the coming of Christ.

Now 299 pages later, I can definitively say that it was well worth the wait.

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I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains is Klosterman’s newest criticism, and as the title suggests, it tackles on the modern perception of villainy using prime examples from pop culture. Klosterman analyzes the human relationship with the villain/bad guy title and relates it to infamous pop culture figures Bill Clinton, OJ Simpson, Machiavelli, Hitler, et. al.

Like every other piece Klosterman has written, this one is funny, witty, and incredibly insightful, but there’s a lot of changes here stylistically that make this read a distinct, new experience. In the past, most of Klosterman’s essay collections comprised of short criticisms on different subjects condensed together in one place. This book however, does quite the opposite. There’s still an introduction of different pop culture players, but there is only one singular focus they all encompass. As a reader of Klosterman’s previous non-fiction criticisms, it was a little hard to get used to this format at first, but it really didn’t have any major effect on my overall reading experience. In fact, once I delved further into the book and got used to it all, I highly enjoyed this new approach.

Along with this, another big change that I really liked (more so than the style) was how the essays were developed. In each, Klosterman took two people or topics and essentially compared the two into one aspect of the modern villain understanding. It was interesting to see two people who never had any distinct similarities be included in the same comparison. It’s amazing how Klosterman’s brain works; his thought process is beyond remarkable. There’s no way in hell the reader doesn’t come away with a new perspective about villainy after reading this. It’s completely impossible!

The only negative criticism I have about I Wear the Black Hat was that Klosterman took his ranting up a notch. This isn’t really that big of a problem, as a lot of it was his typical hilarious banter but in some cases, it was repetitive and off-putting. More often than not I found myself thinking, “Okay, get to the point already” which as a huge fan, I felt extremely guilty for throughout the read and even now as I type this.

But despite this very miniscule drawback, I consider I Wear The Black Hat: Grippling with Villains to be one of Klosterman’s best. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s better than some of his other reads, however if you ask anyone that I’ve ever introduced Klosterman to, they can tell you that it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite.

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