How To Be Right … in a world gone wrong, by James O’Brien

Films to Read Before You Die | Out October 2021

How to be Right catalogues the rise of fear, fake news and prejudice – and offers a way of staying calm in an increasingly angry world.

Journalist James O’Brien has plenty of material to draw on in his compendium of everyday prejudice: much of the book revisits call-ins to his LBC radio show.

Given the nature of talk radio, this involves lots of folk who don’t like foreigners, homosexuals or feminists – but who dress their prejudice as some kind of moral hand-wringing.

One caller says selling gender neutral clothes is deeply troubling. Another claims waitresses pawed and clawed at a charity dinner had it coming.

Mostly, however, they regurgitate fact-free beliefs picked up from fact-free news outlets and social media. O’Brien shows how these fall apart under even the lightest scrutiny:

James: But how are your values being eroded?
Andy: This isn’t a Christian country anymore.
James: Do you go to church, Andy?
Andy: No.”

How To Be Right

This doesn’t mean the holders of such beliefs hang-up having seen the ‘error of their ways’. In fact, many don’t.

The book’s title suggests a kind of manual, which it may be for some readers. But it’s perhaps more about O’Brien’s personal philosophy – which isn’t about belittling opinions so much as exploring why people think the way they do.

How to be Right is a commentary on modern times, and yet its biggest achievement is countering extremism and hatred with something very like humanist patience.


How To Be Right … in a world gone wrong, by James O’Brien (2018)

Quoted edition published by Virgin Digital, 2018

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Picture credit: Camylla Battani