Synopses & Reviews
To err is human. Yet most of us go through life assuming (and sometimes insisting) that we are right about nearly everything, from the origins of the universe to how to load the dishwasher. If being wrong is so natural, why are we all so bad at imagining that our beliefs could be mistaken, and why do we react to our errors with surprise, denial, defensiveness, and shame?
In Being Wrong, journalist Kathryn Schulz explores why we find it so gratifying to be right and so maddening to be mistaken, and how this attitude toward error corrodes relationships — whether between family members, colleagues, neighbors, or nations. Along the way, she takes us on a fascinating tour of human fallibility, from wrongful convictions to no-fault divorce; medical mistakes to misadventures at sea; failed prophecies to false memories; I told you so to Mistakes were made. Drawing on thinkers as varied as Augustine, Darwin, Freud, Gertrude Stein, Alan Greenspan, and Groucho Marx, she proposes a new way of looking at wrongness. In this view, error is both a given and a gift — one that can transform our worldviews, our relationships, and, most profoundly, ourselves.
In the end, Being Wrong is not just an account of human error but a tribute to human creativity — the way we generate and revise our beliefs about ourselves and the world. At a moment when economic, political, and religious dogmatism increasingly divide us, Schulz explores with uncommon humor and eloquence the seduction of certainty and the crises occasioned by error. A brilliant debut from a new voice in nonfiction, this book calls on us to ask one of life's most challenging questions: what if I'm wrong?
“Both wise and clever, full of fun and surprise about a topic so central to our lives that we almost never even think about it.” Bill McKibben, author of Earth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
“Kathryn Schulz’s brilliant, spirited, and necessary inquiry into the essential humanity of error will leave you feeling intoxicatingly wrongheaded.” Tom Vanderbilt, bestselling author of TRAFFIC
Of all the things people are wrong about, our condemnation of error should top the list. It is our meta-mistake: we are wrong about what it means to be wrong. Far from being a sign of intellectual inferiority, the capacity to err is crucial to human cognition. Far from being a moral flaw, it is inextricable from some of our most humane and honorable qualities: empathy, optimism, imagination, conviction, and courage. And far from being a mark of indifference or intolerance, wrongness is a vital part of how students learn and change. Thanks to error, students can revise their understanding of themselves and amend their ideas about the world.
When asked by the New York Times what book she wished all Harvard freshmen would read, Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard replied, "Kathryn Schulz's Being Wrong advocates doubt as a skill and praises error as the foundation of wisdom. Her book would reinforce my encouragement of Harvard's accomplished and successful freshmen to embrace risk and even failure."
Freshman Common Read: Wellesley College, Washington State College
In the tradition of The Wisdom of Crowds and Predictably Irrational comes Being Wrong, an illuminating exploration of what it means to be in error, and why homo sapiens tend to tacitly assume (or loudly insist) that they are right about most everything. Kathryn Schulz, editor of Grist magazine, argues that error is the fundamental human condition and should be celebrated as such. Guiding the reader through the history and psychology of error, from Socrates to Alan Greenspan, Being Wrong will change the way you perceive screw-ups, both of the mammoth and daily variety, forever.
About the Author
Kathryn Schulz has written for The Nation, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times Magazine, among other publications. A former editor of the online environmental magazine Grist and the Santiago Times in Chile, she was awarded a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism in 2004. She lives in New York.