Politics, Reviews, Society
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How to be Right by James O’Brien

‘How To Be Right In a World Gone Wrong’ by James O’Brien

The runaway Sunday Times Bestseller ‘How to be Right in a World Gone Wrong’ became a runaway book in my collection. Purchased on a whim during the summer months, it got packed up and forgotten about during our flat move. I only rediscovered it as I was trying to bookstagram-ify (is that a word? I’m making it a word!) my bookshelves.  And well, with a blurb that contains “O’Brien is the epitome of a smug, sanctimonius, condescending, obsessively politically-correct, champange-socialist public schoolboy Remoaner” – The Sun, who could resist?

Originally published in 2018, my copy was a re-publish in 2019 with an exciting new afterword. It is a short book, standing at 231 pages total. 231 pages of a nice chunky sized text, great for quick reading on a cosy Friday night.

O’Brien is not scared to talk about the hot topics of today. Although he does quite rightly point out “[t]rying to write a book about contemporary society poses one rather obvious challenge: society has a habit of changing before you have finished writing”. In the book he tackles: islamaphobia, Brexit, LGBTQ+ challenges, political correctness, feminism, liberals, Trump, and the age-gap. Across all topics he is succinct, intelligent, witty, and of the moment. As the book covers so many topics I am only going to focus on a couple: Brexit and feminism. I have chosen these two as for me they boil down to the core of the major challenges facing the UK today.

So Brexit…

O’Brien opens and closes his chapter with “I still don’t know what they think they won”… and I can’t help but agree with him. Using snippets cut from his radio show, O’Brien uses the examples of Andy, Sean, and Dean to discuss some of the major misgivings with the Brexit referendum. He eloquently covers off the economic argument, the immigration argument, and also tackles some down-right racist comments. His demeanour is someone who is informed, who has taken the time to read and learn for himself. He even says “[t]he more I read and researched as part of the preparation for my show, the more I realised how sketchy mr previous understanding had been”. Ultimately “both sides are guilty of the same offence: picking a position and sticking to it without doing the heavy lifting needed to make it truly secure”.

Later in the book whilst discussing feminism, O’Brien demonstrates the same desire and ability to learn and mould his views. To me, he felt honest about his own learning curve towards feminists and LGBTQ+ issues. 

In his chapter on feminism O’Brien uses the examples of Fiona and Shelia discussing a comment from a work colleague. He concluded “[i]t’s increasingly obvious to me that it has to be society’s job to establish conventions so clear and so objective that any many behaving like this, whether a Hollywood mogul, a City lawyer or a scaffolder, will be known to have transgressed. We just need to change that is considered to be normal”. This is going to be a collective effort, for all of society, regardless of how you identify – to tackle these problems we first have to acknowledge that they exist, and then second work with those with lived experience to find solutions.

For me, one of my favourite lines of the book is this…

“[d]espite the tile of this book, it is refreshing, in an age of increasingly reductionist and binary debate, to recognise the importance of sometimes saying the three most undervalued words in the English language: I don’t know”

It can be a real temptation through social media, and our increasingly polarised society to join in shouting, and block the voices that are different to you. I believe that the more often we feel comfortable saying ‘I don’t know, explain to me’ and actually listen to both sides, to more often we will find real-workable solutions.

‘How to be Right’ in Facts:

Author: James O’Brien
First Published Date: 2018
Publishing House: Penguin Random House, WH Allen
Pages: 261



  1. Michael Smith says

    Another great post.

    I enjoyed the breakdown and discussion of Brexit.

    I wonder if people had taken the same time to ponder if we would be in this situation now.

    Keep them coming!


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