O’Brien is an exceptional broadcaster with a peerless ability to calmly point out the absurdity of certain viewpoints, a quality which similarly runs through this book... xenophobic language and erroneous claims of fake news often go unchallenged. Still, his clarity of thought – his confidence and absolute conviction that he is on the side of goodness and truth – is something to behold... the most illuminating parts of How to Be Right arrive in his rare moments of uncertainty... For all its qualities, a nagging question remains about who this book is for... One suspects that O’Brien has a more detailed and scholarly book in him that could dig deeper into where we are politically, if only the unfolding disaster movie that is the news would allow him time to do so. For the time being, How to Be Right provides a much-needed examination of the blustering rhetoric of politicians and media pundits, and brings a sliver of comfort to readers that they are not alone in their despair.
To anybody who follows political debate, O’Brien’s opinions won’t be particularly startling.The discussion is wide-ranging, but if there is an underlying theme it is that ordinary people would be kinder and more open-minded if they weren’t frightened to death by newspapers such as the Mail and the more lurid parts of the internet... People don’t phone talk shows because they want to consider the issues of the day in a calm and reflective manner: they phone in because they’re furious. And so an experienced operator such as O’Brien (well-briefed, inquisitive and probably fresh from a detailed reading of that day’s papers and news websites) has no trouble in swatting away such oddballs. This book is a product of the shrill, tribal nature of modern debate... People who think O’Brien is smug and irritating won’t be converted by his book, but it’s difficult to wholly dislike a man that writes the following dedication to his wife, who taught him that “winning the argument doesn’t necessarily mean you were right”. Irritating perhaps, but unexpectedly modest with it.
O’Brien is as prone as the next polemicist to logical fallacies and false dichotomies, but he nonetheless towers over his callers... That’s a problem, because it makes them look stupid and makes him seem like a show-off, even a bully.
He’s not unaware of this and so he spares his callers and reserves his ire for the media from which they draw their prejudices and inaccurate information.