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Chuck Klosterman revels in the dark side in ‘Black Hat’

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Four and a half stars

I Wear The Black Hat By Chuck Klosterman, $25.

New York Times Magazine writer Chuck Klosterman has a problem. He worries that if someone made a movie of his life, he wouldn’t be the hero; he’d be the villain. When Klosterman watches TV shows and reads comic books, he sides with the bad guy. The hero pisses him off.

So Klosterman wrote I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling With Villains (Real and Imagined) as an attempt to deal with his demons. Not only did he succeed; he wrote his best work since Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs in the process. It might be even better.

Let’s start here: In the 2012 election, Klosterman found himself rooting for Newt Gingrich. I say “found himself” because Klosterman doesn’t seem to support Newt’s policies at all. “[Gingrich] would tie a woman to the railroad tracks just to prove he knew what time the train left the station,” Klosterman writes. “This is why I find myself rooting for him … I know exactly what he’s doing. It’s like looking into a mirror I do not possess the capacity to smash.”

Klosterman’s personal insights are matched by his cultural insights (On the 1990s: “It was a great era for white people hoping to feel less racist by accusing other white people of being very, very racist.”) and literary insights (“It’s entirely possible (and perhaps even probable) that Machiavelli was being sarcastic.”). And this time around, Klosterman’s trademark hypothetical questions lead somewhere. He doesn’t just ask, “If you were wrongly accused of murder and found not guilty, how would you live the rest of your life, particularly if everyone in the world still believed you were the murderer?” He examines how O.J. Simpson answered the question (O.J. played a lot of golf and patronized the same fancy restaurants he went to before prison) and from it draws a novel conclusion:

“When considered objectively, Simpson’s public profile during the late 1990s accurately reflects the reasonable response of a stubborn, egocentric person who did not murder two people. In a weird way, it’s the strongest argument in his favor (and maybe the only one).”

If you’ve ever sympathized with Darth Vader, second-guessed Muhammad Ali or wondered how Bill Clinton got away with what he got away with, you’re not alone. Read I Wear the Black Hat and see for yourself.

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