“Feeling less complacent about what you believed”

But this is a quibble. Good books leave you knowing more than you did to start with, and feeling less complacent about what you believed.

David Free, in Saturday’s Australian reviewing John Kampfner’s The Rich. He’s onto something, when it comes to books about ideas. Complacency is the default for beliefs. For years, it feels I’ve been undergoing a long, continual shedding of complacency, to the point that almost every belief I hold feels either hard-won or tentative. Start doing that too much and the complacency of others seems criminal. But of course, there are probably worse things than complacency.

It’s exposure to contrary viewpoints which sheds complacency. It’s critically examining the details, not just the brushstrokes. (You can spin anything to seem credible; you can squint at it, and pretend it’s not what it is.) It’s reading books you don’t agree with, not just to disagree with them, but to truly consider their arguments.

But I’m riffing on Free’s point, which is actually about what “ideas books” can or should do – and that is to complicate our beliefs. You think rich people are all this, or all that? Examine the details, and your generalisations turn out to need more nuance.

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