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Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can't Look Away Hardcover – February 14, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Wilson, a professor of English literature and author of Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy (2008), certainly has an unusual way of looking at things. Admitting his own fascination for the macabre and the tragic, he asks why we, as a society, are drawn to things that you’d think should repel us. Why do we have morbid curiosity, and what does that say about us? Exploring the question through consideration of a variety of phenomena—our fascination with the 9/11 footage of the towers coming down, our enjoyment of other people’s failures, our fondness for Hollywood tearjerkers and horror flicks, the popularity of serial killers, real and fictional—he develops the theme that we need this element of ourselves, that it’s essential to us. In essence, he argues that we need darkness in order to understand light. Not, perhaps, a blindingly original theme, but Wilson explores it with zeal and a great deal of wit. It’s hard, as one reads this fascinating book, not to see quite a bit of ourselves. --David Pitt


Eric G. Wilson's smart, probing new book . . . sets out to explain what lies beneath our collective fascination with death and suffering . . . Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck isn't some holier-than-thou polemic out to cure us of our dark leanings . . . Instead, it simply aims to help readers gain 'a fulfilling response to two of life's greatest, most pressing and persistent questions. What is the meaning of suffering? What is the significance of death? . . . The book's slim, peripatetic chapters cover an awful lot of erudite territory, as Wilson draws ideas and research from a delightful grab bag of academics, artists and thinkers. Aristotle, Freud, Kant, Goya and Hardy all make appearances, alongside an assortment of sociopaths and serial murderers. (John Wilwol, NPR.org)

Wilson is provocative, entertaining and above all honest. (Chris Tucker, The Dallas Morning News)

A leisurely, light-footed overview of our cultural obsession with doom, gloom, and gore. (Josh Rothman, The Boston Globe)

Compelling . . . Wilson keeps hearing a voice within that tells him to 'look.' He follows this instinct, energized by the idea that his thoughtful connoisseurship of the world's darkness is good--noble, even. Wilson draws on philosophers, poets, psychologists, filmmakers and more to build a case that 'an eager, open-minded interest in the macabre' provides 'a special invitation to think about life's meanings' . . . Wilson's guidance is personal, engaging, and convincing . . . The book offers heaps of terribly tantalizing topics. (Chris Jozefowicz, Rue Morgue)

Mixing anecdotes, arguments and his own quirky persona, the author of Against Happiness delivers a provocative meditation on morbid curiosity and the pleasure of seeing others suffer. (The Times-Picayune (New Orleans))

Wilson explores [his theme] with zeal and a great deal of wit. It's hard, as one reads this fascinating book, not to see quite a bit of ourselves. (David Pitt, Booklist)

[Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck] reassures: enjoying grotesque, horrible, frightening images is a natural impulse. From fairy tales to crime dramas, they hit us where we are most human. (Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe)

Ruminations of an exceptionally intelligent academic on why people--himself among the guilty parties--seem to search out and enjoy instances of human pain and suffering . . . [Wilson] does a thorough job of examining the people who can't look away. (Nona Nelson, The Roanoke Times)

[Wilson is] fluent and comfortable, whether he is poking for clues in the bewildering complexity of Edmund Burke's sublime, as experienced in the stomach-dropping irresistibilty of, say, a tornado; the Jungian shadow, that archive of everything we hate about ourselves, those destructive crazes and unadmitted tendencies without recognition of which we would not be whole; or the simple, malicious pleasure of another's misfortunes. (Peter Lewis, The Barnes & Noble Review)

Invoking everything from horror movies and television news footage of the Sept. 11 attacks to Dante's tormented verse and Goya's paintings of cannibals, Wilson makes a strong case that humans are natural-born rubberneckers . . . A hybrid of memoir, journalim and theory, [Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck] investigates what this impulse tells us about ourselves and how it might inspire constructive reactions like compassion . . . Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck necessarily deals with a host of grim subjects, yet there are also instances of unqualified beauty. (Kevin Canfield, Star-Tribune (Minneapolis))

In the teeming ranks of the American Professoriat, you could argue that Eric G. Wilson is among those most palpably needed by the world at large . . . Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck is a personal book that touches on 'death tourism,' Hannibal Lecter, Maurice Sendak, Tipper Gore, Francisco Goya, serial killers (a handwritten note by Jeffrey Dahmer can fetch $1,700, he cheerfully informs us), Tiger Woods sex scandals, and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, all embedded in an Alexandrian library of literary allusions that can be encompassed in less than 200 pages. (Jeff Simon, Buffalo News)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374150338
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374150334
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #875,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Eric G. Wilson is the Thomas H. Pritchard Professor of English at Wake Forest University, where he teaches British and American Romanticism, film and literature, and creative nonfiction. Wilson has recently turned his academic training into a major new trade title, EVERYONE LOVES A GOOD TRAIN WRECK: WHY WE CAN'T LOOK AWAY (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012), a mixture of memoir, journalism, scholarship, and cultural analysis that explores the origins, functions, and values of morbid curiosity. The book was recommended as one of the top books of the spring of 2012 by Oprah magazine, Details magazine, and Amazon.com; and it was positively reviewed in several publications, including NPR.com, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, the New Orleans Times Picayune, The Buffalo News, Booklist, Books and Culture, and Rue Morgue. Excerpts or adaptations have been published in Salon, The Christian Century, and Psychology Today, and the book has been featured in several radio venues. Wilson also achieved success with a 2008 scholarly-trade title, called AGAINST HAPPINESS: IN PRAISE OF MELANCHOLY (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). The book, an L.A. Times best seller, was featured on NBC's Today Show, UNC TV's Bookwatch, NPR's All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation, as well as in Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, the L.A. Times, and the New York Times. Against Happiness was also favorably reviewed in The Wall Street Journal, Booklist, Bookforum, the Globe and Mail, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Playboy.com, Publisher's Weekly, the Raleigh News and Observer, the Christian Century, The Missouri Review, and the European Romantic Review. Excerpts have appeared in The Longman Reader, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the L.A. Times, and the book has been translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Croatian, Korean, Chinese, and Portuguese. Wilson has also published a memoir, THE MERCY OF ETERNITY: A MEMOIR OF DEPRESSION AND GRACE (Northwestern University Press). His creative nonfiction has appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, the Georgia Review, and r.kv.r.y. Wilson continues to produce more traditionally scholarly works, such as his recent MY BUSINESS IS TO CREATE: BLAKE'S INFINITE WRITING (University of Iowa Press). His other academic books include THE STRANGE WORLD OF DAVID LYNCH (Continuum, 2007); SECRET CINEMA: GNOSTIC VISION IN FILM (Continuum, 2006); THE MELANCHOLY ANDROID: ON THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SACRED MACHINES (State University of New York Press, 2006); COLERIDGE'S MELANCHOLIA (University Press of Florida, 2004); THE SPIRITUAL HISTORY OF ICE (Palgrave Macmillan); ROMANTIC TURBULENCE (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000); and EMERSON'S SUBLIME SCIENCE (Palgrave Macmillan, 1999). These studies, along with his numerous articles on cinematic and literary subjects, have garnered Wilson several awards, including a fellowship at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C. and the university-wide prize for excellence in research at Wake Forest University. Wilson is currently at work on two scholarly-trade titles: Keep It Fake: The Art of Being a Real Phony (under contract with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) and How to Make a Soul: The Wisdom of John Keats.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Philip Arnold on April 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
After reading and enjoying Eric G. Wilson's Against Happiness, I was pleased to see his latest offering, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck. With much of the same scrutiny and informed insight, Wilson lifts the veil and illuminates the darker forces that shadow the human condition. What we often assume to be abnormal, taboo, or insensitive in our attractions or curiosities, Wilson claims instead to be affirming. Clearly it's a tough argument. But the book covers a great deal of territory - from cinema and the news media to 'celebrity' criminals to horrific public spectacles - to posit a convincing, if not a sometimes unsettling, argument. What I appreciate the most are the various angles he uses to support his ideas, borrowing from psychology, mythology, literature, etc. All in all, its a great read, deeply insightful, exhaustive in its coverage, and highly persuasive. I highly recommend the book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Deb on November 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Welcome to the dark side.

And, now meet your guide: author Eric G. Wilson, whose book _Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck_ takes us on an illuminating voyage deep into our dark side. He explores the innate morbid curiosity found within all of us (yes, all of us!), and shows how our dark side might not be so dark after all. His book supports his core belief that:
"the morbid offers illuminations brighter than the sun...Darker emotional states--doubt, confusion, alienation, despair--inspire a deeper and more durable experience of the sacred than contentment does." (p. 163)

Each of the 50 bite-sized, yet content-rich, chapters delve into an aspect of morbid curiosity, which Eric defines as "an eager, open-minded interest in the macabre--disease or destruction or death--as a special invitation to think about life's meanings...a spiritual yearning, a hunger to penetrate the most profound mysteries of existence." (pp. 126, 186)

Our morbid curiosity is what brings us to the dark side. Gory horror films, the literary genre of tragedy, the misfortunes of others, flirtations with death, the increasingly popular dark tourism industry, our fascinations with serial killers--we just can't seem to get enough. Eric unearths the factors fueling this fascination with the macabre, including: it allows us to better empathize with the pain of others; it helps us build morale; it inspires ecstasy; it helps us become psychologically whole and integrate our psyche's destructive powers into our bright reason; it reminds us of our imperfections and cuts through the delusions of what's real vs. unattainable (i.e.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jon Fisco on August 30, 2013
Format: Paperback
If you've every wondered why people (yourself included perhaps) enjoy the macabre and the grotesque this book will answer those questions. Wilson has a very friendly voice that will take you into the dark world of horror, pain, and death. He explores topics such as; dark tourism (people visiting places hit by Katrina), the fetishisation of the macabre, as well as media over the years that's turned this darkness into something we crave. Wilson uses very real interviews and examples to help bring his ideas to life and each chapter, usually only three or four pages long, brings on a new idea. The book is a fast read, only about 200 pages, and well worth your time. Wilson's dive into the things we all secretly long for, death and anguish, is fascinating. He never comes across as a psychopath who wishes death on others and seeks out danger. Instead, Wilson seems very much like you or me in his fear of his own enjoyment of grizzly things. He admits to being turned on by Morticia Adams as a boy and bets we've all experienced similar moments. If you can let your guard down and accept that these thoughts are natural than you'll find this book to be a fun trip.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Steph on May 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I found the title enticing and a glimpse of a few pages piqued my interest. Not surprising since the book explores the nature of our morbid curiosities, I found myself increasingly curious about what lurid subject lurked on the next few pages, and continued reading to find out. By the end I really enjoyed the book's structure and quick pacing of anecdotes, memoir, allusions and speculation. I especially found Wilson's comments on the tantalizing nature of celebrity culture insightful and well thought out. This book definitely takes you off the beaten path for a provocative and entertaining read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael S. Gross on December 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An extended essay with some good content, but page after page, the moralistically self-obsessed author wrings his hands until they chafe, while the reader vainly hopes that he will finally wake up to the fact that the problem is with his conventional leftyish premises. But he never questions these premises
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wilson openly admits early in the book that he is over-generalizing, but he has to write the book because he is contracted to do so. The content is largely based on why he is drawn to macabre. Notwithstanding the limited scientific research, the book provides an interesting look into why we can't look away from a car wreck and why we seek out the viewing of violence. However, his writing style and approach is exhausting to read.

I felt like I was at a Hollywood party where the person I was speaking with spent the entire conversation listing every famous person he knew. He didn't work it into the conversation, he just listed them so that I would be very impressed. Except in the book, Wilson lists every book he has read and quotes anyone and anything that may appear intellectual. The references did little to enhance the reading and in many cases detracted or misdirected away from the point or conclusion. His prose was extremely verbose and unnecessarily poetic. He chose to find complicated ways to make simple statements.

Though Wilson appeared open-minded to many theories and concepts on violence in society, he has chosen to be have very strong and negative opinions regarding religious people. He openly insults Christianity and believes religious people are narrow-minded and self-righteous, yet his comments seem to be a little bit of both as well. Let me be clear, he didn't have anything negative about Muslims, and I am sure he would defend their actions and behaviors to the end, but it is completely acceptable to make these statements about Christians because it conforms with the leftest ideals of our mainstream media and academia. Though generalizations can be helpful and at times useful, he was overly harsh and critical when it did nothing to further his book's theme.

It is a short read that feels like a very long read.
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