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We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons Hardcover – June 12, 2012

124 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Tim Kreider's writing is heartbreaking, brutal and hilarious—usually at the same time. He can do in a few pages what I need several hours of screen time and tens of millions to accomplish. And he does it better. Come to think of it, I'd rather not do a blurb. I am beginning to feel bad about myself." (Judd Apatow)

"A remarkable collection . . . I found myself nodding in agreement and wondering how [Tim Kreider] could so consistently express my feelings, and express them so much better than I ever could." (Nancy Pearl

“Kreider is a superb essayist, a funny and fluent storyteller who wears his cultural literacy lightly . . . To read “The Creature Walks Among Us,” “The Czar’s Daughter,” “Escape from Pony Island,” or “An Insult to the Brain” is to appreciate a mordant but affectionate observer of life’s rich pageant, and a craftsman who almost never puts a word wrong.” (Johns Hopkins Magazine)

“In a political atmosphere as angry as this, [Kreider's] oblique, self-deprecating commentary may be the only angle to which party loyalists on either side are likely to respond. We Learn Nothing should be their required reading.” (Willamette Week (Portland, Ore.))

“Kreider is as compelling a writer as he is a visual satirist. His essays tend toward the ‘elegiac,’ as he puts it—something that cannot be said of his cartoons—but the same delightfully brutal honesty underlies both. Kreider’s descriptions are often simultaneously surprising and resonant . . . self-effacing and funny.” (City Paper (Baltimore))

“Kreider locates the right simile and the pith of situations as he carefully catalogues humanity’s inventive and manifold ways of failing.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Earnest, well-turned personal essays about screw-ups without an ounce of sanctimony—a tough trick.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Amazing . . . Any thinking person with a sense of humor will find We Learn Nothing provocative and delightful, reminiscent, in varying ways, of David Foster Wallace, James Thurber, David Sedaris, and Susan Sontag.” (Jennifer Finney Boylan author of She’s Not There)

"Tim Kreider may be the most subversive soul in America and his subversions—by turns public and intimate, political and cultural—are just what our weary, mixed-up nation needs. The essays in We Learn Nothing are for anybody who believes it's high time for some answers, damn it." (Richard Russo Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls)

"Whether he is expressing himself in highly original cartoons that are hilarious visual poems, or in prose that exposes our self-delusions by the way he probes his own experience with candor, Tim Kreider is a writer-artist who brilliantly understands that every humorist at his best is a liberator. Because he is irreverent, makes us laugh, ruffles the feathers of the pretentious and the pompous, and keeps us honest, We Learn Nothing is a pleasure from its first page to the last." (Charles Johnson bestselling author of Middle Passage)

We Learn Nothing articulated, for me, more human truths than any book in recent memory. When you’re done with it, it almost feels like finishing a textbook: you actually feel like you understand how things work a little better.” (

About the Author

Tim Kreider’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Film Quarterly, The Comics Journal, and His popular comic strip The Pain—When Will It End? ran in alternative weeklies and has been has been collected in three books by Fantagraphics. He divides his time between New York City and the Chesapeake Bay area.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (June 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439198705
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439198704
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #201,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Reddhedd on July 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book after reading an essay("The Busy Trap")by this author in the New York Times online. I had never heard of Tim Kreider before, but this essay was so topical, so insightful, so on-target that I simply had to see what else he had to say.

I was a little hesitant because it became clear after a bit of research that Kreider's politics and mine were pretty far out of sync. (Not that I mind competing viewpoints, I just don't like the whole bashing thing.) I need not have worried. Unlike much of Kreider's work of the George W. Bush era, which consistently savaged all things Republican, We Learn Nothing is not overtly political. Each essay is unique, highly original, wistful, soul-baring, poignant, and achingly human. Although a naturally passionate lefty partisan, Kreider is, to his immense credit, rigorously intellectually honest and reflexively fair throughout this latest collection. He is unsparingly critical of himself and those with whom he aligns, and gracious and empathetic to his philosophical opposites. It feels a little like an act of atonement, as though Kreider is saying: Sorry I got a little carried away there. See, I'm much better now.

I cannot recall ever having read an author so preternaturally incisive, so aware, so adept at performing what amounts to a full monty of the soul without seeming self-indulgent. Kreider is relentlessly introspective and profoundly self-aware. Yet this is no act of mere navel-gazing. Above all, We Learn Nothing is the work of a sensitive, piercing intelligence trying to make sense of the world by first making sense of itself. This book should be required reading for anyone trying to come to terms with this messy, confusing, brutal, beautiful, tragic, hilarious, stupid, fragile thing we call life. Scratch that: This book should be required reading, period.

After reading this book I thought, I would love to spend an afternoon with this guy over beers, discussing anything and everything.
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Dustin G. Rhodes VINE VOICE on July 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's easy to compare a book like this to the works of a host of other contemporary essayists (Sedaris, et al), but after the second or third essay I realized Kreider's voice is unique: he tells stories, often with the barest of details, in a way that doesn't expose himself too much and/or doesn't exploit someone else in the process. Which is to say, he has written a book that is heart-breaking, charming, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful (hoping that he will offer up all the gory details) and -- even though I hate this word when used to describe writing -- generous. Kreider is a masterful storyteller, and I can't recall the last time I enjoyed a book of essays this much.

The stories themselves cover a lot of terrain: dysfunctional family members, transgendered friends, near death experiences, relationships; but always from the perspective of someone who's madly in love with his friends and family, warts and all. Kreider exposes the ugly/beautiful truth of what it means to be human in the most honest, thoughtful, endearing and entertaining way.

Highly, highly recommended.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By S.S. on June 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tim's brilliant writing style, scathing satire and sharp wit will alleviate your pain of "being a person in the world". It's tremendously comforting to discover that you are not alone in your secret despair.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jessica on July 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover
We Learn Nothing is funny and profound. The essays range from Kreider's stabbing ("Fourteen years ago, I was stabbed in the throat. This is kind of a long story and less interesting than it sounds."), to romantic relationships, friendship, political outrage ("I was a political cartoonist and essayist for the duration of the Bush presidency, so I was professionally furious every week for eight years."), family, illness, his friend Jenny Boylan's gender reassignment journey ("Jenny would argue that she'd never been a man; she'd just been impersonating one. I would say, You and me both."). The essays manage to be both hilarious and serious, quick yet insightful. I really enjoy essay collections, but the funny ones especially tend to be fast reads that I soon forget. This one I liked so much that I decided not to mark it up. So I put stickies in the spots that I wanted to go back to and really think about. Trust me, there are a LOT of stickies in this book.

In his writing, Kreider comes off as intense, intelligent, and witty with a slightly unbalanced edge that makes for some brutally honest - almost cringe-inducing -- reading moments. Kreider is an interesting guy with an interesting life. Not many of us can write essays about a mentally ill uncle incarcerated for attempted murder by arson ("His visits were like a whiff of cigarette smoke in church."), getting stabbed, a transitioning transgender friend, discovering in middle age that we've been adopted, or a best friend who becomes obsessed with peak-oil. But what makes We Learn Nothing a really worthwhile read, beyond the fun and inherent interest, is the way Kreider widens the scope.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Steve on June 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
We Learn Nothing is insightful and loaded with unique observations about love, life, friendship, family, politics, and career. From noticing that his near-death experience only had a finite shelf life as a life-changing experience, to his comparison of a bad toupee to how we cover our own more personal insecurities (the soul toupee), Kreider speaks with humor and a disarming self-deprecation. I've read some good books this year, and this one ranks at or near the top of the list.
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