Today we're launching David Berry's book On Nostalgia, a history of nostalgia—which is no small thing! Tobias Carroll writes at Literary Hub, "[Berry] pulls off the impressive feat of covering plenty of ground in a concise and compelling manner."
The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.
It’s a cultural history of nostalgia, an examination of why and how we’re so ceaselessly drawn back.
Describe your ideal reader.
Someone who has never met a Wikipedia hole they couldn’t fall in.
What authors/books is your work in conversation with?
Among others, I’d hope it’s in conversation with writers like FT Marinetti, Jaron Lanier, Eric Hobsbawm, Barbara Tuchman, Steven Pinker, Bill Bryson and every tech CEO who has written a thinkpiece or memoir, although I would certainly not claim that all those conversations are polite or respectful.
What is something interesting you learned about your book/ yourself/ your subject during the process of creating and publishing your book?
I learned that when left to my own devices, my nostalgic thoughts tend to turn towards chocolate chip cookies. Also, I went from someone who was pretty deeply suspicious of nostalgia in general to someone who is deeply suspicious of the ways it’s used against us and profoundly respectful of how we use it ourselves.
What’s your favourite anecdote that didn’t make it into the book?
It never quite fit with what I was trying to explain, but numerous studies have shown that if you ask virtually anyone what the best time in the history of the world was, or when the best music was released, or when the best movies were being made, or what the peak of their particular country’s history—basically any variation on that question—everyone responds with, essentially, the time when they were between the ages of about 12 and 23. So, when they were a teenager, or maybe in college. You can prime them to try to think objectively about it, say by asking them about important historical figures or moments, but even when people are made aware of those, if you ask them straight-up when the best time to be alive was, they will, to an overwhelming degree, argue that everything peaked when they had no meaningful responsibility and were just discovering what emotions really felt like. Humans are absurd, solipsistic, hopelessly lost things, and god love them for that.