Not long ago, the celebrated activist and public intellectual Naomi Klein was confronted with a doppelganger whose views she found abhorrent but whose name and public persona were sufficiently similar to her own that many people got confused about who was who. Destabilized, she lost her bearings, until she began to understand the experience as one manifestation of a strangeness many of us have come to know but struggle to define: AI-generated text is blurring the line between genuine and spurious communication; New Age wellness entrepreneurs turned anti-vaxxers are scrambling familiar political allegiances of left and right; and liberal democracies are teetering on the edge of absurdist authoritarianism, even as the oceans rise. Under such conditions, reality itself seems to have become unmoored. Is there a cure for our moment of collective vertigo?
Feels like falling down a rabbit hole, albeit a dazzling and erudite one ... On her highbrow romp through this disturbing underworld, Klein’s writing is clear, dynamic, ruthlessly honest, imbued with a rare integrity. She brings unusual rigor to her examinations of herself, including her flaws. She is that nearly extinct breed of activist: one who never stops questioning orthodoxies and interrogating her own beliefs. Doppelganger showcases her superb ability to cut through clichés and received ideas, as well as intellectual conventions ... There is a drama and stylishness to her inquiry that is hard to resist. By deploying the idiom of psychological thrillers, she infuses energy into her often dense or theoretical material.
This story of mistaken identity would on its own be gripping and revealing enough, both as a psychological study and for its explorations of the double in art and history, the disorienting effects of social media, and the queasy feeling of looking into a distorted mirror. But the larger subject of Doppelganger turns out to be a far more complex and consequential confusion: Its guiding question is how so many people have in recent years broken with conventional left-right political affiliations and a shared understanding of reality ... Doppelganger could have followed the contours of so many stories of doubles and stolen identities and evil twins, in which the goal is chiefly to unmask the impostor; with the doppelgänger vanquished, order is restored, and all is well again. Klein is clear that this story is not that simple.
Klein’s real interest, as you might expect from her previous work, tends more toward sociology than psychology. Her doppelgänger isn’t an opportunist or a con artist, Klein decides, but a genuine believer ... But what about the culture that has enabled her to thrive? ... [An] ambitious agenda ... This can be a frustrating book ... Still, Klein emerges with a sense of resolution.