News and Interviews

The Dirty Dozen, with Mark Kingwell

Kingwell photo credit The Varsity

Professor and author Mark Kingwell is Canada's cultural guardian angel, bringing a rare wit and insight to his philosophical and cultural writing and teaching. His writing, which has covered everything from politics to cocktails, is relevant, relatable, and engaging, leaving the dusty reputation of yesterday's philosophy departments behind. 

His newest offering is Fail Better: Why Baseball Matters (Bibloasis), which uses Kingwell's signature mix of humour, personal writing, and philosophy to ask (and answer) the deceptively simple question: why do sports matter? In baseball, Kingwell finds a microcosm of our larger world, experiences, and emotions, creating a book that will resonate with sports fans and sideline-dwellers alike. 

We're welcoming Mark to Open Book today to get to know the man behind the accolades. He takes on our Dirty Dozen challenge, in which we ask authors to share 12 unexpected facts about themselves. In his responses, Mark tells us about the best cigar name ever, makes us want to re-watch Die Hard, and looks on the bright side about a less than ideal childhood nickname. 

1. I really love watching curling on TV: the Brier, the Scotties, the Worlds. I mix myself a Caesar and work on my Vic Rauter imitation. Make the final … three!

2. I own twelve fly fishing rods, in different weights, lengths, and number of pieces. It’s a scary gear obsession.

3. My favourite Cuban cigar is the Romeo y Julieta Mille Fleurs Corona, because that is the best cigar name ever. And it’s also a great cigar.

4. My favourite band of all time is Big Star.

5. My office is filled with many bobbleheads and figurines, of baseball players, Wonder Woman, Luke Skywalker, Stewie Griffin, and Tintin, among others. There are also finger puppets depicting various philosophers. My students call it The Toybox.

6. I like knives.

7. I have three made-to-measure suits from Hong Kong. Whenever I say that, I think of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) in Die Hard, the terrorist-robber-dandy, who says to Mr.Takagi—who is about to be shot—“Nice suit. John Philips, London. I have two myself.”

8. My favourite place to read fiction is in bed; but I have to be sitting upright to read non-fiction because I always need to make notes.

9. I’m allergic to the furry little creatures, but I’m still a devoted cat person.

10. I failed my first driving test by cutting off a guy in my blind spot. No excuse for a fail like that.

11. My childhood nickname was “Sherry,” a riff on my middle name (Gerald). I always hated it, and used to fly into a rage when my older brother Steve, that insensitive goon, teased me with it. Nowadays I might think: Fino or Amontillado? (Nothing for Steve.)

12. I never thought I would end up as a professional academic philosopher. Not something mentioned by my school guidance counsellor…


After some years of graduate education in Britain and the United States, Mark Kingwell found he had inadvertently perfected a form of idling for which he could get paid. He is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, and has written for publications ranging from Adbusters and the New York Times to the Journal of Philosophy and Auto Racing Digest. Among his twelve books of political and cultural theory are the national best-sellers Better Living, The World We Want, and Concrete Reveries. In order to secure financing for their continued indulgence he has also written about his various hobbies, including fishing, baseball, cocktails, and contemporary art.

Buy the Book

Fail Better: Why Baseball Matters

Taking seriously the idea that baseball is a study in failure—a very successful batter manages a base hit in just three of every ten attempts—Mark Kingwell argues that there is no better tutor of human failure’s enduring significance than this strange, crooked game of base, where geometry becomes poetry.

Weaving elements of memoir, philosophical reflection, sports writing, and humour, Fail Better is an intellectual love letter to baseball by one of North America’s most engaging philosophers. Kingwell illustrates complex concepts like theoretically infinite game-space, “time out of time,” and the rules of civility with accessible examples drawn from the game, its history, and his own halting efforts to hit ‘em where they ain’t. Beyond a “Beckett meets baseball” study in failure, Kingwell crafts a thoughtful appreciation of why sports matter, and how they change our vision of the world.

Never pretentious, always entertaining, Fail Better is set to be the homerun non-fiction title of the season.