Near the end of Doppelganger: a Trip into the Mirror World, Naomi Klein mentions something she wanted to include, but couldn’t: an interview with Naomi Wolf, aka ‘Other Naomi’, the ‘doppelganger’ of the title. Ever since her 1999 bestseller, No Logo, launched Klein onto the world stage, she has been routinely confused for another prominent writer, Naomi Wolf, whose 1990 title The Beauty Myth remains a feminist classic even as its author’s reputation has taken a series of odd turns. Wolf didn’t respond to Klein’s emails requesting an interview. But it’s a tantalising prospect, a book taking the form of a dialogue between two people often mistaken for each other, disagreeing, agreeing, perhaps even blending, Ingmar-Bergman’s-Persona-like, into a single confused entity.

This idea looms over Doppelganger as its spectral twin (or, perhaps, one day, its sequel?), casting Wolf’s absence into stark relief, not least because so much of the book is about her. But what Klein has given us instead is an engaging survey of our political era in all its contradictions, employing the doppelganger, or double, as its motif.

This book stems from the author’s crisis of identity, the dilution of a ‘personal brand’ Klein was loath to trade on in the first place. It’s a journey through a fractured landscape, one where the unresolved horrors of global history lead onto present conflicts. Chapter by chapter, Klein uses her experiences of being confused with Wolf, and her morbid fascination with following her double’s career, as a launchpad for insightful commentary on populism, identity and identity politics, and the ways in which reality is warped by conspiracy theory and algorithms.

The pandemic was never going to be easy for Klein’s ‘doppelganger’, Naomi Wolf. Shortly before it, in 2019, she lost her father, the author Leonard Wolf. Then her book Outrages, a study of state censorship and LGBTQIA+ history, was exposed, on air, during an interview with BBC Radio 3, as premised on factual inaccuracies, leading it to be pulped by her publisher. Dropped by the outlets she used to write for, and widely mocked by the public, Wolf responded by reinventing herself. She found an unlikely new audience through her anti-vax social media posts, and appeared as a talking head on War Room, the podcast hosted by Steve Bannon, where she frequently compared lockdown measures to the early stages of the Holocaust. She was banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation (and subsequently welcomed back to, became a proud gun owner, authored a book entitled The Bodies of Others: The New Authoritarians, COVID-19 and The War Against the Human, and subsequently built the biggest following she’s ever had, mainly comprised of the conspiracy-minded far-right. She continues to be confused with Naomi Klein, by humans and algorithms alike.

A popular Twitter limerick, cited in this book, summarises the situation:

If the Naomi be Klein
you’re doing just fine
If the Naomi be Wolf,
Oh buddy. Ooooof.

‘Many have commented that she seems like a doppelgänger of her former self,’ Klein writes. ‘Which, in a way, makes me a double of a double.’ Over the years, Klein has found herself on the receiving end of outraged tweets and emails directed at Wolf, and even articles that falsely claimed that Klein’s husband, Avi, was arrested alongside Wolf at a protest in New York. These personal experiences would be fuel enough for an interesting book, but Doppelganger’s scope expands with every chapter, segueing from Klein’s identity collapse to the ‘diagonal’ politics of the Covid era, in which previously left-leaning voter segments moved to the right.

Klein interrogates the psychology of the turncoat, asking what it is that can flip a person, or an issue, so rapidly from one side of the political spectrum to the other. Speaking of the left, she writes: ‘Issues that we had once championed had gone dormant in a great many spaces. And now they were being usurped, taken over by their twisted doubles in the Mirror World.’ Examples include the far right channelling dissatisfaction about a lack of affordable homes, and healthcare into the hatred of minorities, and QAnon converting anger about wealth inequality into fear of a ‘New World Order’. Similarly, we saw that during the pandemic, scepticism of Big Pharma mutated into anti-vax conspiracy.

‘When reality starts doubling,’ Klein says, ‘refracting off itself, it often means that something important is being ignored or denied—parts of ourselves and our world we do not want to see—and that further danger awaits if the warning is not heeded.’ Doppelganger captures this sense of spiralling panic, plunging us directly back into the Covid years, a time not long ago, but which feels very much like a different world. Chapters explore Covid-denying wellness influencers, the Canadian ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests, and Wolf’s career as a lockdown freedom fighter.

Perhaps it’s my own discomfort with returning to this period—whether from cultural Covid fatigue or it simply being too soon—but Klein spends a long time addressing it before moving her inquiry along, and I felt the book’s momentum begin to suffer. My sense is that in the future, this book will act as a detailed record of the lockdown years and all their political and cultural chaos. But reading it in 2024, I found myself wincing at the start of yet another passage on Wolf’s maniacal social media posts claiming that QR codes at restaurants allowed governments to eavesdrop on the user’s conversations or that vaccinated people in New York no longer smell convincingly like humans. They’re entertainingly outlandish, but reading these parts, it’s hard to move past a simple frustration with the selfishness underlying the heroic posturing of people like Wolf. (It’s worth adding here that Klein was almost certainly feeling the same way.) Just put on the mask, you want to tell Wolf. Just stay indoors! It won’t be forever. Though back then, I suppose, it seemed feasible that it would be.

This said, Doppelganger rapidly recovers its pace when Klein shifts from Covid anti-vaxxers to the subject of autism denial and specifically parents who try to turn their children into their own doubles, by ‘curing’ them of their neurodiversity. Here, Klein is clearly writing from the heart. She mentions her own son, who is neuroatypical, and the care she takes in respecting his privacy while expressing her horror at ‘treatments’ peddled online makes this chapter equal parts moving and disturbing. Klein grounds her critique in the history of Hans Asperger, the Viennese physician who lends his name to the autism spectrum condition. In the 1940s, working in collaboration with the Nazis, Asperger sorted children who showed autistic traits into two categories: ‘little professors’, deemed suitable for integration into the Volk, and those less-verbal, less socially-adjusted children he sent to Am Spiegelgrund, a clinic where 789 children were murdered between 1940 and 1945.

Klein’s writing feels audacious here, as she first highlights the ways online commentators incessantly compare anyone they disagree with to Hitler (enough for the term ‘Godwin’s Law’ to arise, giving a name to this tendency), then goes on to outline exactly how modern issues really do mirror 1930s and ’40s Germany, but in very different, potentially more troubling ways.

In general, Klein’s authorial voice leans ‘concerned normie’—she is humane, realistic, idealistic, and very worried about where the world is going. This makes for a steady, serious tone that sometimes feels overly sincere, not least when she’s faced with tricksters like Bannon. But at some point, it crept up on me that Klein’s earnestness is precisely what qualifies her to make hard-hitting points; we need voices like hers, because she can express truths that might seem extreme in a manner that reads as entirely rational. For instance, she calls QAnon and the wellness influencers fascists, and those who called to abolish lockdown ‘genocidal’. She is facing off against a wide-reaching, amorphous movement which communicates in fascist flirtation and dog whistles. With enemies like these, her directness is vital and refreshing.

This ability to cut to the heart of complicated issues is tested in Doppelganger’s final chapters, the most engaging parts of the book, in which Klein expands her scope even further, to discuss the ‘ethnic double’, racism, colonialism, antisemitism, and Jewish identity. She explores not only the legacy of the Holocaust, but also the genocides committed by European countries in their colonies, which occurred far earlier and inspired Nazi policies later on. Klein cites Sven Lindquist’s 1996 book Exterminate All the Brutes, and Raoul Peck’s documentary series of the same name, which frame Hitler as Europe’s shadow-self – the incarnation of genocidal practises in Africa, including concentration camps – brought home and turned upon European Jews. ‘The flip side of the post-World War II cries of “never again” was an unspoken “never before”,’ writes Klein, but ‘what if full-blown fascism is not the monster at the door, but the monster inside the house, the monster inside us—even we whose ancestors have been victims of genocide?’

Klein touches on her childhood in Canada, and a year spent in Oxford, England, where her classmates used ‘Jew’ as a playground insult. She describes trying to hide her own Jewishness, and muddling through morning hymns, out of a desire to belong. Back in Montreal, she attends a Hebrew day school where teachers educate the class about the Holocaust, drilling into them the statistics, the timeline of events, and the period’s near-innumerable horrors. ‘There was space for the surface-level emotions,’ she writes, ‘horror at the atrocities, rage at the Nazis, a desire for revenge. But not for the more complex and troubling emotions of shame and guilt…’ There’s no guidance on the next steps; what to do with these emotions, or how to resist ‘genocidal logics in all of their forms’.

This leads onto an analysis of Israel and its politics, drawing on Philip Roth, and his doppelganger novel Operation Shylock in which a narrator named Philip Roth travels to Israel to confront an impersonator who has stolen his identity, as well as Klein’s own experiences as a journalist crossing the border from Israel into Gaza. That Klein is a Jewish writer, and speaks directly on past and ongoing human rights abuses committed by Israel against Palestinians, makes this book extraordinarily timely, and the fundamental humanity of her approach gives her voice enormous power.

‘What is a racial profile,’ Klein asks, ‘if not a doppelgänger made by the state?’ She draws on China Mieville’s speculative novel The City & The City, itself as timely an allegory as ever, in which two cities exist side by side, their inhabitants crossing paths, but refusing to acknowledge each other. Then Klein explores the reverberating effects of centuries of antisemitism, which, she suggests, has birthed, in Israel and beyond, ‘a collective identity rooted not in what any one Jewish person may or may not want to be or do, but in the deep and abiding fear of what non-Jewish people will do to us.’

The most powerful argument this book makes is that genocide, chauvinism, war and climate catastrophe are not singularities or anomalies in our history: they are human business as usual. It’s easy to feel, right now, like we’ve come to the end, like war and cataclysm are hurtling towards us at a pace that cannot be slowed, let alone stopped. But Klein’s book also tells us that fear is a trap; what we cannot push away, into a shadow self, we must integrate instead, learning uncomfortable truths about ourselves in the process. What if we stop seeing the doppelganger as the enemy, and start thinking of them as a part of ourselves, gone rogue after years of being neglected and ignored?

More than a few times, while reading Doppelganger, my thoughts drifted to Naomi Wolf, the Other Naomi, and how unfathomably strange it must have been for her, waking up to news of this book being published. The book’s premise is strange, as a proposition, but it’s this formal and thematic originality that allows Doppelganger to speak so acutely to our times. Would it have made more sense for Klein to pretend that the confusion between them wasn’t happening, pretend that every day didn’t bring new comments and outraged tweets, directed at someone who wasn’t her? She could have politely ignored them, or worked doubly hard to amplify her own voice, on other issues, enough to drown that of her doppelganger.

Then again, that would mean denying a profound and daunting opportunity. In folklore and fiction, the doppelganger is an omen of death, implying that this world isn’t big enough for two of someone. Duality is suspect; the ‘evil twin’ must be defeated, or they will defeat you.

But the doppelganger also presents an alternative; that of ‘integration’ and radical self-awareness. If you can see yourself from the outside, as others do, what else can you transcend? If you can see yourself in your sworn enemy, what else becomes possible?