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What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America [Paperback]

Thomas Frank
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 14 2005
With a New Afterword by the Author

The New York Times bestseller, praised as "hilariously funny . . . the only way to understand why so many Americans have decided to vote against their own economic and political interests" (Molly Ivins)

Hailed as "dazzlingly insightful and wonderfully sardonic" (Chicago Tribune), "very funny and very painful" (San Francisco Chronicle), and "in a different league from most political books" (The New York Observer), What's the Matter with Kansas? unravels the great political mystery of our day: Why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests? With his acclaimed wit and acuity, Thomas Frank answers the riddle by examining his home state, Kansas-a place once famous for its radicalism that now ranks among the nation's most eager participants in the culture wars. Charting what he calls the "thirty-year backlash"-the popular revolt against a supposedly liberal establishment-Frank reveals how conservatism, once a marker of class privilege, became the creed of millions of ordinary Americans.

A brilliant analysis-and funny to boot-What's the Matter with Kansas? is a vivid portrait of an upside-down world where blue-collar patriots recite the Pledge while they strangle their life chances; where small farmers cast their votes for a Wall Street order that will eventually push them off their land; and where a group of frat boys, lawyers, and CEOs has managed to convince the country that it speaks on behalf of the People.

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Product Details

Product Description


What op-ed writers across the political spectrum have said about Thomas Frank and
What's the Matter with Kansas?:

"The best political book of the year."
-Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, November 3, 2004

"Frank is a formidable controversialist-imagine Michael Moore with a trained brain and an intellectual conscience."
-George F. Will, The Washington Post, July 8, 2004

-Barbara Ehrenreich, The New York Times, July 1, 2004

"Mr. Frank re-injects economic-class issues into the debate with sardonic vehemence."
-Jerome Weeks, The Dallas Morning News, June 27, 2004

"A searing piece of work . . . one of the most important political writings in years."
-The Boston Globe

"Dazzlingly insightful and wonderfully sardonic . . . Frank has made much sense of the world in this book."
-Chicago Tribune

"Impassioned, compelling . . . Frank's books mark him as one of the most insightful thinkers of the twenty-first century, four years into it."
-Houston Chronicle

"Very funny and very painful . . . Add another literary gold star after Thomas Frank's name."
-San Francisco Chronicle

About the Author

Thomas Frank is the author of Pity the Billionaire, The Wrecking Crew, What's the Matter with Kansas?, and One Market Under God. A former opinion columnist for The Wall Street Journal, Frank is the founding editor of The Baffler and a monthly columnist for Harper's. He lives outside Washington, D.C.

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The poorest county in America isn't in Appalachia or the Deep South. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I've already reviewed this book, in a sense; my glowing blurb appears on the back cover. Here's a review of the conservative reviewers, from George Will and the New York Times Book Review essayist to the folks on Amazons.
They make an astonishing concession: they grant Tom Frank's main point. He argues that the Republicans have nothing to offer working people on ECONOMIC TERMS. The conservatives don't seem to disagree. They only argue that the Republicans are worth voting for on cultural terms alone, and seek to demonstrate that this is a legitimate way to vote.
This is new. Conservatives used to argue that they had the most to offer ordinary Americans ECONOMICALLY--and ALSO culturally. Now, on economics, they've simply given up. They've tacitly admitted that, for lower income folks at least, cultural conservatism is the party's sole appeal. A sad day for conservatism, and certainly evidence of its political decline.
And of course none of the conservative reviews can deal with the fact that the cultural battles the Republicans choose are bottomless unwinnable sinkholes. That's why I describe conservatives as having punk'd a nation: they offer their voters nothing in return but therapy.
Rick Perlstein
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
How can it be that substantial segments of the working class have become the allies of elite market conservatives in a largely successful drive to turn the American political system to the right, where government is held to be, at best, undesirable. That is what Thomas Frank seeks to understand. There is no economic rationale to this confluence; it is a subjective, value-driven phenomenon. It seems as though many working people have been subtly persuaded by elites that they must defend or establish a set of values supposedly not shared by morally challenged liberals. But elevating personal values as the chief concern of politics seems to be contrary to American tradition. Call it what you will, value or principle, but the foremost idea of the American founding was a profound belief in freedom: to make all manner of personal choices in life, to participate in self-government, and to be free from subtle and overt coercion from powerful public and private entities. It was a clear rejection of old-world aristocratic and church control of society. Instead, the nation was seen to rest on virtuous, engaged small, independent producers and farmers.
However, as the author points out, it was precisely the slippage of that ideal that spurred the populist movement of the 1890s in Kansas and throughout the South and West. A largely farming population saw the power of large business interests to control prices and to influence the federal government to maintain hard currency policies as destructive of a way of life as independent produces. They advocated for substantial governmental intervention in the economy to combat this loss of freedom. As the author notes, it was a movement of "producers versus parasites.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Erroneous assumptions July 16 2004
Frank writes well and assembles some interesting profiles, but he also makes some assumptions typical of certain folks on the left -- mainly, that they know what is better for the "working class" than the working class itself does. He's also banking that his readers will share some erroneous assumptions, based on incomplete or incorrection information, about Kansas.
Never mind the fact that many people -- of all political stripes -- vote for reasons other than pure economic self-interest. But even the economic reality of Kansas is distorted. For example, an earlier reviewer from IL implies Kansas is poor, but Illinois had a 6.4 percent unemployment rate in May; Kansas' was 4.7, almost a point lower than the national rate. Median household income in Kansas is at the national average (2001-2002), while the cost of living is moderate-to-low, depending on exact location, and it costs less to send your kids to college in Kansas than in all but four states -- and they are more likely to graduate than the national average. Only 9 states have a smaller percentage of households living in poverty. We have our problems, but how is that not a pretty good outcome for Kansas -- and particularly the working class that Frank addresses?
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2.0 out of 5 stars A bitter author and nothing more July 19 2004
What struck me when I read this book was a feature article the New York Times did a half dozen or so years ago where a writer equated Christians as being uneducated and backwards. Something that is so totally false its almost laughable for its obvious ignorance as a statement and exposure of the authors preconceived, non-researched bias.
Same with this book. He seems more upset that his fellow Kansasians (?)march to a different drummer, or are more patriotic and actually believe in a God and attend worship services. He completely ignores the fact Kansas has some well respected universities and that the standard of living and quality of life is far superior to the élitist areas he prefers.
I am a proud Californian whose family has been here since the 1860's so I am not reading What's the Matter with Kansas as a disgruntled Kansasian but as someone who has traveled the United States enough and love the mid west and its values which are a lot like here in the Mother Lode of California where American flags fly from home porches, where prayer before meals is a habit, and where proud to be an American comes easily off ones tongue. And he admits in interviews that "Kansas" is a metaphor for the U.S.A. He has noted that today Kansas is the sort of place where the angry, suspicious world view typified by Fox News or the books of Ann Coulter is a common part of everyday life. Seems he is mad that what he sells isn't being bought.
He also seems bent out of shape that the folks of Kansas (and in my opinion anyone who isn't of his ilk) don't consider FDR a God, and perhaps value eating dinner together, marriages that last, hot dogs, baseball and Moms apple pie.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars What garbage!
This was the first book that I have ever thrown in the garbage before I finished reading it. I struggled to read it, and by the time I was 75% of the way to the end, I could not... Read more
Published 21 months ago by John Wonnacott
5.0 out of 5 stars great and terrifying, but also readable
Frank's "Kansas" is a frightening but illuminating account of how radical Republicans have consolidated their agenda in that state. Read more
Published on Dec 24 2011 by ogilive
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
Good book. The only thing I've read that impressed me more was The System by Roy Valentine. I got it here at amazon. You have to read this book.
Published on Oct. 2 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars The true paternalism of progressives.
Yes, but in time-honored pop-Marx fasion, Frank considers all non-economic moral concerns as mere epiphenomena riding lightly atop bedrock economic realities. Read more
Published on July 19 2004 by Gene Brass
3.0 out of 5 stars Soap Box Reviews Again
Most reviewers of political books seem to forget to review the book outside of their own politics. It seems ridiculous that all of you are either bashing the writer for his... Read more
Published on July 19 2004 by "bthewriter"
3.0 out of 5 stars The true paternalism of progressives.
Yes, but in time-honored pop-Marx fasion, Frank considers all non-economic moral concerns as mere epiphenomena riding lightly utop bedrock economic realities. Read more
Published on July 19 2004 by Gene Brass
5.0 out of 5 stars The False Populism of Conservatism
It's amazing how many of the negative reviews posted here evidence exactly the kind of false populism Frank is writing against. Read more
Published on July 19 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Independant
I'm an independant Kansan. Middle of the road. People in the heartland don't appreciate a 'poll watcher' politician. They want someone who will stick to what they believe. Read more
Published on July 18 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Michael Moore Now Is Pissed Off At Kansas Republicans!!
First off, I ask readers who claim genuine objectivity to check out the excellent review of this book in National Review's June 28, 2004 edition (p48). Read more
Published on July 18 2004 by MyLibido
4.0 out of 5 stars Bamboozled
An interesting exploration of a troubling phenomenon - the shameful fraud that has been perpetrated upon the culturally conservative working class by the Republican Party. Read more
Published on July 17 2004
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