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What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America Paperback – Apr 14 2005

3.8 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (May 1 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080507774X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805077742
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.3 x 20.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #34,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“The best political book of the year.” ―Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

“Frank is a formidable controversialist-imagine Michael Moore with a trained brain and an intellectual conscience.” ―George F. Will, The Washington Post

“Brilliant.” ―Barbara Ehrenreich, The New York Times

“Mr. Frank re-injects economic-class issues into the debate with sardonic vehemence.” ―Jerome Weeks, The Dallas Morning News

“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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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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