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Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right

3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,180 Ratings  ·  156 Reviews
From the bestselling author of What's the Matter with Kansas?, comes this insightful and sardonic look at why the worst economy since the 1930s has brought about the revival of conservatism.

Economic catastrophe usually brings social protest and demands for financial reform—or at least it was commonly assumed that it would. But when Thomas Frank set out in 2009 to look for
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published January 3rd 2012 by Metropolitan Books (first published August 16th 2011)
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Community Reviews

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When I read What's the Matter With Kansas? several years ago, I finished the book determined to conduct any future political discussions with a focus on how economic/social justice issues are inseparable from personal morality: that is, if one claims to be a "Christian", one cannot ignore one's responsibility to care for the needy and the oppressed, and said responsibility includes approving and encouraging government assistance such as food stamps, disaster relief, and jobs programs.

It's been a
Bill  Kerwin
Nov 17, 2015 Bill Kerwin rated it it was ok

I enjoyed this book when I read it about a week and a half ago, but now that I sit down to write about it I can't remember any of it clearly, and I think that might be because it didn't give me anything new to think about, I think this might because Thomas Frank doesn't have anything new to say.

I loved "What's the Matter with Kansas?"--a book that gave me a new perspective from which to analyze the growth of the new right, a book that helped explain why working class white voters vote Republica
Nov 04, 2012 Steve rated it really liked it
American Horror Story. A real one that shows how a major political party was taken over by brainless zombies wearing tri corner hats, waving flags with chopped up snakes, while driving $40,000 SUVs. Frank delivers up a useful primer on the Tea Party, and salts it with just the right amount of snark. As a special bonus, he guts Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and with genuine literary flair. The book, by design, is not meant to be balanced, but late in the book he does serve up some shots for the Obam ...more
Jul 13, 2012 Jonny99 rated it it was ok
"My opponent is a known raging heterosexual..." The easiest means of getting yourself elected is to draw the voter's focus to how bad the other guy is. Of course, the problem that develops over time, as we see from modern American politics, is that eventually voters lose trust in the system as a whole because everyone in it is covered in slung mud. Frank's book takes this tactic and applies it to the current phase of Fox News-driven conservatism. Essentially, his argument boils down to if "they" ...more
Feb 28, 2012 Susan rated it really liked it
This was a fun, fast yet depressing read - it just reminds the reader of the ridiculously upside down logic (or lack thereof) that has lead countless Americans to somehow vote against common sense and against their own best interests in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown. Frank is snarky, fierce and funny and I enjoyed his writing; it's not his fault that a large portion of the American people have allowed themselves to be manipulated by master showmen like Glenn Beck (I don't know h ...more
Clif Hostetler
Outrage apparently doesn't lead to reason. At least according to this author there was no reasoned response to the outrage that followed the 2008 economic meltdown. This book reviews the political reactions to the sub-prime mortgage crisis from a liberal's point of view and finds plenty to criticize on both sides of the political spectrum.

Everyone agrees that there's plenty cause for outrage at the way a small number of investment bankers nearly brought the world economy to its knees. A respons
Kate Woods Walker
Jan 16, 2012 Kate Woods Walker rated it it was amazing
Thomas Frank once again takes a measured look at the seemingly irrational forces that keep U.S. social, economic and political forces going ever-rightward, despite the stunning failures of every single solitary tenet of the Supply Side-Fundamentalist-Randian faith, and just as he did in What's the Matter with Kansas? comes up with plausible reasons for the collective insanity that threatens our gasping, frail republic.

Along the way, Pity the Billionaire prompts more than a few laughs (mostly of
Jim Braly
Sep 03, 2012 Jim Braly rated it liked it
For any American who hasn’t noticed that the economy has tanked, “Pity the Billionaire” will get you caught up on the details … oh, wait, the people who haven’t noticed that the economy has tanked are the billionaires.

If you liked the way George W. Bush cut taxes for the rich, ran up the budget deficit with two wars he refused to pay for, and deregulated Wall Street so it could give us the back of its invisible hand, then you have the chance to go through that again.

Through the miracle of disho
Jul 09, 2012 Donna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays-ideas
In the financial meltdown that punctuated the end of the G. W. Bush administration, "sixteen trillion dollars in household wealth was incinerated on the pyre Wall Street had kindled." Some of that was my wealth and—unless you happen to be a member of the now-infamous 1%—some of it was undoubtedly yours. And we are still feeling the effects of those losses.

That's $16,000,000,000,000 in household wealth, middle-class wealth—the homes and jobs and hard-earned savings of ordinary folks. We're not ta
Feb 11, 2012 Stephen rated it it was amazing
In absolute horror and frustration to the political gyrations of mid-century America, I read with fascination Frank's book - "What's the Matter With Kansas;" watched the documentary as well. I had read his "Commodify Your Dissent" in graduate school and loved his use of language and irreverence. This new book does for the economic collapse/depression/great recession what "Kansas" provided to political discourse linked with a dose of financial pablum. The resurgence of the right in 2010 is comple ...more
Todd Martin
Mar 03, 2012 Todd Martin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: culture-politics
As we enter the 2012 election cycle, chances are you’ve asked yourself on more than one occasion “What the hell is wrong with these people?”
- Unregulated finance companies leveraged beyond their means trading in credit default swaps almost bring about global financial collapse and instead of responding with strong regulations to reign in these abuses we have free market zealots clamoring for less government intervention and more of what brought about the catastrophe.
- People with pre-existing he
Jan 25, 2012 Michael rated it it was ok
This is a difficult book to write about, and I’m not quite sure where to start. I read Thomas Frank’s book What’s the Matter With Kansas a few years back and really enjoyed it. Mr. Frank, at the time, had assumed the mantle of a modern day prairie populist, like a 21st century William Jennings Bryan, who set out to understand how the people of Kansas (or anywhere in Red State America) could be so foolish to vote for the likes of George W. Bush over John Forbes Kerry. Frank was amazed that the pe ...more
Jan 20, 2012 Al rated it really liked it
An attempt to explain the post-crash turn rightward, when all previous history suggested that a turn to the left was inevitable, this book is pretty boilerplate Thomas Frank. If you're a super-fan, like me, that's fine, even if many of the themes - market dogma, the right's attempt to dismantle government, the boondoggling of the middle class into voting against their apparent best interests - are familiar from his other work (One Market Under God, The Wrecking Crew, and What's The Matter With K ...more
Apr 21, 2012 Lucas rated it it was ok
I expected more of a middle of the road historical assessment of the economic collapse here, along with an analysis of how American society, especially our middle and lower classes, has responded to its aftermath. The beginning chapters of the book, including one that related the American popular response to the Great Depression and those responsible for causing it, were a great way to start this analysis. However, this book quickly degrades into "it's all their fault" language, and I found that ...more
Nov 28, 2012 Margie rated it liked it
Recommended to Margie by: CSPAN. Because I'm that kind of nerd.
Three and a half stars.

Frank makes some good points, but I wish it were a little bit more well-documented and a bit less sardonic.

I've not yet read What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, but have read several reviews that mention his incredulity at Kansans' credulity. That same sense of "can you believe these idiots?" runs through this book, as well. That, along with the repeated attacks on Glenn Beck (deserving though they may be), cause this book to veer a
Mar 01, 2014 Jake rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was kind of fun to read, but could have been great if the dude took off his political party eye-glasses. After writing nine chapters on the Republicans and one on Democrats, he doesn't seem to notice that they both cater to the same billionaires. There are a lot of internal inconsistencies which are all due to being opposed to a group instead of being FOR an ideal (much like the talk radio hosts he hates). The writers of really good political books likeThe Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disast ...more
Geoffrey Fox
Mar 30, 2013 Geoffrey Fox rated it liked it
More serious than it appears from the jokey presentation, it is a case study of how manipulation of the media and repetition of misleading terms can fool the swindled into supporting their swindlers. The current example being the US "Tea Party", through which the very rich mobilize the poor in defense of something they call "liberty" which means basically letting the big corporations get away with anything. Fortunately, as Obama's re-election demonstrated and Lincoln reminded us a century and a ...more
Melissa Acuna
Jan 06, 2012 Melissa Acuna rated it liked it
Thomas Frank begins the laying out a very strong case against the GOP's economic and tax policy platforms. He begins with well documented background on the financial crisis. Unfortunately, mid-way through the case, he digresses into anecdotes as if he's made the case that things have gone from bad to worse due to Republican influence and policy--and he realizes it's going to continue to get even worse. It's s quick read and worth the price of the book for the first few chapters; and you're forgi ...more
David Schwinghammer
Some might think Thomas Frank, author of WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS, might be writing from a liberal perspective. To a degree he is, but he saves some of his best barbs for the Obama administration.

Frank starts out trying to explain what led to the mortgage meltdown. He is especially struck by the similarity between what happened today with what happened in 1929. Three Republican presidents did everything they could to deregulate Wall Street. It was a boom period. People were buying stocks on
Mar 23, 2014 Jim rated it really liked it
Pity the Billionaire continues Frank's tradition of left-leaning (for real) sociopolitical analysis with his engagingly witty prose. He first analyzes how a financial meltdown that could credibly be attributed to three decade policy pivot to the right could lead to the emergence of a populist anti-status-quo movement even further from the right. Frank's generally sympathizes with the sentiments underlying the tea party movement while documenting the oftentimes considerably muddled thinking under ...more
Jun 17, 2014 Nicola rated it liked it
In Pity the Billionaire, Thomas Frank seeks to unravel the peculiar mystery of how the 2008 financial crash paved the way for the Tea Party and the resurgence of the Republicans in the US.

The answer is many-layered, but it mainly lies in rhetoric that lumps together big business and big government indiscriminately, an erroneous tendency to conflate the interests of small businesses with the interests of big corporates (even though they’re wildly different), plus some rather outrageous pilfering
Mar 21, 2012 Kifflie rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
This is a well-written, concise account of how the Right hijacked the economic crisis of 2008 to their own ends. Starting with Rick Santelli's notorious rant from the Chicago Board of Trade, and continuing with the Tea Parties -- about as phony a "populist" movement as one can imagine -- Frank gets all the major points across with humor. I find his approach refreshing compared to the overwrought profanity of Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone.
Thomas Frank is one of the more entertaining and thoughtful writers on the contemporary American left: intellectually honest, free-thinking and he skewers the Democrats as much as he lambasts the Tea Party. I enjoyed "Pity the Billionaire." Its strengths are Frank's strengths, which is his willingness to criticize whatever bad ideas he believes are poisoning American politics, from the Tea Party, third-way Democrats, Wall Street or Glenn Beck. It's also wonderfully written. Still, his approach t ...more
Timothy Volpert
Mar 11, 2015 Timothy Volpert rated it really liked it
Shelves: to-listen
Frank offers a fairly insightful look at the way the right wing has been able to fill the vacuum of populist rage that existed in this country after this most recent round of economic disasters. I didn't really care for the snarky, self-satisfied-liberal writing style though, and it isn't until the end of the book that he really acknowledges WHY such a vacuum existed for the right wing to fill: the complete and utter sellout of the Democratic party, the crushing or absorption of any kind of left ...more
Jan 11, 2012 Dee rated it really liked it
I won this book as a Goodreads First Read. It presents an interesting explaination as to how the US ran so far to the right when, historically speaking, we should have been sprinting in the opposite direction. it's nice to see that the whole world hasn't gone crazy thinking that the way to fix things is to do more of the same.
Jill Edmondson
Dec 04, 2013 Jill Edmondson rated it it was amazing
This is the 2nd book of Frank's that I've read and I enjoyed Billionaire as much as I enjoyed Wrecking Crew. Thomas Frank is a provocative writer and his research is thorough. Read this. It will piss you right off, but read it anyway.
Pep Bonet
I am not sure how to rate this book. On the one side, I like what it says, I believe it is well documented, extensively supported with references and footnotes. On the other hand, it's four times the size it should have. I was wondering whether this should not be a couple of articles n a magazine of political science and indeed it is a gathering of op-eds published in the Wall Street Journal and extended into a book. It is not the first time I see this in political sciences books written in Amer ...more
Madison Meljac-lehmann
Aug 18, 2015 Madison Meljac-lehmann rated it really liked it
This book reminds me of what is great about America; the ability to access additional opinions and thinkers who are able to see through the daily noise and see tends and analyze where these trends may lead us.

Reading this book can only make the reader think twice about recent events and psychology that many main stream Americans have adopted by being unable to objectively see facts outside of public opinion.

You don't have to agree with this book but you will develop a wider perspective of our c
Jun 22, 2012 Jason rated it did not like it
Shelves: politics
I consider myself a liberal and was assuming this would be a guilty pleasure. It turned out to be a waste of time.
William Miller
Dec 05, 2014 William Miller rated it it was amazing
Just finished reading this entire book in a single sitting. One of the finest, most comprehensive, readable books on the Crash of '08, and how the Right has successfully positioned itself (against all logical evidence) as the ideology best able to confront Wall St. and Big Business, despite their obvious economic, social and political connections to both. A fine read, though one that doesn't off up much hope that the modern Democratic Party has much of a clue as to how to win back its old blue c ...more
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Thomas Frank is the author of Pity the Billionaire, The Wrecking Crew, and What's the Matter with Kansas? A former columnist for The Wall Street Journal and Harper's, Frank is the founding editor of The Baffler and writes regularly for Salon. He lives outside Washington, D.C.
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“Instead, the battle is joined at the level of pure abstraction. The issue, the newest Right tells us, is freedom itself, not the doings of the subprime lenders or the ways the bond-rating agencies were compromised over the course of the last decade. Details like that may have crashed the economy, but to the renascent Right they are almost completely irrelevant. What matters is a given politician’s disposition toward free markets and, by extension, toward the common people of the land, whose faithful vicar the market is. Now, there is nothing really novel about the idea that free markets are the very essence of freedom. What is new is the glorification of this idea at the precise moment when free-market theory has proven itself to be a philosophy of ruination and fraud. The revival of the Right is as extraordinary as it would be if the public had demanded dozens of new nuclear power plants in the days after the Three Mile Island disaster; if we had reacted to Watergate by making Richard Nixon a national hero.” 0 likes
“And so the catastrophe of 1929–33 did to the certainties of laissez-faire economics what science did to nineteenth-century religion and what the slaughter of World War I did to old-fashioned patriotism: it knocked out the props. “Everything nailed down is coming loose,” people used to say back then: The Depression made business leaders into laughingstocks and transformed economic orthodoxy into so many fairy tales.” 0 likes
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