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

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  1,441 Ratings  ·  171 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, 225 pages
Published January 3rd 2012 by Metropolitan Books
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Bill  Kerwin
Jan 29, 2012 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
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
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
Oct 31, 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 thewestchestarian 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
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
Susan in NC
Feb 06, 2012 Susan in NC 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
Kate Woods Walker
Jan 14, 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
Jan 22, 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
Todd Martin
Feb 01, 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
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
Dr. Lloyd E. Campbell
Feb 14, 2016 Dr. Lloyd E. Campbell rated it it was amazing
I'm fascinated by how the present determines the story we tell ourselves about the past. Presently, Republicans and Democrats are vying for positions of power. Most at stake is the probable appointments of four Supreme Court Justices. Neither side will want to compromise much in these appointments. In light of these upcoming decisions Thomas Frank's book is alarming.
According to Frank, the Republican Party has been hijacked by a group of people who hate government, worship Free Market Economic
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
Jan 15, 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
Feb 05, 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
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
Ron Davidson
Jan 28, 2012 Ron Davidson rated it really liked it
I would recommend the audio version, read by the author -- he reads with passion, making the book almost become an extended lecture, rather than simply a dry polemic. Although it does have a bit of dryness in spots, where points are occasionally overdone (hence four stars, not five). As other reviewers have noted, it probably won't recruit converts, but it lays out the case against our current corporate-worship political culture, sparing no one -- including the "New Democrats," a product of the ...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
Mar 14, 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.
Dec 13, 2011 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.
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.
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
JD Newick
Feb 12, 2013 JD Newick rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
An account of the rise of the Tea Party, and the strange emergence of populist demands for further neoliberal free market policies in the USA; the title is a reference to the Tea Party and Republican Party's recent trend to portray the rich as victims of Big Government and the supposed "Socialist" policies which Barack Obama is accused of pursuing. Frank puts the Tea Party in the context of left-wing populist movements of the past, such as the New Left of the 1960s and, more specifically, the ri ...more
Paul Frandano
A book that almost certainly went to the publisher a month or two too soon. Released in January 2012, just in time for the onset of the national political debate in a Presidential-election year, author Thomas Frank missed the Occupy (Wall Street) Movement, which would have resulted in a useful chapter or two of counterpoint to his wry, gloomy polemic against the GOP's capture of the "economic hardship" flag following the Wall-Street-induced near-collapse of the US and global economies. The title ...more
Apr 04, 2012 Owen rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
I don't often read current-affairs books, even when I already know I'll agree with them, because what I see in the daily headlines makes me mad enough. I picked up this one because an article in our local paper pointed out that Thomas Frank wrote much of it in the very Port Townsend Public Library where I checked it out. Now, I've followed Frank since Baffler #6 way back in '95 (and by the way, it's pretty amazing that they kept my subscription live through fires, multi-year hiatuses in publishi ...more
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
Mar 21, 2012 Stewart rated it it was amazing
The most important book I’ve read explaining what has happened politically in this country since the early 1970s is "What’s the Matter With Kansas?" by Thomas Frank. I’ve recommended the book to family and friends and mailed or given it in person as gifts. Frank is back this year (2012) with a short book updating that seminal work. He tries to explain how the Far Right used the economic crisis of 2008-09 to win the House of Representatives and many governorships in November 2010.
"Pity the Bill
May 04, 2013 Adam rated it liked it
This is a 4.5 stars out of 5 review. The book does an excellent job of drawing parallels between the Great Depression and the 2008 Financial Crisis. It shows where the answers to each respective crisis diverged. A great short history of the rights response. Frank reveals the deep and stifling hypocrisy of the Tea Party and their populist leaders. It's maddening to read about the banksters before and after the crisis. Is even more maddening to hear the rights response. A call for all the policies ...more
Mark Valentine
Mar 02, 2016 Mark Valentine rated it really liked it
Last week in The New York Times there was an article profiling working class Americans in a small town in Minnesota who received ample subsidies, welfare, and handouts from the Federal Government but still voted for Tea Party candidates to roll back and even suspend such things. What gives with that? They owe their sustenance to those whom they love to hate. They don't realize that the "images of small men usually arise and persist widely only because big men find good use for them" (C. Wright M ...more
Mar 14, 2012 Adam rated it liked it
A succinct, snarky summary of the rise of the Tea Party movement and the cunning ways in which the usual power players have obfuscated the story of the economic collapse. Frank is skilled in showing how voters are manipulated to vote against their interests - it's his calling card - and that theme from What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America continues here. It may wind up being more valuable as a historical document for later readers; having lived through a lot ...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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