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Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy
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Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  3,518 Ratings  ·  445 Reviews
A powerful and original argument that traces the roots of our present crisis of authority to an unlikely source: the meritocracy.

Over the past decade, Americans watched in bafflement and rage as one institution after another – from Wall Street to Congress, the Catholic Church to corporate America, even Major League Baseball – imploded under the weight of corruption and inc
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published June 12th 2012 by Crown (first published 2012)
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Bill  Kerwin
Jul 10, 2016 Bill Kerwin rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics

Chris Hayes is not only the host and guiding force of MSNBC's All In, a remarkably civil and intelligent political talk show. He is also the author of Twilight of the Elites, a timely and persuasive book.

In it, Hayes argues that the very concept of meritocracy is flawed, and that its failure is in part responsible for our growing disillusionment with society's institutions. Each meritocratic elite will devise a host of ways to maintain its position and perpetuate itself, severely limiting upwa
Linda Robinson
Jun 19, 2012 Linda Robinson rated it it was amazing
Reading this book gave me the answer why Chris Hayes is bouncing in his chair all the time. It's his brain. I thought it was caffeine. Hayes is smart, informed, intellectually curious and an analytical buzzsaw. And he's a hell of a writer, too. Having just finished Maddow's Drift about how American political power put us on a permanent warpath, reading this book finished the analysis for me with the rest of what's going on in the American economy, media, corporations, banking and our own househo ...more
Adam Heffelfinger
Jan 07, 2013 Adam Heffelfinger rated it really liked it
Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy is a critical look at one of the most basic and taken for granted aspects of American society: the meritocracy. Second-nature to most of us, meritocracy is the idea that the best and the brightest among us should rise to the top. That pulling oneself up by ones bootstraps is possible, that the elite have earned their place, and that everyone has that opportunity. Ironically, this distinctly American ideal was first defined by an Engl ...more
Aug 19, 2012 Trevor rated it really liked it
I decided to read this book after reading Bill’s review here -

I really enjoyed this book and found it really useful. A discussion of education forms a large part of the start of the book, education being, supposedly, the main entry card into the meritocracy. He talks about his own high school, one that has an entrance test to ensure the children who get to go to this school are deserving. What is interesting is that over the years fewer and fewer Black or
Mar 27, 2013 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2013
Thought experiment inspired by Chapter 2 of Chris Hayes' awesome book (which you should read, by the way):

Imagine that the bookies in Las Vegas allowed gamblers to place bets every year on which 5th graders in New York City would test into Hunter College High School, one of the highest ranking public schools in the country. Getting into Hunter is particularly kick-ass because a large percentage of its graduates end up attending elite colleges and universities. To get into the school, students m
Jul 28, 2012 Donna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays-ideas
I plan my week around watching Up with Chris Hayes on Saturdays and Sundays, taping the morning show on MSNBC and watching segments of it all day long. In smart, lively discussions with knowledgeable people of differing persuasions, Chris provides depth and meaning to headlines of the week. His ability to analyze and articulate difficult concepts in simple, comprehensible language--and to have fun doing it--is a great gift to those of us who want to understand American politics and world events ...more
I've never seen Hayes on MSNBC, but I did see him speak on this subject in Chicago last summer, and immediately picked up his book. Hayes argues that America's meritocracy is flawed because it results in a new brand of elites who then proceed to create/maintain a system that guarantees the benefits of being in the elite to their own kith and kin. For example, parents concerned about getting their kids into elite schools in New York City spend thousands of dollars on test prep and other edges, le ...more
Nov 11, 2012 Rick rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012
I wish this book was written at a fifth grade level. As it is, it's comically, absurdly well written, with a staggeringly glorious diction. If you watch Hayes' show, you know that diction isn't affected - it rolls off his tongue in the expository segments of his show as easily as it does in this book. Which I love, and I find very satisfying.

And yet, that selfsame diction makes his very important points less accessible to precisely the people who need to understand them. Like most books that cu
David Lentz
Jul 18, 2012 David Lentz rated it really liked it
This book with its Nietzschean sounding title ("Twilight of the Idols") is an intriguing read and goes on to deliver a better understanding as to the essence of the great divide between classes on the American political landscape. Hayes is articulate and ties together many observations that he has gathered from other intellects. At times, I wanted more of his original thinking and less of what others had said. There's quite a bit of recent historical catalog here and Hayes sees clearly the dange ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
I love Chris. I love that he is intelligent and that he has a forum. I love that he does excellent and accurate research.

But I dislike books like this. He is making an argument either without the 'deep history' he is claiming to know, or this is truly how he sees things: unique to the present time, the elite lately are so corrupt and separated from the rest of us, and feel so superior to us, that we common people are waking up to their power and authority for the first time and we are discon
Jul 06, 2012 Kristen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: political
I read most of the first and last chapters last night - easy reading, but with a lot of memorable information.

Hayes, who is editor of The Nation and a friend of my hero Ezra Klein, is concerned with the worrying decline in trust in our society, specifically trust in the maligned elites who, in a meritocracy, are the folks who supposedly are the cream of the crop.

We've all heard the sneering references to the elites from the right-wing, an ironic reality since it's the right-wing who go to the m
Colleen Clark
Jul 05, 2012 Colleen Clark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics-terror
This is an excellent and thought-provoking book. It's a sociological/philosophical description of our modern political and financial dilemmas. In his book talk in Cambridge MA 10 days ago, Hayes pointed out that "meritocracy" started out as a pejorative word. Indeed, it's a modern word, not even listed in my 1945 unabridged Webster's. So I tried Wikipedia.

Here's the entire part of the Wikipedia entry under "Etymology."
"Although the concept has existed for centuries, the term meritocracy was firs
Jul 22, 2012 Sheri rated it really liked it
This is oddly an interesting book to read with/after Reality is Broken. A lot of the systemic societal problems discussed are the same in both books. Hayes and McGonigal are coming at the same problem from very different perspectives.

There's a sort of parallel between Hayes' idea of fractal inequality and the progression through difficulty levels in video games that I find fascinating. The system Hayes describes, of endless social climbing with no hope of actually making it to the top because of
Jul 08, 2012 Franz rated it it was amazing
Hayes's book brilliantly shows how seemingly separate strands of society are united in the way they depend on meritocracy--that the best and brightest, the elite, ought to run the country, the economy, education, religious life, and more. A meritocracy depends on two principles, according to Hayes: the Principle of Difference, the fact that there are differences in ability, and that we should allow a natural hierarchy to emerge in which the hardest working and most talented be given the hardest, ...more
Aug 25, 2013 Andy rated it it was ok
The main thesis of the book relies on a weird definition of meritocracy. According to Hayes, we have a problem in this country because the meritocracy system selects for incompetent people to be in charge of everything. This is not logical; if the people are incompetent, then by definition they do not deserve to be in the positions that they hold. So the issue is not that we have meritocracy; the issue is that we do NOT have a meritocracy. Or, that the meritocracy we are supposed to have is brok ...more
Kristin Shafel Omiccioli
4.5 stars! I won Christopher Hayes' Twilight of the Elites as a Goodreads First Reads giveaway a few weeks before its publication on June 12. My copy has about forty pages less than the official hardcover copies are advertised to have. The "acknowledgements" section is blank, so hopefully that's all I'm missing!

Hayes begins Twilight of the Elites with the example of his own alma mater, Hunter High School in New York, and how admission to the school depends on a single merit-based test. Seems lo
Fred R
Jun 19, 2012 Fred R rated it it was ok
Read on the recommendation of a fellow "goodreader".

It's written in journalese so it isn't exactly my style, but there were some interesting things in here. Like Murray's Coming Apart, this is a book about the negative long-term problems of our psychometric-industrial complex. Unlike Murray, Hayes attempts to link a series of policy blunders over the past ten years (Iraq, Katrina, the financial crisis) to this increasing social distance of our elites. By my lights he is not very successful, as h
Jun 29, 2012 Kitty rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Christopher Hayes gives his take on why so many Americans have lost faith in what were once trusted institutions. He doesn't limit his analysis to government, but also includes banking, professional sports, media - any institution with a concentration of people with power, platform and/or money. While the author was good at identifying problems, solutions were a bit thin. An interesting read nonetheless.
Mar 02, 2016 Daniel rated it really liked it
TWILIGHT OF THE ELITES is a reaction to the collapse in American institutions, and in American faith in their own institutions. Hayes cites a number of examples in his book: the bipartisan failure that was the war in Iraq, the subprime loan crisis that crashed the world economy, the decades-long global coverup of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the steroids scandal in Major League Baseball, and the Enron scandal. Since this was published, other examples could be cited: the epidemic of polic ...more
Jul 18, 2012 Matt rated it liked it
Good book detailing the consequences of the adherence to an ideology of meritocracy. The message of the book is this: a meritocratic system is far from perfect but it's the best we have. But an unequal society will make that meritocracy untenable by rendering the elite out of touch. The solution to this is to strive for a more equal society.

Here are my notes:

# Meritocracy
In a world where there is a lot of information the people do not have the time or the werewithal to occupy themselves with eve
Ryan G
Aug 21, 2012 Ryan G rated it really liked it
Shelves: no-longer-own
I'm a humble book blogger who happens to be addicted to politics and public policy almost as much as I am to reading. I will never claim to be a policy wonk or to know everything there is to know about the way our government works, but I think I stay abreast more than most. I wish I had the time or made a different career choice when I was in college, but I learn what I can, pay attention to what is being debated, and really try to analyze the way I think about a given topic or situation. Now be ...more
Nov 05, 2012 Nostalgebraist rated it really liked it
A good, brief, easy-to-read survey of the ways in which the pathologies of our current elite have helped produce the various disasters of the past decade (financial, military, etc.)

Hayes' big idea is that an overzealous, ideological application of the idea of "meritocracy" is responsible for all this. Meritocracy -- using supposedly objective criteria to pick out the best people and then giving them the reins of power -- isn't a bad idea, exactly, but (says Hayes) it has flaws and failure-modes
Shel Schipper
Jul 01, 2012 Shel Schipper rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
This is a timely book, whose premise is that we've lost trust in our institutions due to failures and corruption, despite devising a system where the best were supposed to rise to the top to lead us. In fact, this 'meritocracy' is part of the problem. Of course we want the best and the brightest to lead our institutions, but the more we do this, the more we squeeze out the rest of the world (by slowly building bias into the system that self-protects the current leaders). This self-protection lea ...more
David Rush
Sep 21, 2012 David Rush rated it liked it
OK…I am a fan of Chris Hayes and think his MSNBC show is brilliant. So why was I reluctant to read his book? I think I was afraid of being disappointed and feared that might color my enjoyment of his show. But, not to worry, the book is fine and therefore I am fine.

At first I thought it might be a just a longer exposition of truisms from his (and mine mostly) worldview. Once I got into it I think he brought enough self-examination to recognize when he was part of the story in that he is part of
Apr 09, 2013 Harold rated it really liked it
This is a very good book, if somewhat mis-titled. In one sense, Hayes doesn't believe we have ever had a meritocracy. Those with the most merit don't necessarily rise to the top, as studies of American class mobility have demonstrated. In another sense, to the extent that we currently have elites, people of wealth and power, it is not clear that it is their Twilight. To Hayes frustration, they seem as ensconced in power as ever.

But what Hayes does, excellently, is explain why a government and bu
Harry Lane
Oct 16, 2012 Harry Lane rated it it was amazing
This is an important book. Much of the social disarray we are experiencing seem to evince itself in the political divide between right and left. Nearly every problem is seen from the perspective of the beholder, proposed solutions are ideologically driven, and the two sides talk past one another. Hayes posits that this is the wrong framework for understanding the issue. He elucidates the philosophical basis of meritocracy and its strength, but then explicates the manner in which such a system co ...more
Jun 25, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it
Overall a good read, although the conclusion was a bit tepid. I liked how Hayes mixes seemingly disparate recent historical events and links them with the overall loss of faith in our institutions, but ultimately he says we need to work for equality. His concept (or maybe it's not actually his, not sure) of "equality of outcomes" in addition to equal opportunity is also compelling. But he also says that Wikipedia can serve as a model for political discourse, which, well, uh, ok. In addition both ...more
Nov 11, 2012 Shirlee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chris Hayes has written a book that brings the "failed decade" into depressing perspective. Somebody had to do it, I guess, but it is an emotionally difficult book. We all know the things that have happened that made us cynical--gridlock in DC, Lance Armstrong, the Catholic Church, Wallstreet greed and risk taking, steroids and baseball, Katrina, and on and on, and it is not fun to relive these shocks to our systems. Is there anyway out of this hopeless mess? Are we all now subprime? Chris Hayes ...more
Terri Jacobson
Jun 19, 2012 Terri Jacobson rated it it was amazing
An outstanding look at America after the "Fail Decade," in which we saw a crisis in so many of our leaders and institutions, as evidenced by the financial meltdown, Hurricane Katrina, 2 very long and unpopular wars, and the crisis in the Catholic church. Hayes connects these with the increasing disparity in our society between the working class and the ruling class, the 1% or the "elites." A powerful analysis of contemporary America, very well-written with probing and smart insights. I can't rec ...more
Jun 15, 2012 Kaethe marked it as to-read
My knee-jerk reaction is that we've never had a meritocracy, or else how to explain George Bush? I'd say that the natural order of things is rule by kleptocracy, and that only a vigorous effort to keep things untainted holds that tendency back. I'm also not convinced that the current rulers are any worse than others throughout history. But, it still sounds interesting, and I'd like to read it to see if he can convince me.
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Christopher Hayes is Editor at Large of The Nation and host of Up w/ Chris Hayes on MSNBC. From 2010 to 2011, he was a fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J Safra Foundation Center for Ethics. His essays, articles, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Time, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, and The Guardian. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife K ...more
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“This is the cycle of a dynamic society. Equality is never a final state, democracy never a stable equilibrium: they are processes, they are struggles. Our task is now to recognize that that struggle is ours.” 10 likes
“At its most basic, the logic of 'meritocracy' is ironclad: putting the most qualified, best equipped people into the positions of greates responsibility and import...But my central contention is that our near-religious fidelity to the meritocratic model comes with huge costs. We overestimate the advantages of meritocracy and underappreciate its costs, because we don't think hard enough about the consequences of the inequality it produces. As Americans, we take it as a given that unequal levels of achievement are natural, even desirable. Sociologist Jermole Karabel, whose work looks at elite formation, once said he 'didnt think any advanced democracy is as obsessed with equality of opportunity or as relatively unconcerned with equality of condition' as the United States. This is our central problem. And my proposed solution for correcting the excesses of our extreme version of meritocracy is quite simple: make America more equal” 7 likes
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