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

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  2,771 ratings  ·  389 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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Linda Robinson
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
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
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
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
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
Bill  Kerwin

Chris Hayes is not only the host and guiding force of the most intelligent and civil political talk show since "Firing Line," but also the author of "Twilight of the Elites," a timely and persuasive book. It 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 upward mobility
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 5 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
Colleen Clark
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
Fred R
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
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
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
aPriL eVoLvEs
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
David Rush
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
Shel Schipper
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
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
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
I definitely used the dictionary function on my Kindle more than I ever have before, but this was amazingly well written for a topic that can easily get boring. If you ever watch Chris Hayes on TV, this isn't surprising.

To paraphrase the entire book in a few words, most of America's problems, from the financial crisis to the steroids in baseball scandal to the Enron collapse to Catholic priest pedophilia, happen because of the condescension and arrogance of those few at the top.

Really powerful
I received this book as a Goodreads First Reads giveaway and it should be published today, June 12.

To be continued..
A somewhat interesting book with some good ideas, which could have used some cleaning up, organizing, and more real proof. However, that is a common state with nonfiction books of this nature. As I read it, the core argument of the book is that over the last 50-60 years our society has gotten more meritocratic: we pay more attention to demonstrations of skill and accomplishment than previous measures such as family heritage. While this is generally thought to be a good thing, the author points o ...more
Living in China where a student's success in life depends almost entirely on their performance in several key tests, I think about the concept of meritocracy a lot. Also, having grown up in the US during the rise of standardized testing and affirmative action I've found myself on both sides of this issue. On the one hand, I often felt it was unfair that most of the well educated and wealthy people I knew were white and generally came from well educated and wealthy families. But on the other hand ...more
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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.” 8 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” 6 likes
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