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Political Brain

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  781 ratings  ·  90 reviews
The Political Brain is a groundbreaking investigation into the role of emotion in determining the political life of the nation. For two decades Drew Westen, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Emory University, has explored a theory of the mind that differs substantially from the more "dispassionate" notions held by most cognitive psychologists, political scientists
Paperback, 475 pages
Published May 6th 2008 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2007)
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The book started off in superb fashion-tossing out psychological gems like candy to the reader, but the grotesque bias that clouds an otherwise intelligent person makes this a difficult read and an awful philosophy.

Westen starts off by mentioning a study in which participants showed how people rationalize blatant contradictions by their favorite political candidates. When the participants found a way to keep their candidates in good standing, the "happy circuits" in their brains lit up like a C
In the 2004 Presidential election, George Bush beat John Kerry by “Swift Boating” him. Karl Rove, Bush’s campaign strategist, recruited a group of military veterans of the Republican far-right persuasion, who formed a group called “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” and attacked Kerry for allegedly lying about his military record commanding a patrol boat in Vietnam and for collecting a Purple Heart Medal for a trivial wound. The star witness in the Swift Boat TV ads was a man who claimed he had actu ...more
Austin Kleon
Very good. My map:

I echo Robert Kuttner's and Bill Clinton's comments : This is the most illuminating book about American politics I've ever read. The author is a clinical and theoretical psychologist who also has an incredible intuitive understanding of politics and the political mind. He argues that Democratic political strategists, like most economists, political scientists, and others, have been captive to a view of the mind that drastically underestimates the role of emotion, as opposed to rational calculati ...more
Pat Simen
This book is absolutely fantastic. It combines the stuff that I work on in my research (how emotion affects decision making) with an analysis of failed Democratic political campaigns of the past. Aside from Clinton's successful campaigns, this guy Drew Westen really seems to nail what went wrong with all the presidential campaigns against Republicans since LBJ. Namely, that Republican campaigners know what voters respond to, and Democratic strategists frequently don't, and that is: how to mold p ...more
Paul Jellinek
Drew Westen, an Emory University pshycologists, uses brain mapping and other neurological measures to demonstrate conclusively that politics is all about emotion. He then shows just as conclusively how Democratic candidates and strategists have missed this point for decades--at great cost to their own fortunes and the nation's. Eminently readable, this book was required reading among Democratic candidates and strategists in 2008. The result speaks for itself.
Daniel Clausen
I read parts of this book as part of a discussion group. The discussion group presented parts of the book as mini-posts. I didn't get to finish the book, but I loved the main point--that politicians should fashion stories that draw on primevil needs and emotions.
Jun 30, 2010 Ericka rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People concerned with politics and humans
I'm still in the middle of this, and though I like it, I'm a bit concerned about some of the language of the book. However, these issues aside (and lets see if they are answered by the end of the book), I would recommend this to everyone running a democratic campaign, as I think there are some excellent lessons to learn from this book.

Current questions:
1. what's with the uber masculinist language? is this the brain scientist speaking or the southern man?
2. has he just taken thagard without any
Although the author is long-winded and less clever than he thinks he is, he advances a timely and compelling argument that intelligent politicians, and democrats in particular, need to change up their political game. In short, they need to avoid coming across in interviews and debates as a cerebral policy wonk (Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry) and emotionally connect with the average American (Reagan, W. Bush, and hopefully Obama). This isn't an earth-shattering revelation, but the author takes the app ...more
Heather Denkmire
Ever wonder why otherwise intelligent people even consider supporting Sarah Palin? Why the "left" doesn't really exist anymore? Why Obama is considered "liberal?" Why the Right is RIGHT when they accuse progressives of flip-flopping and having no values?

Progressives haven't been paying attention to what it means to be human. That is, we have been stuck in the Enlightenment's view of the mind. The mind, the brain is not a dispassionate vehicle seeking facts and reason. Even reasonable and rationa
Written by an Emory psychologist who does consulting work for the Democratic Party. The central premise is that to run a good campaign, you need to understand that voting decisions are made based on emotions, not (only) facts. Politicians that understand how to activate emotions win elections. This doesn't have to be unethical (in fact, he makes an argument that to ignore emotion is to be pretty unethical).

One of the best books about politics I've ever read. Reminded me that (1) psychologists ar
Cynthia Huntimer
I agree with the author that most people make political decisions based on an emotional as opposed to a rational basis. I also agree that the Democratic party has made a mistake by refusing to deal with some issues in a thoughtful and nuanced way. I enjoyed his extensive use of political speeches and advertising to illustrate his points. I found his ideas about activating the associations of voters very compelling. He is a psychologist and uses many brain imaging studies and other types of empir ...more
I thought this book was great. It identifies how Republicans have manipulated the American public successfully enough to create the Reagan- George W era, and how Democrats have been brain dead, hoping that reason will prevail over an electorate that is voting on the basis of emotion. If Democrats get their mind around this, it will be tough to be a Republican and be taken seriously, which ultimately should help rebalance and reform the Republicans into something more than ideologues.
Aug 10, 2008 Darryl rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: political junkies or progressive candidates for political office
THE best book on understanding how the brain and politics collide.

An absolute primer for progressive or Democratic candidates. It's really a book about marketing yourself and your ideals as a candidate.

The brilliant read of the audiobook by Anthony Heald makes this book even more special. I've had several friends who've bought the audiobook and thought it was above par.
I found this book while browsing my library's digital media collection and was drawn in by the premise of looking at political decisions through the lens of cognitive science. Although none of the science was really new to me, I had never thought of its application to politics. In retrospect, I probably should not have been listening to the audio book during my commute to and from work. Parts of the book made me so angry, I wanted to scream. Other parts made me sad enough (and angry enough) that ...more
Terrific book. Easy to read. Very accessible and far too relevant. I wish more Dems were listening to this guy.
Great read -- for anyone who wants to learn about more strategic campaigning, from a psychological point of view
Nicolás Díaz
Essential book for political communication. Although it has the basics covered (telling stories, conveying policy messages through effective emotional tones) I found that some of the terminology pushed to be a little over-indulging.

I also found it to be an over-simplification how all the great communicators from the democratic aisle were winning campaigns (Bill Clinton, JFK, FDR) and all the losers did not understood these concepts at all. Campaigns can have the best messaging in the world but
Interesting cognitive psychological take on the power of political narratives.
Marcus Watt
Mandatory reading for the political junky
Steven Peterson
The dust jacket has one line that is at the center of this book: "The idea of the mind as a cool calculator that makes decisions by weighing the evidence bears no relation to how the brain actually works." Drew Westen uses this thought as a takeoff point in his book, "The Political Brain." He asserts that (page xv) "The political brain is an emotional brain."

One point that he hammers throughout the book is that Republicans do a better job of connecting with voters at an emotional, gut level tha
Rod Hilton
Drew Westen's book, "The Political Brain," is illuminating and engaging. The author is an expert in the human mind, and has devoted his book to relating his understanding of the brain to the world of politics.

Westen talks about what people really look at when they evaluate politicians and candidates. He backs up his assertions with many studies and experiments, clearly laying out exactly how the human mind works when it attempts to "decide" who to vote for.

I learned a great amount about the huma
Shane Quinn
Very clearly articulated the theory and arguments to support the view that "political persuasion is about networks and narratives." Westen outlines the need to set dispassionate arguments (I.e., a reliance on rational argument and issues) as the background to a broader, emotional argument, rather than using the rational as the basis for political campaigning. As Westen writes, "people vote for the candidate who elicits the right feelings, not the candidate who presents the best arguments." In ma ...more
This book can be divided into two parts. The neuroscience part and the scathing assessment of conservative vis-a-vis liberal political tactics. From a scientific perspective, the author develops a well supported argument that the electorate votes their emotions, not their rational minds. He cites numerous studies and compelling examples to make this case. It will change the way you think about your politics.

If you can't handle liberal-biased books, then you might find the majority of the work di
This book articulated something I (and I suspect many people) knew intuitively but could not explain and certainly did not understand scientifically. Westen, a psychologist and researcher in cognitive neuroscience, first demonstrates that voters do not approach politics with a dispassionate mind, choosing rationally between detailed policy plans, but rather they understand politics with a highly emotional mind. From here, Westen describes how the Democrats have failed to successfully communicate ...more
Keith Swenson
Reading this book in the autumn of 2011, I could not stop kicking myself for not having read the book earlier. For years I have felt that the Democrats had the higher moral ground, but the Republicans simply tell a better story. I always wondered why it is that the conservative positions (which pander to greed and hate) were so visceral and easy to understand, while the progressives argue the superior position, but fail to get the message across to the public.

This book dissects exactly what peop
Drew Westen is a psychologist and a passionate Democrat. The Political Brain takes apart every major political contest since Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan and explains why, if only they had listened to Drew, and punched back hard at Republican smear tactics, Democrats would have won. Westen's analysis is pretty shrewd, and his second-guessing of lackluster campaigns like Kerry's is spot on, but I would have found his ideas more persuasive if he had been less partisan. In his book, all Repub ...more
Jan Strnad
For decades it has frustrated me that, while most of the country shares Democratic beliefs over Republican ones, Democrats keep losing elections. Why?

Because the very values Democrats hold dear...taking the higher road, trying to stay "above the fray", concentrating on issues over to speak to the emotional brain that makes most voters' electoral decisions. Whether it's the language they use while failing to understand its connotations, over-handling by committees that blunt
I seem to be reading a lot of nonfiction recently whose focus is a lot narrower than the ad copy suggests. The Political Brain is not the most egregious example of this, but Westen sets out to write a book about the impact of the psyche on politics and ends up writing about its impact on American elections. (The fact that these two things are seen as synonymous suggests that hegemony is alive and well.)

Westen provides a lot of interesting information about both how people perceive political issu
Jamie VW
There are moments in this treatise that I stopped and marveled at how intuitive so many of the theories are that Westen presents in this book. The real revelation of the book therefore is how ostensibly simple the ideas are in the book, yet how frequently in the world of politics (and, Westen argues, mostly in the Democratic Party), the innerworking of the mind is overlooked or ignore. On the surface, this book is pop science with enough of a personal connection to the author (who offers a serie ...more
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“The road to victory is paved with emotional intentions.” 2 likes
“In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins” 2 likes
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