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The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart

3.74 of 5 stars 3.74  ·  rating details  ·  770 ratings  ·  176 reviews
The untold story of why America is so culturally and politically divided

America may be more diverse than ever coast to coast, but the places where we live are becoming increasingly crowded with people who live, think, and vote as we do. This social transformation didn't happed by accident. We’ve built a country where we can all choose the neighborhood -- and religion and n
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published May 7th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Jul 20, 2008 Aaron rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Church-going demographers
Recommended to Aaron by: National Public Radio
Call it the "Election 2000" riddle: How is it that the country can be so fatally, psychotically split between the two irreconcilable extremes of Bush and Gore when everyone I know - literally everyone - is a Gore supporter except for my grandparents in Kerrville, TX, who took the Hobbit away from me when I was seven years old because they thought it was Satanic? The Big Sort suggests that for the first time in American history, the average person has the ability to choose where they want to live ...more
Maybe because it's part of my job to understand how people think or what drives them to make certain decisions that The Big Sort has had such a big impact on my thinking.

Its thesis, in brief, is this: Since the 1970s, tens of millions of Americans have packed up and moved, largely for jobs. And when they do, they settle in neighborhoods where pretty nearly everyone is just like them: same outlook, same political leanings, same church-going habits (or not), same education level, same political pa
Oct 03, 2008 Jennifer marked it as to-read
Recommends it for: strong right & left wing people & moderates too
Recommended to Jennifer by: Daily Show, NPR
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
Arghhh :( this book is depressing me. I made it to chapter two, and then I realized, maybe it is not a good idea for me to read this right now, as the presidential election is using up enough of my political brain for the time being. I wish there were an answer to the party sorting this book chronicles. We need to be more open to listening to other viewpoints, and not just dismissing them summarily or tuning out because we don't agree or yelling over them so we cannot hear their thoughts. I also ...more
Intriguing title, disappointing delivery... where do I start?

Perhaps with the first 250 (of 300) pages, which repeats the same thing three or four times. There's a "Big Sort" going on, and it's suspicious. The author (barely) managed to convince me, but that doesn't mean I want to be convinced several times. This section should have been 100, 150 pages max.

The real decent ideas about why sorting ourselves into homogeneous groups is meaningful doesn't occur until the last 50 pages, and even then
Discusses the recent geographic re-alignment of Americans in the past 25 or so years and how political parties have either benefited or lost from this realignment.

The book was spot-on with the social realignments that have been sweeping the country. I have experienced this phenomenon myself at both the macro and micro level. The book went into grave detail with the various causes of the re-alignment and provided proof with many examples. However, in the end I was looking for more insight or pred
Eduardo Santiago
Jan 29, 2014 Eduardo Santiago rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone. Seriously: everyone.
The most frightening book I've read in years. Too depressing to read; too well-written and informative to put down. Nearly every page had information or insights that were new to me: did you know that Eisenhower was courted by both Republican and Democrat parties? That churches in the 1960s/70s started getting socially responsible... and lost members as a consequence?

If you've studied electronics you know what a positive feedback loop is... and you know that it is a Very Bad Thing. That's what's
Megan Blood
The premise of this book is that Americans are self-sorting themselves into like-minded communities, which in turn makes them become more extreme due to lack of experience with opposing viewpoints.

I started this book with high hopes, but quickly became suspicious. Why start the baseline at 1976? We have political data going back at least a century--if this were really a trend, shouldn't adding more data just back it up? So I did a little research and found this:
I found this book fascinating. The premise is that Americans have been moving into more and more homogenous neighborhoods and cities over the past 30+ years. College educated people move to certain cities, Democrats are more likely to live in certain places, Republicans in others. Bishop's theory is that this polarizes is even further, as we become more extreme when surrounded by only like-minded individuals.

It was an interesting read, particularly in our current political climate.
Like many books of journalistic endeavor, The Big Sort has some issues. It takes a thesis and states it over and over again in slightly different ways, and has decidedly random supporting sections that don't always tie together very well. But those issues aside, this was a really interesting read. The data work was easy to understand, the supporting anecdotes were more intriguing than not, and it really seemed to reflect conditions that I could see on a day-to-day basis. As I was reading, I coul ...more
As an introduction or early work in reading about modern sociological/social trends, this is a pretty fair work.

There is some new ground, and certainly some recent work covered herein that is worth digesting. This is a topic in the related fields that comes and goes about every decade since the mid-20th century. The ebb and flow of suburbia, the various urban flight phenomena, the stratification as a result of economic and social privilege, etc., are common themes to those with familiarity of t
Dec 19, 2008 Kerri rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone who's wondered why they can barely understand the thinkings of "the other side"
Shelves: non-fiction
A well researched overview of the divisive nature of politics, geography and personal lifestyle preferences that came to dominance since the seventies, and a look at the possible causes of these splits.

The basic premise is that, historically, political leanings had little to do with lifestyles or where one chose to live, and preferences/opinions/residences were varied and scattered. Over the last couple decades, counties, politics and lifestyle choices have become homogeneous and clearly sorted
in 1976, 26% of americans lived in landslide counties (counties where the election was won or lost by a 20% margin). By the 2008 election, that had grown to 48%. Bill Bishop argues that in the U.S. in the last generation there has been an enormous restructuring/migration/resorting of America according to values/lifestyle. That age, class, race, gender, are ideology revealing common denominators which are useless compared to county, zipcode, and neighborhood. There is no wage advantage to living ...more
The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing us Apart is another of those books that tries to bring a corpus of social scientific work to a popular audience, ala Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and The Tipping Point. It isn't nearly as readable nor as well-organized as Gladwell's work, but rather a somewhat disorganized mishmash of a variety of ideas, the causal relationships among which remain unclear. The question that the subtitle suggests will be answered is never clearly answ ...more
READ THIS BOOK. I mean.. if, like me, you have a penchant for reading geeky, wonky political books that try to analyze where our nation is politically and how we got this way, this is one you can't miss.

Essentially, Bishop starts with the generally-undisputed observation that our politics have become increasingly polarized (our President's repeated pleas for Hope and Change not withstanding). In Congress, especially, Republicans are REALLY conservative, and the moderate Dems are few and far betw
Jason Ford
This is one of the most enlightening books about politics I've ever read. For forty years, Americans have been on the move, settling in cities, regions and neighborhoods heavily populated with people who are politically and culturally likeminded. Liberals went to big cities and inner-ring suburbs and to the two coasts. Conservatives moved to sprawling exurbs and the Sunbelt. Bishop convincingly argues that this trend has shaped our politics more than any single political figure or social movemen ...more
Finished two non-fictions this weekend, one being The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-minded American is Tearing Us Apart, by Bill Bishop. Usually titles like these leave me lost so I don’t dare venture too far, but this one was (mostly) easy on the brain and actually quite interesting without being too preachy or difficult for someone who isn’t already in that particular field of study.

What I got out of it is that in America, we are sorting ourselves into communities of people who share th
1. Is it better for a child to demonstrate independence or respect for elders?
2. Obedience or self-reliance?
3. Curiosity or good manners?
4. To be considerate or well behaved?

If you chose respect, obedience, good manners, and being well behaved, you have an authoritarian parenting style and you likely vote Republican.

If you chose independence, self-reliance, curiosity, and being considerate, you have a nurturant parenting style and you likely vote Democratic.

According to the research by polit
I like to mix it up with people who do not share my worldview. If Bill Bishop is right, this makes me an American oddity.

According to this book, since the 1960s, Americans have been sorting themselves out into like-minded tribal communities, whose members reinforce one another's already-existing views, attitudes, and prejudices. The end product of this "Big Sort" is an increasingly polarized body politic, more ideologically pure parties, the urban-rural electoral split I've remarked on several d
If you've ever wondered "why can't [other political party] understand where I'm coming from?" - read this book. Bishop marshals research on politics, demographics, religion, and more to support his theory of the "Big Sort" - the increasing tendency for Americans to self-select into homogenous social groups. The increasing financial autonomy and ability of Americans to select the communities that they live in, worship in, and vote in has led to an increase in partisanship and an unwillingness to ...more
Guilty as charged! One of the reasons I picked Portland was because the people here were "more like me". My whole life I'd been in the minority - a liberal living in a conservative community. I'm much more comfortable here. I think the author makes some very valid points about how this self-sorting is destroying the legislative process. Elected officials either represent the far right wing or the left wing. There's no in-between among the elected officials, so there's no reason to compromise. Sa ...more
D.M. Dutcher
Interesting premise, bland book. Most of it is data about how people tend to cluster together with like people, and how that leads to a lack of moderation. However some data really doesn't mesh well: if the variance between areas is all of 10%, is that really a sort? Also, he doesn't give any solutions, or analyze it as opposed to just add data and stories about historical events. It would have been better if he had kept the anecdotal approach in the first chapter. I don't really recommend this ...more
Bishop's central contention is simple - Americans more and more are segregating themselves into communities of people who share the same lifestyles and values (e.g. bike-friendly, local restaurants or large lawns, quiet neighborhoods). In turn, he argues that we are de-facto sorting ourselves politically in a way that undermines the democratic process. He finds that as we concentrate ourselves subconsciously into communities that share our political preferences we form more extreme opinions driv ...more
Brian O'Callaghan
Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars.

I like the information in this book. I'm glad that someone collected these findings and presented them in a coherent way. However, like many nonfiction works, while any given chapter of the book reads well, somehow the book fails to achieve a good through line.

If you've ever thought about how people surround themselves with online media and contacts that reinforce their own beliefs rather than expose them to new ones, you should read this book. Because it's so muc
Mary Ann
Wonderful, insightful book on our close-minded, divisive political lives. Kudos, Bill Bishop.
Key debates among political scientists are examined in “The Big Sort”: whether or not Americans are deeply divided, and, if so, is this due to ‘top-down’ influences of our political leadership or ‘bottom-up’ influences of genuine differences in popular opinion. The author appears to concur with Peter Francia that “elites may be responding to the polarization that exists within the electorate” and not the inverse. He explains a polarized electorate as having developed since the 1960s when society ...more
It is difficult to find books on modern American polarization that are not awash with the author's political agenda - either through direct argumentation or through topical choices and politically charged rhetoric. This author let's us know on page one that he is a liberal. But that is the first and last evidence of the author's political bias. The rest of the book is a refreshingly objective documentary describing the increasingly partisan character of America, not just in our political instuti ...more
Perhaps the BEST book I have read to date on the current partisan/social divide in this country, how people are in essence "sorting" themselves to live and increasingly only interact with like-minded individuals. The more the camps self-segregate, the more the positions harden and this leads to more and more rigid and perhaps extreme positions - and views on the other side. The death of the moderate, this hyper-partisanship, combined with a black/white religious view has made our political syste ...more
Bill Bishop effectively argues that our democracy suffers from a lack of thoughtful discussion of issues among respectful people who hold differing opinions, and the trends indicate that this problem is only becoming worse. Ideologically I fall just left of center, but I'm in the reddest part of this red state. Despite my love of discussion with people of all viewpoints, sometimes I feel like if we lived in a slightly more liberal area, I'd be healthier and happier. I have in years past toyed wi ...more
Sep 14, 2008 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
from the library

The author's focus on polarization doesn't take into account how polarization is as American as apple pie. This is a topic that the original signers of the D of Independence had long talks about. It is something that is part of the fundamental (forgive me for using this word) recipe of what makes us Americans. Our way of life has built in integration and built in segregation. There is a continuum between the two and a creative tension which shows itself in various ways such as th
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“After a few Republicans on the Houston city council supported the Democratic majority's proposal that stalled cars be towed immediately off the city's notoriously clotted freeways, local Republican officials promised retribution. 'We're not looking for council members who are going to go along and get along,' said Jared Woodfill, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. 'We're looking for council members who are going to stand up for conservative values.' Surely, political ideology has teetered over some high cliff when towing can be described as a 'value.' What's next, a doctrine of potholes, the water pressure credo?” 1 likes
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