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

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,006 Ratings  ·  200 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 liked it
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
Nov 14, 2013 Alan rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 05, 2016 Jacob rated it it was ok
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
Why to-be-read: I'm a little surprised I've just now gotten around to adding this to my to-be-read shelf. I heard the hypothesis quite some time ago, and this book has been referenced in quite a few of the other cognition books that I've read. Even though I very much disagreed with Charles Murray's conclusions in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, this "sorting" was effectively the framing of the problem he was addressing.

What made me come here and explicitly add this was an ep
Eduardo Santiago
Jan 29, 2014 Eduardo Santiago rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 28, 2008 Kurt rated it really liked it
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
Megan Blood
Mar 26, 2013 Megan Blood rated it it was ok
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:
Oct 14, 2008 Lisa rated it it was amazing
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.
Very dry read. A bit dated but could be easily applied to the internet.
Aug 04, 2016 Deborah rated it really liked it
Helpful analysis of how Americans are segregating themselves by religion and lifestyle.

"Most of us make at least three important decisions in our lives: where to live, what to do, and with whom to do it." - Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness

"People don't need to check voting records to know the political flavor of a community. They can smell it." - new resident of a Dallas exurb

"Their personal identity is defined by parenthood. They are more spiritually, emotionally, and physically invested
Kim Olson
Jan 24, 2015 Kim Olson rated it it was amazing
I'm thrilled that this book came along and I hope it will kick off some important discussions in our country, because the trends that Bishop describe are so damaging to our democracy. Essentially, he shows how ever-more-mobile Americans have spent the last couple of decades sorting themselves into communities of people who have a world view that matches their own, driving the deeply entrenched polarization in our country.

This is something that I (and many others) have been noticing for a while,
Oct 13, 2014 Nick rated it liked it
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
Feb 19, 2012 Brenton rated it really liked it
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
Oct 28, 2010 CD rated it liked it
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 really liked it
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
Dec 01, 2008 Spencer rated it liked it
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
Mar 10, 2010 Blyden rated it it was ok
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
Apr 24, 2009 Nigel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009-book-a-week
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
Apr 19, 2012 Jason Ford rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 25, 2012 Shana rated it liked it
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
Nov 19, 2008 Grace rated it really liked it
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
Feb 11, 2009 Sandy rated it it was amazing
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
Madison Calhoun
This book outlines an interesting idea about the polarization of America and US politics. My issue wth it is that it seems to explain a lot of obvious generalizations (liberals like big cities, conservatives like rural areas, and so we all move to be somewhere we're comfortable) without citing any evidence that this contributes to the huge political gap. It also leaves out many prevalent factors that might have an impact on the issue-- the Internet, race, etc. It's not bad, though. It reads real ...more
Jan 30, 2013 Laura rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013, library, january
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
Feb 05, 2010 Alice rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, americas
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
Jun 18, 2011 D.M. Dutcher rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics, nonfiction
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
Mark Geise
Jun 29, 2016 Mark Geise rated it liked it
“The Big Sort” by Bill Bishop is an interesting read. I believe it could have been 100 pages shorter and still gotten its message across just as well. Bishop repeats himself quite a bit, repeating the same fact or event in different chapters without even noting that he had used the same example elsewhere in the book. That being said, I believe his thesis is well-supported and thought-provoking.

Bishop’s main thesis is that we are sorting ourselves into more and more like-minded communities. He ma
May 23, 2016 Tom rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
The basic idea is that today more Americans than ever are living in "landslide counties", where the presidential vote is favors one candidate by 20%. These counties are almost locked into voting in one direction, either Democrat or Republican.

The author's point is that these voting trends didn't develop from locals to the area, but came about from a mass migration among Americans. Americans today are deciding to live in areas that match them politically, as well as socially.

A big problem with
Jul 06, 2015 Harris rated it liked it
A tad dated, The Big Sort makes the argument that politics in the United States have become more polarized, more divisive in recent years due to a self-segregation of communities into like-minded exclusionary zones, where people need never be confronted by the obviously wrong opinions of different groups. This, according to journalist Bill Bishop, causes opinions to become more extreme, making for political deadlock as no one can agree on a national level. With more and more people, Bishop expla ...more
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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
“Over the last generation, however, these two moral syndromes emerged in families and then sorted into Republican and Democrat. In 1992, there was little difference between the parties on the child-rearing scale. By 2000, the differences were distinct, and by 2004 the gap had grown wide and deep. Answers to questions about child rearing, in fact, provided a better gauge of party affiliation than did income.* The parenting scale was also more closely aligned with "moral issues" than political orientation. Knowing whether a person was a nurturant parent or a strict father provided a better guide to his or her thinking about gay rights than knowing whether he or she was a liberal or a conservative, a Republican or a Democrat.” 0 likes
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