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What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  8,792 Ratings  ·  569 Reviews
With a New Afterword by the Author

The New York Times bestseller, praised as "hilariously funny . . . the only way to understand why so many Americans have decided to vote against their own economic and political interests" (Molly Ivins)

Hailed as "dazzlingly insightful and wonderfully sardonic" (Chicago Tribune), "very funny and very painful" (San Francisco Chronicle), and
Paperback, 332 pages
Published May 1st 2005 by Holt Paperbacks (first published January 1st 2004)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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In the last year I’ve started on a half a dozen books all claiming to explain the marriage of social conservatism and capitalism, this being the second I’ve actually managed to finish (the others written either by some criminally insane conservative whose lunatic ravings caused me to vomit in my mouth by page five or liberals whose smug sense of superiority was palpable.) This one at least was enjoyable, I suppose, yet somewhere about a third of the way in I realized the utter pointlessness of e ...more
Jan 26, 2008 Belarius rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Americans And Others Curious About America
Simply put, "What's The Matter With Kansas?" in its latest (paperback) edition, is a book every politically active American should read. What its author, Thomas Frank, lacks in terms of tone (the book is likely to offend some) he overcomes with an incredibly clear-sighted appraisal of the ideological framework of modern conservatives and, to an extent, of America in general.

Frank's opening thesis is that the "new conservatives" that sprang from the 1990s represent a seeming paradox: the poor fur
Connie  Kuntz
Sep 14, 2010 Connie Kuntz rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Connie by: Jesse Kuntz
Thomas Frank, a Kansas native and former conservative, actually does manage to thoughtfully and fairly answer the title question "What's The Matter With Kansas?" He also does explain how conservatives won the heart of America. More importantly, in my opinion, he got me to analyze why I feel the politics I feel and, ultimately, vote the way I vote. His book has a marvelous way of balancing emotion and logic in political rhetoric. Because of that, I consider this book one of beautiful, swift polit ...more
Jul 17, 2008 Michael rated it it was ok
Shelves: politics
Holy cow I hated this book.

This was really an unpleasant experience, I’m glad it’s over. I read the book because I am moving to Kansas and figured it would be a useful introduction to the state’s political dynamic. I was expecting an analysis that I would likely not be very sympathetic to, but I was still disappointed. The book is not so much analysis as explanation -- explanation as to what is going on in flyover country, from the perspective of a committed, doctrinaire, old school liberal. The
Oct 02, 2007 Jesse rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who already read a lot of pop culture political theory.
Eh. I don't know about this one. I think it has some good points and insights as to how people living in middle America see the conservative movement as relating to their self interest even when decisions made by that movement are somewhat against their self interest. At the same time I feel like this analysis "others" middle America and assumes something is "the matter" with Kansas as opposed to assuming that perhaps something is wrong with progressive messaging that is not connecting with many ...more
Feb 16, 2014 Hadrian marked it as to-read
No seriously, what the fuck is the matter with Kansas? Is it 1954 over there instead of 2014?
Aug 08, 2015 sologdin rated it it was ok
Posits the existence of a “Great Backlash,” a derangement that is the return of “a style of conservatism that first came snarling onto the national stage in response to the partying and protests of the late sixties” (5). It is apparently “like the French Revolution in reverse” (8): “sans culottes pour down the streets demanding more power for the aristocracy.” The central problem:
Strip them of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land, and
Dec 20, 2007 Moxie rated it did not like it
I know this is supposed to be a great book, but, as a Kansan, I had a hard time getting past Thomas Frank's apparent bitterness about all things Kansas. Its an interesting assessment as to how Kansas got so Red. However, things have been changing significantly in this state over the last few elections so its no longer very insightful about the current state of Kansas politics.
Keith Loveday
Sep 30, 2014 Keith Loveday rated it really liked it
This was a sort of guide to understanding conservative thinking, and it was really good. A bit dated (I think it was written in 2005?) but spot on when describing the mentality that eventually shattered the Republican party and metastasized into the diseased thing we call 'conservatism' today. While completely relevant to 2014, I'm not sure what exactly the book evokes more for the reader, contempt or pity for the 'backlash' conservatives he describes here. Either way, it was depressing to learn ...more
Feb 02, 2013 Katie rated it it was ok
I learned early on that reading the opinion pages of the newspaper was just spitting into the wind. You get so fed up to the point that you have to do something about it, and then you end up making it worse. Much of "What's the Matter with Kansas" was a play-by-play rehashing of the news stories that have helped make Kansas the laughing stock of the nation. While I find Frank's concept of "cultural backlash" interesting, it still doesn't answer the question of "why do rural people continue to el ...more
Sean Sullivan
Jan 02, 2008 Sean Sullivan rated it really liked it

This book has got to be one of the most read (or at least most discussed) political commentary texts of the last ten years. It seems like everyone I know is familiar with the thesis – that Kansas is an example of what is strange (and Frank thinks, wrong) about American electoral politics – people will vote against their economic interests if they think such voting is in line with their moral concerns. So, though the Republican party shits all over working class people, they will continue to vote
Dec 04, 2008 Donna rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays-ideas
I bought this book a couple of years ago, mainly because of the title. I, too, had been wondering about the egg-headedness of the so-called American "heartland," all those people in the "red" states in the 2000 and 2004 elections that voted en masse against their own economic interests.

But like most Americans, I wasn't really interested in economic matters, figuring it was up to the "experts" to keep the wheels of commerce churning. Thus, I had a share in the tragic complacency that brought all
Marti Garlett
Jul 17, 2012 Marti Garlett rated it really liked it
This book is fascinating, but I also expect will be debunked by most Kansans. I'm not a Kansan, but my husband is, and I lived there for 15 years plus four years of undergraduate experience. One of my two sons was born in Kansas; both of them were raised there. The author is a Kansan, ergo, giving him more credibility in addition to his massive research. This is a meticulously detailed tome that demonstrates that it us true conservatives consistently vote against their own self interests, includ ...more
keith koenigsberg
May 21, 2008 keith koenigsberg rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A scathing polemic diatribe, this book discusses how the conservatives have won the hearts and minds of a state which, by any of the author's yardsticks, ought to vote liberal. Frank is preaching to choir with me. However, even as I sit on his side of the fence, I could not help but fault this book for a)lack of humor (the tone is as screechingly accusatory as any of the conservative pundits he enjoys bashing) b)lack of economic, scientific, or other logical background. He sets up the chapters w ...more
Aug 29, 2010 Peter rated it did not like it
Shelves: awful
What utter nonsense! I would give this no stars if I could. Extremism on either end of the political spectrum does not make for an interesting book. Mr. Frank seems to think that one party is better than the other one, and that anyone who voted for that evil party has somehow been deceived, should have their heads examined, or has fallen under the spell of some kind of nefarious plot to take over the world.

I suppose some people enjoy polemic arguments like this, but they so often become boring
Mar 31, 2009 Jason rated it really liked it
is there a liberal slant to this book? yup. is there still something totally messed up about kansas? yup - that, too. frank wrote a fascinating book about KS politics, and the state's history of political figures who, shall we say, are outside of the mainstream. i'd love to read a *reasoned* counter-perspective from a right-wing writer, but, alas, that screeching harpy coulter isn't incapable of producing such a thing. if you know of one, please do share. in the meantime, this is a terribly ente ...more
Aug 05, 2014 Steve rated it it was amazing
This is a good study of how conservatives have taken over the Republican party and the methods they have used to do it. I admit my bias. Democrats generally want to do things, to take measures that in the tug-of-war between liberty and justice means intervening to restrain laissez-faire capitalism . That means government taking a more active role in the economy and that's accomplished with regulation, oversight and taxation. Republicans and Libertarians, generally speaking, don't like that. Thei ...more
Jul 31, 2016 Candice rated it it was amazing
Re Republicans: "The leaders of the backlash may talk Christ, but they walk corporate. Values may 'matter most' but they always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won...Their grandstanding leaders never deliver, their fury mounts and mounts, and nevertheless they turn out every two years to return their right-wing heroes to office for a second, a third, a twentieth try. The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off. Vote to stop abortion, receive a rollback in capi ...more
Lord Beardsley
Mar 11, 2015 Lord Beardsley rated it really liked it
Shelves: read2015
It's been several years since I read this the first time, and the second time around was a nice refresher on all things incredibly strange that is my home state.

I think Frank is on to something with how Kansas exists as a microcosm of the bigger macrocosm of American neoconservatism.

He mentions Olathe a number of times, man how that hits home. I spent 11 miserable years in that loathsome cultural wasteland of extremely homophobic and judgemental fundamentalist Christians. On a purely redemptiv
Jul 05, 2007 Sheffy rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Democratic partisans
Shelves: aborted
While I agree with the general hypothesis of this book that the Republican coup is to generate "social" wedge issues to get the "heartland" to vote against it's economic best interest, this book is a partisan editorial rant that lacks true scholarship and authenticity (despite footnotes). Althouh it is entertainingly written, I couldn't get through it.
Will Byrnes
Oct 26, 2008 Will Byrnes rated it really liked it
Frank looks at Kansas as a prime example of how the Republican Party has convinced working people to vote against their own economic self-interest by using so-called wedge issues. It is compelling analysis.
Geordy Kortebein
Jan 22, 2016 Geordy Kortebein rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
It seems almost shocking to finish this book and consider it was written over a decade ago. "The year's most prescient political book" is written on the cover from a New York Times review, a quote I particularly agree with, considering Frank's accuracy with detailing the right-wing proletarian political movement; a movement that has only gotten more fanatic and more removed from reality, boiling over with rage when schools teach their kids about evolution or safe sex or when states approve gay m ...more
Aug 22, 2011 Rob rated it really liked it
A sobering book that charts the major changes in US politics of the past two decades using the midwestern state of Kansas as a bellwether. The bad news is that this could just be the start of a new era that might echo the Middle Ages - a superstitious general populace living alongside an elite content to retreat to their castles and economic bounty.

The book taught me important conclusions about class and the creeping to the Right of working people; conned into supporting the status quo and reduc
Scott Rhee
Feb 15, 2014 Scott Rhee rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Thomas Frank, born and bred in Kansas, was a poster-boy for conservatism all through his high school and early college career. Slowly but surely, a level-headed liberalism began to sink into his philosophy. Now a rather astute critic of conservatism, Frank looks at his home state in bewilderment.

In his oft-humorous, oft-disturbing book "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives won the Heart of America", Frank tries to understand why a state, in which so many of its citizens are low-wage
Jun 18, 2012 Clif rated it it was amazing
I hope you will read this book before the next presidential election. Though it was written in 2004, its premise is confirmed by the rise of Sarah Palin, the capture of the Republican nomination by Mitt Romney and the actions of President Obama.

Thomas Frank, with his usual penetrating insight into American society, examines why a group of people near the lower end of the economic order in this country would be attracted to a party that consistently supports policies that hurt that very same grou
Thomas Frank's look at the causes and cultural forces underlying the conservative backlash, especially among lower income and working class populations across the country, is ground-breaking and highly informative. Though Thomas Frank is a self-acknowledged liberal, he takes a genuine and sincere interest in exploring how and why conservatism has increased in popularity across the heartland of the United States, and is thus able to examine the phenomenon without resorting to presenting caricatur ...more
Al Young
Feb 13, 2016 Al Young rated it it was amazing
Frank was the founder of The Baffler - a magazine I remember vaguely from the 90s as being liberal and (though it had its moments) pretentious as hell. Still, Kansas is a book that I have read a lot of good things about, and stands as one of the great political books written in the last decade.

I expected that I might like it, but there was a lot more to it than I would have guessed. You could probably guess the main plotline of how the GOP has garnered blue collar support - even to the point tha
Abe Brennan
May 17, 2007 Abe Brennan rated it it was amazing
Thomas Frank advances the argument that schismatic activity within both major American parties has resulted in the shifting of traditional blue collar/middle class votes from Democrat to Republican. He contends that a new breed of conservative, religious-professing politicians use cultural issues to obfuscate class concerns. This negation of class in political debate then results in lower and middle class voters keeping those people in power who exploit them (the voters) financially while paying ...more
Sep 06, 2013 Aaron rated it did not like it
Hating this book would be like hating cancer: Raging won't make it go away or succor those who have been damaged by it.

But it is well worth repeating the fact that this is a deeply stupid book, smug and vicious and unapologetic on both counts.

To say that Frank is preaching to the choir is insulting to preachers, who by and large seem sincerely interested in persuading their charges, and choirs, who by and large seem to sing from a place of joy and compassion. Rather, Frank begins with a hateful
Oct 12, 2007 Christina rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who can read and cares about our country.
This is the most entertaining and insightful political book I've ever read. Even if it's not your thing, you need to check it out.

Thomas Frank tells the story of how conservative douchebags convinced people in middle-America (Kansas being the best example) that elite, snobby, French, liberal homosexual-atheists from the East Coast would come one day to kidnap their kids to turn them gay AND force them to have abortions (all at the same time) - UNLESS, and this is a big UNLESS - everyone started
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Thomas Frank is the author of Pity the Billionaire, The Wrecking Crew, and What's the Matter with Kansas? A former columnist for The Wall Street Journal and Harper's, Frank is the founding editor of The Baffler and writes regularly for Salon. He lives outside Washington, D.C.
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“...the people at the top know what they have to do to stay there, and in a pinch they can easily overlook the sweaty piety of the new Republican masses, the social conservatives who raise their voices in praise of Jesus but cast their votes for Caesar.” 9 likes
“There’s a reason you probably haven’t heard much about this aspect of the heartland. This kind of blight can’t be easily blamed on the usual suspects like government or counterculture or high-hat urban policy. The villain that did this to my home state wasn’t the Supreme Court or Lyndon Johnson, showering dollars on the poor or putting criminals back on the street. The culprit is the conservatives’ beloved free-market capitalism, a system that, at its most unrestrained, has little use for smalltown merchants or the agricultural system that supported the small towns in the first place....” 5 likes
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