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

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  7,621 ratings  ·  520 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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Community Reviews

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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 5 of 5 stars
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 5 of 5 stars
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
Oct 02, 2007 Jesse rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
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
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.
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?
Keith Loveday
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
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

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
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
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
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
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
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 05, 2007 Sheffy rated it 2 of 5 stars
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.
Geordy Kortebein
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
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
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
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
Abe Brennan
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
Oct 12, 2007 Christina rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
This book may be the most insightful and prophetic book I've ever read.

Frank examines the post-2004 Democratic Party's relationship with residents of the Heartland, which mirrors the Party's complicated relationship with Americans. Frank argues that Kansas voters -- like the rest of America -- have been forced to engage the Republican Party's message of God, guns, and gays, while the Democrats stand by, watching these voters vote for this divisive agenda at the expense of their own quality of li
Aug 23, 2007 Mark rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know why our country is going to the toilets
Shelves: non-fiction
Ever wonder why Middle America suddenly likes "Republicans"? Well, Thomas Frank knows why. Basically, they lie about what they really care about, telling farmers and such that they want to bring back the "values of the old days." What they really want to do is line the pockets of big businesses at the expense of the very people who vote for them.
It's not all Republicans. The Moderates are actually alright people. It's the Conservatives that are really the evil here.
Franks put a lot of time and t
This book explains why some people constantly vote against their own well being. I think it shows that we as Americans are never satisfied with what we have and are always wanting more,... nicer house, nicer car, newer clothes, anything that makes us feel better and more important than the people down the street. Frank goes into detail about how the "true" republican conservatives from Kansas were shocked and caught by surprise by the quick rise of the "Moral Majority" and other quack groups. He ...more
Why do people vote for political parties that are diametrically opposed to their own material interest? This book explores this in relation to red state conservatives voting Republican. The answer is in the triumph of the culture wars, persecution myths and the great liberal conspiracy. Reality is inverted, the “free” market system is left unexamined and small town conservatives vote for the GOP business elites who destroy their farming communities, outsource their jobs and strangle the life cha ...more
Abbie Watters
I finished What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank. I got it in an attempt to understand why people seem to be willing to vote against their own pocketbooks. This is a well-thought out, thought provoking book that I heartily recommend to anyone else who is struggling with the whole idea of the apparent death of liberalism, and the dicotomy of the "Christian" right and real Christian values. It was written during the run up to the 2004 Presidentia ...more
Aug 29, 2010 Peter rated it 1 of 5 stars
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
Quite simply a tour-de-force laying out an excellent case for how the modern conservative movement was able to sway most of the country into voting for and supporting an agenda which in many ways acted against their economic interests and in some cases were counter to their moral beliefs. This books introduced me to the term backlash politics; once you interpret modern conservatism in this light you both have trouble taking conservatism seriously, but you also understand more fully the power of ...more
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Thomas Frank is the author of What’s the Matter with Kansas? and One Market Under God. The founding editor of The Baffler and a contributing editor at Harper’s, he is also a Wall Street Journal weekly columnist. He has received a Lannan award and been a guest columnist for The New York Times. Frank lives in Washington, D.C.
More about Thomas Frank...
The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from The Baffler The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy

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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.” 7 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....” 3 likes
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