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The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,125 ratings  ·  150 reviews
In What's the Matter with Kansas?, Thomas Frank pointed out that a great number of Americans actually vote against their own interests. In The Political Mind, George Lakoff explains why. As it turns out, human beings are not the rational creatures we've so long imagined ourselves to be. Ideas, morals, and values do not exist somewhere outside the body, ready to be examined ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 29th 2008 by Viking Adult
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John David
I was drawn to this book mostly because I knew of the author’s reputation as a cognitive scientist and as someone who was known for spelling out how cognitive science overlaps with, and largely explains, many of the phenomena that we recognize as falling along the left-right spectrum of political ideologies. And Lakoff certainly does offer some insights into how thinking occurs, and what in particular is unique about the way we think about political issues.

Lakoff’s main idea, which should be app
Jul 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-at-library
Lakoff, a cognitive scientist, looks at 30 years of scientific research on the human brain, and asks some political questions. What he finds is the political divide is “not just in geography, religion or even power”, it in our heads (no pun intended).

Our country was born from the age of Enlightenment when reason was king, and emotion was irrelevant. Emotions were seen as just cluttering the issue at hand. The idea an educated, well informed, rational society will make rational, logical, fact bas
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
I have read Lakoff quite a bit. He is an original thinker with some really good ideas from cognitive science (especially in the role of metaphor in thinking), neuroscience, politics, media and framing, current events, and political psychology. He writes well and you will learn from him. He is a little overly messianic about his own ideas in the sense that he sees himself as a political prophet. He is good but not the second coming. Still, quibbles about tone aside Lakoff has some very interesti ...more
Nov 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
I read this book because it was chosen by a (face-to-face) book club I belong to, and I believed it to be a science read. My initial response was great disappointment, because this is very much a book of politics rather than science. So you know where I'm coming from, I should explain that I am a biomedical engineer working in the field of magnetic resonance imaging. Going back to childhood, my favorite subjects were math and art, and I began eschewing social studies in high school. At this poin ...more
Jan 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a very important book for progressives to read. Cognitive sciences are showing how our brains organize concepts results in consequences for politics. Most people's brains have developed in ways that can respond to terminology in a way that can activate emotional responses either consistent with conservative attitudes or progressive attitudes. The more times one version is activated by terminology, the more the strength of the structures supporting that view become. Therefore, the termino ...more
Conor Ahern
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
So Lakoff, writing in early 2008, seems to think the Democrats have a messaging problem. Prescient guy! He beats on about liberals' failure to weaponize empathy, and to claim that progressivism is American. Perhaps it is the Reaganaut decade I was born into and the imitators that followed, but this seems like too simplistic a take.

Americans seem different--not because of some demented pathogen or hideous mutation we carry within us, but because we've been "#1" for so long that, rather than chan
Alex Lee
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I was first introduced to George Lakoff through his work in 2nd language acquisition. His thoughts and work in that area was quite impressive, so when I ran across this book I was eager to look into it.

First let me say that this book isn't really academic. Yes, it is written by an academic, but it's also meant for general consumption. I didn't read the reviews below before reading this book, but in skimming them, I am surprised by how people had to mention how academic it was or how technical it

Lakoff is a cognitive scientist in Berkeley, "an American cognitive linguist and philosopher" and, apparently, a Democrat, or a progressive. Maybe a liberal. He believes Democrats can do better (after the presidential loss in 2016). Midterm elections are around the corner, and back in 2016 he wrote a piece* on how to understand Trump and "How Can Democrats Do Better". Have the Democrats followed his advice?

(view spoiler)
(audio book) First off, I can't recommend this book as an audio book. Its densely academic writing style requires way too much brain power to process, especially while driving. But if I hadn't been listening to the audio book, I probably wouldn't have finished the book. What the book has in academic writing style, it seems to lack in academic proof. Perhaps the print copy has citations, but mostly what I heard was a complex narrative based on unproven axioms.

Here's what I did get out of the boo
David Rush
Nov 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Lakoff goes on throughout the book about how progressives are stuck in the old style enlightenment view (of reason), while conservatives have used a batch of Jedi Mind tricks over the past three decades to replace analytical reasoning decisions with emotions. I’d say the starting point is that people think the brain is basically like a computer that runs calculations and from those evaluations people make decisions that will best serve them. HOWEVER from his studies he says people are nothing li ...more
Brea Grant
Aug 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: specifically jeff and neesha but also all my friends in politics
this book just changed my ideas about politics. although throughout most of it, i kept thinking, "yeah, of course conservatives manipulate language," Lakoff really dug deeper into things i had never thought about.

there's not a whole lot of science in this book, but that's okay because it makes it easy for all the lib arts majors like me to read. and we understand ideas like framing concepts and reflexive thought. hurray! i feel like i know some science now.

Abhijit Ray
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Anyone who is willing to question their views on politics, no matter the country, should read this. Such an eye opener! All scientific, and brilliantly written. I will admit, I did feel that the author was pushing his views on the reader at first, but as one progresses through the book and understand the context and the part of history he is writing from, one does realise his absolute views. But the best part is one does not have to agree with it. Read it, and form your own views of society in g ...more
Hakan Jackson
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book was a bit dated being written back in 2008. We get to read about a simpler time when everyone thought Karl Rove was a genius and America was in disbelief in have George W Bush as president. It's still relevant with today's politics. Though it would really help if this book got an update in both the politics and the social science.
Ken Horkavy
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
George Lakoff's; The Political Mind. The most important book on politics over the last 20 years. Progressive's unite and read this treatise on how to take back our democracy.
Says that once upon a time, we reasoned our way from our hypotheses about reasonable people to our conclusions about the best way to structure government:

• Since all people have the capacity for reason, we can govern ourselves, without bowing to higher authorities like kings or popes or oligarchs.
• Reason makes us equal, and so the best form of government is a democracy.
• We use reason to serve our interests, and so an optimal government would serve the interests of all.
• Since we all have he
Steven Peterson
Sep 11, 2009 rated it liked it
This is one of those books that sets off conflicting emotions and thoughts. The application of knowledge of the brain sciences to political debate is absolutely fascinating, and much good information is presented. Another part of the thesis--that "progressives" or liberals use an "Enlightenment" model of discourse (emphasizing the use of logic and reason to advance their points) whereas conservatives use a more powerful approach, wedding emotion to thought. Hence, conservatives have an advantage ...more
David Robins
This book is a poisonous screed. I felt sick to my stomach reading it. I had hoped to learn something from what the author had to say about how the brain works, but there was so much propaganda, lies, leaps of illogic, and smug assumption of unsupported and unsupportable statist political theories that I couldn't get through it. It presents the state as the only moral agent and individual rights as worthless except to be subverted. American history is rewritten from whole cloth on every page.

Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rantings of a flaming liberal. I didn't expect this to be an agenda-driven book. I've finished two chapters, and I guess since he's addressing a liberal readership he doesn't feel much of a need to defend his beliefs. Plus he doesn't believe in the universality of logic (outdated, First Enlightenment assumption) he thus doesn't use logic to make his case, he just structures the debate in his own favor.

So he is practicing what he is preaching. He cherry-picks Adam Smith (he is the revisionist, no
Heather Denkmire
Wow, I wish everyone in the country could read this book. Or, at least about 3/4 of it. Some of it I'll admit got a little Charlie Brown adult voice on me (game theory, and Chomsky's linguistics). But truly, I think this is the key to saving our Democracy. Reframing and not hiding from the progressive values of empathy and empowerment. Amazing stuff. It also helped me understand some people I know who think in the strict father model (as I'm about 100% nurturing parent model). I loved learning a ...more
May 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
You know, I think I lost this book. I was about 7/8 of the way through it, and I think I left it somewhere. It's either on an airplane or in my childhood bedroom in MN where I spent a night in April.

Oh well, I hope someone else reads it because it was great! It was helpful for understanding how and why people vote the way they do(often against their own economic interests).

I studied metaphor in professional writing for part of my thesis, and this book helped me understand how metaphor works at t
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Friend suggested I read this. While I disagree with the author's attempts at rebuking the use of game theory in economics, it was otherwise an insightful read
Jonathan Tweet
Aug 01, 2016 rated it liked it
Great work connecting modern brain science to human political behavior.
Nathan Albright
Jan 24, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: challenge-2020
This book is worth reading, if at all, mainly for the way in which it demonstrates the rank hypocrisy of the left and the prostitution of science, history, and everything else for leftist political aims that passes for woke writing.  This book was written in the immediate aftermath of Obama's victory and it reads like the author was of the belief that the victory of Obama heralded a triumph of progressive politics over Enlightenment liberalism or conservatism.  Rarely has a book so demonstrated ...more
Jan 20, 2019 rated it liked it
This book should have gone with a different title. The final three chapters could have easily been extracted and made into a quick pamphlet and nothing would have been lost. As a linguist, Lakoff offers an interesting and fruitful approach to the way in which we cognize our political affiliations and related questions. However, if you are interested in reading about some of the fundamental neurological underpinnings of political cognition then this is not the book for you. Lakoff's work with res ...more
Aug 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: politics
If you read my progress comments, you already know how I'm going to rate this. This book is a screed. The assumptions made by the author are never proven only assumed (e.g., that America was founded as a progressive nation) and after defining terms according to a progressive worldview. This in spite of saying early on that people do not have a overall worldview but rather have different views in different areas.
There is science in this book, some of it very interesting, but none of it can be us
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm mostly pleased with this book. I think it had a lot of really good insights to explain how framing has helped get us to the current state of things, and how one type of framing has been way more successful than the other.

Some of the technical stuff did start to get my eyes glazing over in the last half of the book. Not very well written for a lay audience like the first part.

I would have liked to see more explicit examples and practical ideas for what good progressive frames would look like
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book took me a long time to read because it is so dense in information. Every 20 pages I had to stop and let it sink in. I took about 10 pages of notes, and intend to read more books penned by George Lakoff. I also intend to come back to this book in about a year and re-read it. So chock full of information! Thank you, Tavis Smiley, for having Mr. Lakoff on your show and bringing him to my attention.

If you want to know about your brain and how it works, this is your book. It might not help
Rich Baker
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mind = blown. I read a lot of smart books by smart people. But damn. This one was on a level I barely understood. I still need time to process it. Essentially, he goes deep into the meanings of words and symbols and illustrates how we can speak the same language, but not mean the same things, because we have different core beliefs and usage of metaphor. Thru this, he highlights the differences between largely conservative and liberal mindsets.

One thing he talks about that I particularly loved is
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Lakoff's ideas are spot on and he really hits the nail on the head with everything from frames and metaphors to his strict father and nurturant parent models and how it all applies to liberal and conservative thought. Through his books and work, the American political spectrum makes sense quite nicely.

However, how he presents these ideas can be repetitive, at times feel out of order, and be missing pieces that are in his other books. He almost writes like you've read his other stuff. I feel like
Ben Gresik
Jun 23, 2017 rated it liked it
It would be hard to find another book written during the Bush years that's more relevant now than it probably was then. The fundamental thesis of this book is that Progressives misunderstand how we think and make bad choices because of that. Liberals don't understand that Conservatives think and communicate fundamentally differently. The only problem with this is Lakoff doesn't help us to learn how to communicate our ideas more effectively. He gets part of the way there by pointing to the genera ...more
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George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley and is one of the founders of the field of cognitive science.

He is author of The New York Times bestseller Don't Think of an Elephant!, as well as Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Whose Freedom?, and many other books and articles on cognitive science and ling

News & Interviews

You know the saying: There's no time like the present...unless you're looking for a distraction from the current moment. In that case, we can't...
42 likes · 19 comments
“The biology of empathy allows us to comprehend our connection to each other, to other living things, and to the physical world that supports life.” 18 likes
“Why didn't the Democrats accomplish more right after the 2006 elections that gave them control of Congress? It wasn't just that they didn't have votes to override a presidential veto or block a filibuster. They didn't use their mandate to substantially change how the public--and the media-- thought about issues. They just tried to be rational, to devise programs to fit people's interests and the polls. Because there was little understanding of the brain, there was no campaign to change brains. Indeed, the very idea of "changing brains" sounds a little sinister to progressives-- a kind of Frankenstein image comes to mind. It sounds Machiavellian to liberals, like what the Republicans do. But "changing minds" in any deep way always requires changing brains. Once you understand a bit more about how brains work, you will understand that politics is very much about changing brains-- and that it can be highly moral and not the least bit sinister or underhanded.” 0 likes
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