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

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,561 ratings  ·  277 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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3.81  · 
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 ·  1,561 ratings  ·  277 reviews

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May 22, 2008 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
Feb 15, 2010 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
Aug 05, 2009 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
Bryan Alexander
In my work exploring the future of education and technology I keep researching social, economic, and cultural trends. One part of that involves investigating what happened to both American education and society since 1975 or so, after the generation when we rebuilt higher ed. In that world The Big Sort (2008) has loomed large for the past few years, and I'm glad to have finally gotten to read it.

The key argument Bill Bishop* makes is that Americans have been balkanizing into like-minded commun
Megan Blood
Mar 26, 2013 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:
Sep 06, 2008 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
Eduardo Santiago
Jan 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone. Seriously: everyone.
Shelves: politics
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
Peter Mcloughlin
This book goes along way in explaining the polarization of the voting public in the last 30 years. People like to hang out and live next to people who are like them. With the easy mobility of the last thirty years people have moved to areas that have people just like themselves. This is freedom of choice in action. Who doesn't want to be around cool people. Unfortunately that means people are exposed overwhelmingly to ideas and opinions that are close to their own. The by product of this is that ...more
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Documents a disturbing trend in American political and cultural life: increasingly, we are sorting ourselves into islands of homogeneity, with troublesome implications from the Congress to Ferguson. It is hard to 'get along' and solve common challenges if we live in parallel worlds.
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
Jul 21, 2008 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
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
There's a funny bit of history about this book: it was written in 2005-6 as an explanation of how President Bush won a landslide election and how Republicans had built an insurmountable, generational majority.


Far from being an anachronism, the emerging American geopolitics and new electoral strategy outlined in this book were adopted by every presidential campaign since. The Big Sort-era election winners each won with strategically similar campaign. Bush, Obama, and Trump are eerily similar.
Aug 14, 2008 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
Matthew Hall
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, nonfiction
This has the dubious distinction of having been published in 2008, and like any work of history or science fiction (maybe just everything), it says as much about the time in which it was written as it does whatever else it might be saying. While Bishop makes a compelling argument as to the splintering of our politics, national discourse and the atomization of our lifestyles, echoes of the 2016 election will haunt you at just about every page, in turns prescient and painful and altogether too mis ...more
Sep 24, 2008 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.
Mar 11, 2016 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
Sally Sugarman
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an informative, disturbing and provocative account of what is happening in the United States. Written in 2008, it seems particularly relevant currently. Utilizing Robert Cushing’s statistical analysis, the book shows how in a society that is changing and confusing, people seek out like minded people to live among. The fact that our population is mobile to some degree is another factor. Technology has also contributed to the change as has the deterioration of civic groups that brought peo ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
While the analysis of polarization is deep, well-researched, and thorough, its accounting for race is subpar. The central argument is that as Americans become wealthier, they choose to live among people who share their same political beliefs.

The entire book is based on the break happening in 1965, the year of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Bishop discusses the cultural divisions of the year and mentions race as one of them. Later on, he states that in 1963 Americans became more focused o
Nick Draeger
Oct 13, 2014 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
Rachel Moyes
Jan 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Pretty interesting in a lot of ways. Often boring. Also repetitive.

It would be great if he wrote a new edition or an update, since a lot has changed in the last 10 years.

I feel like this book should have been called "How George Bush Got Elected Twice When I Don't Even Know Any Republicans: An Explanation for My Liberal Friends."

My biggest beef was that the organization was very poor. Most of the time I had no idea why or how different chapters were related. Then at the end, Bishop made some rea
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of those slightly older books that all makes perfect sense as you read it. An interesting journey through the self sorting we've seen over the last half century and the implications of it.
Todd Wright
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A little dated but still extremely relevant explanation of politics in America today. Spoiler - there is little hope.
May 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, elucidating, and terrifying.
Jun 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Some interesting remarks and conclusions but all in all rather poorly written for my taste.
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
3.5 stars. Lots of it feels kind of obvious: people like to live, work, and be friends with people they are similar to or have things in common with. The late twentieth/early twenty-first century has afforded people the time, money, and opportunity to move into communities that offer this. That particular sorting has affected our politics.

Not exactly a surprising turn of events. That said, I found Bishop's analysis a little facile and naive. It was easy for everyone to think and act and believe
Feb 22, 2019 rated it liked it
this was both compelling and horrifying
chptrs 6,7,9,11 were particularly so.
Fraser Kinnear
May 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting that this book was probably written in 2006-2007 (it was published in 2008), as much of what gets discussed here is only now being remarked upon after the past election cycle.

The thesis:
Freed from want and worry, people were re-ordering their lives around their values, their tastes, and their beliefs. They were clustering in communities of like-mindedness, and not just geographically. Churches grew more politically homogenous during this time, and so did civic clubs, volunteer organ
Jan 29, 2019 rated it liked it
A rather dry, scholarly account of how we've managed to isolate ourselves in communities where everyone thinks alike, dresses alike, drives the same cars and has the same politics. This book was written in 2008, well-before the 2016 election; and while it does not predict Donald Trump, it explains him. The problem is that it doesn't offer a solution for him. On the contrary, there may not be one.
Mar 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: post-trump
Liberals head off to Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Austin, or Raleigh-Durham. Conservatives head to the country (or perhaps to Dallas). The folks in liberal cities talk amongst themselves and head left. The folks in the country talk amongst themselves and head right. And we get to where we are today, where politics is ridiculously polarized and I can say with a straight face that I don't know a single Republican in the town where I live.

What do we do about this? Well, I'm not moving to Dall
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“As people seek out the social settings they prefer—as they choose the group that makes them feel the most comfortable—the nation grows more politically segregated—and the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups.” 5 likes
“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?” 2 likes
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