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

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  11,568 ratings  ·  762 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 Picador USA (first published January 1st 2004)
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 ·  11,568 ratings  ·  762 reviews

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Start your review of What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
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
Thomas Frank makes a good deal of sense if one can listen long enough to hear his thesis. But he is his own worst enemy, providing story after statistic to describe Kansas voting for conservatives against their own best interests. His arguments are extreme and unsettling. You’d think Kansas was the most unholy place on earth with pollution, unemployment, and immigrant slave labor, but actually conservatives have only slowly been crushing the lifeblood out of the state. This last election voted 6 ...more
Jul 12, 2008 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
Jan 26, 2008 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 06, 2010 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
Dec 04, 2012 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
Jan 19, 2012 rated it liked it
Although my political views are left of center, I approached this book with great curiosity and an open mind. I was hoping to understand what makes a group of people vote against their own political and economic interests. However, I didn't come away from this book really learning the answer to that question. Mr. Frank, a native Kansan, wrote a very interesting book about his very colorful home state. He talked about conservative voters voting their values.... I understand that. I feel I vote u ...more
Will Byrnes
Oct 26, 2008 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.
Jun 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people interested in politics, all liberals
A remarkably account of the development of "backlash" politics in the microcosm of Kansas. Thomas Frank asks himself why working-class people would vote against their economic interests to put the Republicans (Reagan, Bush 1, Bush 2) in power, when it would make much more sense to vote for liberals who would improve their educational options and increase progressive taxation. Put simply—why do poor American vote to lower the taxes on the rich? The answer is a little more complicated than this, b ...more
Oct 02, 2007 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
keith koenigsberg
May 21, 2008 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
Nov 29, 2007 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. ...more
Jul 13, 2015 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
Jan 29, 2013 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
Jul 05, 2007 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. ...more
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is extremely dated, but nevertheless is high pulpit preaching to the choir. He redefines and redefines. He explains his own cause and effect beliefs more than he frames realities for those people he defines.

He is not completely wrong in any cultural wars sense of comparisons, but at the same time with all his adjective and practices home population descriptions, he doesn't really understand identity or self-identity of the voter bases all that much. Furthermore, he quite adequately describe
Sean Sullivan
Jan 02, 2008 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
Marti Garlett
Jul 17, 2012 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
Sep 04, 2014 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
"Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.”
― Thomas Frank, What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

It is not just Kansas that is discussed here. It is a book that really offers some serious insight
into different parts of the country and why we all vote as we do.

Alot of books
Aug 29, 2010 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
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The most autobiographical from one of the preeminent spokespersons for the economics of capitalism and (surprisingly) pop culture. This tells of his youth and intellectual development and, ultimately, seeks to understand his fellow man's inexplicable support of policies that harm him. Or such is his position. This is highly readable and will stimulate your thinking! Frank's writes a monthly page in Harper's magazine that is always fresh and provocative. ...more
Olivia "So many books--so little time.""
It provided an excellent explanation as to why right-wing nutjobs are so prevalent in the hinterlands.
Dec 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A nonfiction book attempting to explain the upswing in conservative voters in the midwest and other rural areas. It's a bit out of date; it was published only in 2004 but things change fast in the politics game. Nonetheless, this book is pretty amazingly prescient; a lot of his discussion of conservative Republicans choosing to vote for their values (pro-life and anti-gay marriage in particular) against their own economic self-interest could apply perfectly to the Trump tax bill that passed just ...more
Scott Rhee
Sep 04, 2012 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
Feb 14, 2010 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
Nov 21, 2008 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
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In writing "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America," author Thomas Frank has written such a conclusive account of conservative political stratagem that it should be a defining cornerstone of contemporary political insight. Insightful, funny, and shocking all at the same time, What's the Matter with Kansas has provided this reader with thought on the relationship of class and politics for months, years, and dare i say decades to come. With Frank's home state as ...more
Oct 05, 2013 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
Jul 24, 2016 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
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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. ...more

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