Top critical review
Great Start Ends Badly
Reviewed in the United States on January 28, 2020
What began as a mostly balanced examination of why Americans are polarized transformed into multiple attacks on everything on the Right. It was almost as if two books had been written.
In the first half, author Ezra Klein seemed to try hard to be fair in his analysis, although from time to time he did inject his own political views. I concentrated on considering if the information Mr. Klein presented made sense, allowing his examples to strengthen his point that as our identities (everything we are that is primarily considered non-political) activate under one umbrella (our political identity), they become stronger. In his own words, “Our political identities have become political mega-identities.” Further into the book, Mr. Klein makes the point even clearer when referring to his own opinions: “I can’t tell you that’s not just my motivated reasoning in action.” But the main thrust of the first half of the book is not to point at each of us and show us how we each rationalize to support our beliefs. The question is what this behavior means and how it affects all of us.
The author traces the initial split - over half a century ago - to a time when conservatives and liberals were part of both major parties. The lines are more clearly drawn today, and I can’t remember recently seeing anyone identified as a liberal Republican or a conservative Democrat. The author presents a multitude of facts, surveys, and tests that support what happened politically in America and why we are more divided than ever. If I would have been highlighting old school in a book rather than on my Kindle, I would have gone through several highlighters.
Like many of you, I realized long ago that it is easy and comfortable for all of us to support our own personal views if we only seek them out from those who think the same way we do. For years, I have done my best to read and listen to opposing views, although I can’t say that my own motivated reasoning doesn’t get in the way from time to time. It certainly did for Mr. Klein, who speaks at length about polarization and motivated reasoning yet by the middle of the book used Republicans and conservatives as cannon fodder. Almost every example featured a negative look at Republicans without a matching balance aimed at the Democrats.
Thus, he presents the strongest argument for his premise through personal example. In turn, those who disagree with him may take exception to his comments, thus strengthening the polarization he speaks about. It’s too bad he didn’t take a step back and remove his personal filters, rather than spend the second half of the book echoing the political comments found in pro-Democrat news outlets. While Mr. Klein’s description of why America is so split at this time is spot on, his unnecessary backhand comments and distorted “facts” in the second half of the book do not match his definition of mindfulness in the last chapter, and caused me to rethink the five-star rating I was prepared to give after reading the first half of the book.
I still recommend this book for everyone, no matter where you see yourself on the political spectrum. Knowing why we are so polarized may provide new thoughts for all of us, perhaps offering a path toward working together rather than tearing each other down. Three stars.
My thanks to NetGalley and Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster for an advance complimentary electronic copy of this book.