... superbly researched and written ... Klein has done his homework in reviewing the extensive academic literature on the subject and interviewing scores of actors immersed in practical politics ... provides a highly useful guide to this most central of political puzzles, digesting mountains of social science research and presenting it in an engaging form. There are two areas of weakness, however, in an overall outstanding volume...The first has to do with the central contention that our current polarization is fundamentally about race. Klein dismisses economic drivers of populism like globalization and the loss of working-class jobs, noting that if those were the fundamental issues, then left-wing populism rather than the nativist variety should have seen a big upsurge in support ... The book’s second weakness lies in suggested solutions, which Klein admits are not his strong point. Normatively and as a matter of practical politics, no reform is conceivable that disproportionately benefits one party over the other: His suggestions of congressional representation for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, or abolition of the electoral college, may be desirable in themselves but will never pass until the Democrats take over all three branches of government (in which case our polarization problem will have been largely solved) ... Klein dismisses complaints about political correctness and identity politics on the left, but a politics built on the grievances of ever narrower identity groups breeds similar thinking on the right, and it cannot be the basis for a broader democratic, civic identity that is the ultimate answer to polarization.
... delivers ... Klein describes neatly and concisely what has changed in our electoral politics ... Klein has few answers...even these measures, commendable though they may be, are a very heavy lift ... In the end, he offers simply the hope that as Americans become more aware of the cancer of our current identity politics, they will make efforts to reduce their own involvement. I hope he is right. I fear that, notwithstanding his thoughtful, clear and persuasive analysis, we have a long and torturous path ahead.
It does not fully succeed: The sources of our divide appear more complicated than Klein suggests, and the path beyond polarization will be more fraught than he lets on ... Of all the forces thought to drive political attitudes and action, Klein focuses almost exclusively on the behavioral dynamics theorized by evolutionary psychologists ... Yet the state of American politics appears altogether different from partisan arrangements across the world ... the psychological perspective also leaves one with a muddled view of the American sociopolitical scene ... Oddly for a book by the co-founder of Vox—maybe America’s top publisher of policy journalism—Why We’re Polarized leaves little room for material politics. Of all the identities Klein examines, economic class is mentioned the least ... The way forward lies in convincing Americans not to retreat from national politics but to think even more broadly and abstractly about where this country ought to go. Why We’re Polarized does some of the job, but leaves a daunting truth unsaid: To fight polarization, we’ll have to get much more polarized. The only way out is through.
By weaving together a composite of group psychological theory and political history in the trademark, rigorously logical style of Vox’s Explainer series, journalism, Klein traces the path of polarization ... Klein is astute in diagnosing the agitation and protection of identity as the primary driver in the polarization of politics; we guard our identities fiercely (even trivial ones), an unconscious or preconscious precaution rather than an intellectual one. But it is important to ask: How much does this reading of politics leave out? Klein’s willingness to cede autonomy to group psychology resolves in a neat, unified theory because it downplays the friction that culture, history and social frameworks have on our behavior ... Klein gives little attention to the venue where our most fractious, hyperpolarized arguments over identity occur: the internet ... The incentives of this structure have proven their ability to change our brain chemistry, which doesn’t seem like a coincidence in our current political era, in which Klein argues we are more polarized than ever.
Mr. Klein is someone who is allergic to quick fixes and simple explanations ... The book, Mr. Klein’s first, is thorough. It’s engaging ... I found myself more engaged by the energy he devotes to analyzing language. A lesser text or article might say our system is ‘broken’ as a result of ‘polarization’ driven by ‘identity politics,’ but Mr. Klein interrogates the use of each word in that sentence ... Mr. Klein’s generosity as someone who quotes extensively is what I view to be the second reason to recommend Why We’re Polarized above other polarization texts ... Mr. Klein is at his best in his writing, in his book, on his podcasts when he is deeply engaged with the views of others. He’s a born, gifted synthesizer. In book form, this gift can be a little halting at times. Practically every chapter begins by examining a 20th century study, which can start to feel like an unnecessary step backward. But the move is representative of Mr. Klein’s comfort zone. He wants to gather information. He wants to see if it changes his mind about the causes of polarization.
That the Republican Party has been more affected by polarization...might be what explains Ezra Klein’s neglect of economic factors and his bias against the structure of some American institutions in favor of changes that would result in more proactive governance. His neglect of economic factors is a major weakness of the book. Incomplete or unpersuasive institutional arguments should be a weakness, but given that his views here are either objectionable and lack force, or just lack force, we have a weak chapter instead of a distracting chapter in an otherwise excellent book. Why We’re Polarized is already set up to be one of the most cutting and intelligent books on American politics this year.
Citing a range of primary sources and firsthand interviews, Klein reiterates that the United States is sorted into racial, religious, cultural, and geographic identities, which have led to Democrats becoming more diverse and Republicans more homogeneous. He effectively explains the impact of weak parties and strong partisanship, which can lead to demagogues ... By combining political history with social commentary, this book will retain relevancy ... With YA crossover appeal, Klein’s accessible work is for anyone wondering how we got here; it shows how understanding history can help us plan for the future.
A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant ... The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution ... A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.
... timely, thought-provoking ... Klein’s multifaceted approach draws on the work of political scientists, media critics, and social psychologists to address why individuals choose allegiance to party over policy, the pros and cons of identity politics, and the inherent instability of a presidential republic, among other topics. His pithy assessments hit the mark more often than not, and political junkies as well as general readers will learn from his analysis of the U.S. media landscape. Klein provides unique insight into how journalists decide what stories to cover, and how that process contributes to a closed feedback loop in which efforts to persuade are less appealing to audiences than content that stokes partisan feelings. Klein’s modest set of principles for how the electoral system might 'function amid polarization' may disappoint readers looking for more comprehensive solutions, but his thoughtful, evenhanded outlook fits the seriousness of the subject. This precise and persuasive guide helps to make sense of the current state of American politics.