For a very different view of the world, consider What’s the Matter with Kansas, by Thomas Frank. If Wikinomics, the Wisdom of Crowds, and The World is Flat are unblushingly optimistic (although they warn of the need to adapt or be left behind) anthems of the new world order, then this book is a cold dash of perspective reality. Frank fans the flames of culture war, attempting to understand why “ordinary folk” have gone Republican. For liberals and intellectuals–the blue state crowd–this book confirms our worst nightmares.
But there is a great deal of substance in the story and it is story I relate to deeply, not just because I’ve been asking myself the same question, but because I wrote my political science thesis on the Populist Party…and to see today’s conservatives as the descendants of that movement is deeply troubling. The book is tiring in its negativity and the whole exercise is a bit arrogant. What’s wrong with Kansas? If the answer is just they all went Republican, that’s missing the point. This culture war crap just closes our minds to any kind of authentic understanding of the real challenges people face in their lives. After reading this book, you should read Barak Obama’s Audacity of Hope and recover a bit of optimism and faith in your fellow Americans.