Can a football game affect the outcome of an election? What about shark attacks? Or a drought? In a rational world the answer, of course, would be no. But as best-selling historian Rick Shenkman shows in Political Animals, our world is anything but rational.
This isn't because we aren't smart. Instead, modern cues are setting off ancient, instinctive responses that worked to keep us safe in the Stone Age but lead us astray today. Pop culture tells us we can trust our instincts. But science is demonstrating that when it comes to politics, our Stone Age brains can malfunction and misfire. Fortunately, we can learn to override our instincts and ensure that they work in our favor.
Drawing on science, politics, and history, Shenkman explores the hidden reasons behind our political choices and uncovers the invisible forces that are truly responsible for victory or defeat at the ballot box.
©2016 Rick Shenkman (P)2016 Tantor
"An amiable tour of the socioscientific evidence that accounts for our political miscalculations." (Kirkus)
The book suffered from three problems making it less informative than I had hoped. First, the author has a poor grasp of science (and admits as much). He draws overly broad and strong conclusions from evidence, sometimes based on a single study, without considering alternate interpretations or alternate causes for study results. Second, the author clearly was deeply scarred by his support of and denial of wrongdoing by Nixon in college. Far too much of the book is spent on justifying his actions in this respect. Third, as other reviews have pointed out, the author suffers heavily from the very fallacies he illuminates in his book. He explains projection bias, the tendency for people to assume others think and react like they do, then spends a great deal of the book implying that if conservatives properly understood situations, they would believe as he does.
I wanted to like this book, and it does offer insights on why people might flock to figures such as Trump, but overall it was weak -- unless you are interested in his personal struggles to come to terms with his support of Nixon.
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