Why We're Polarized

Narrated by: Ezra Klein
Length: 8 hrs and 32 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.7 out of 5 stars (1,275 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

This New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller shows us that America’s political system isn’t broken. The truth is scarier: It’s working exactly as designed. In this “superbly researched” (The Washington Post) and timely book, journalist Ezra Klein reveals how that system is polarizing us - and how we are polarizing it - with disastrous results. 

“The American political system - which includes everyone from voters to journalists to the president - is full of rational actors making rational decisions given the incentives they face,” writes political analyst Ezra Klein. “We are a collection of functional parts whose efforts combine into a dysfunctional whole.” 

“A thoughtful, clear and persuasive analysis” (The New York Times Book Review), Why We’re Polarized reveals the structural and psychological forces behind America’s descent into division and dysfunction. Neither a polemic nor a lament, this book offers a clear framework for understanding everything from Trump’s rise to the Democratic Party’s leftward shift to the politicization of everyday culture. 

America is polarized, first and foremost, by identity. Everyone engaged in American politics is engaged, at some level, in identity politics. Over the past 50 years in America, our partisan identities have merged with our racial, religious, geographic, ideological, and cultural identities. These merged identities have attained a weight that is breaking much in our politics and tearing at the bonds that hold this country together.

Klein shows how and why American politics polarized around identity in the 20th century and what that polarization did to the way we see the world and one another. And he traces the feedback loops between polarized political identities and polarized political institutions that are driving our system toward crisis.

“Well worth reading” (New York magazine), this is an “eye-opening” (O, The Oprah Magazine) book that will change how you look at politics and perhaps at yourself.

©2020 Ezra Klein (P)2020 Simon & Schuster Audio

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    4 out of 5 stars

Good as an intro, skip if you’re a wonk

I’ll admit to being somewhat disappointed that large sections of the book are somewhat common knowledge. For example, have you heard of the backfire effect? What about confirmation bias? That’s a chapter, at least. There’s another chapter that discusses the media and totally fails to highlight the biases that institutions like the New York Times and other national news outlets have toward sensationalism. Felt like that chapter needed a few more threads woven in. I do agree with the overall thesis of the book though, and it certainly is a nice bundling of concepts that everyone should know — this would be a good read for a mid-level political science student — but none of it would be particularly revelatory for anyone who’s poked their head into the DC bubble for any serious length of time. Good audiobook production, but I’d expect nothing less from a podcaster. Overall I’d say it’s good, just not great.

26 people found this helpful

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Good book, bad recording

I've listened to Ezra's podcast since the beginning, so was very excited to pick up this book. I loved the content. Very thought-provoking, with a great history on how we got to this point of ultra political polarization. I have a huge problem with the recording. Ezra seems rushed, and words slur together. He's a much clearer speaker in his podcast. The engineer also seems to have gone way overboard with the de-esser. It sounds like Ezra's mouth is full when he's speaking. The poor audio quality is extremely surprising, coming from a major publisher.

15 people found this helpful

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  • AL
  • 01-31-20

It's books like this that add to the polarization

A one sided, ignorant piece of work. This author should add his name to the reasons of why this country is polarized.

11 people found this helpful

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Incredible. Splendid. Era-defining.

I've listened to hundreds of hours of the Ezra Klein Show, and to be honest, aside from the substance of the book (which I'm sure won't differ that much from what Ezra does on the podcast) the fact that it's recited by the author makes the experience that much more enjoyable to me. I haven't finished it yet, but it's 5 stars right out the gate for me. Keep up the great work, political polarization whisperer.

10 people found this helpful

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Best political book I've read in the last 10 years

This is the best and most illuminating political book I've read in quite some time. The insights in it are compelling and edifying. Politics is often polemic and partisan, and this book largely avoids that in favor of rigorous analysis.

9 people found this helpful

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Reversion to Political Tribes - current analysis

Very readable/listenable book - complete with numerous Sociological Study references backing up - this point or that point. His point is that the 'political amity' of the mid 20th Century America was an anomaly - and that 'the four parties' (Democrats, DixieCrats, Conservative Republicans and Liberal Republicans) - have now 'sorted themselves out' - leading to a sorted set of parties vigorously opposing each other in a political holy war. One key thought I'm still processing is the thread (espoused by the Author as well as Jill LePore in "These Truths" - that after the fall of the Soviet Union (1991)- the United States needed an 'enemy' - and a Domestic Cold War broke out - between the Democrats and Republicans (Gingrich assumes the Speakership of the House in 1994) - and then starts the "holy war" between the parties which begins the slash-and-burn mentality. The Republicans have an advantage because they have one special interest group - older whiter Christians. The Democrats have 'n' special interest groups - who live on a political spectrum - and need to 'balance out' their support of the different groups. Several other points to ponder: The U.S. Culture represents a time and market approximately 10 years into the future. This time and market is multi-racial and young. Nike markets to the young uses Colin Kapernick. The U.S. Political Power represents a time approximately 10 years ago - demonstrated by the Republicans holding power supported by older, whiter Christian Americans who feel "their world" under threat. This is Trump's Base. The Economic Models represent a time about 40-50 years ago. 50 year ago Milton Friedman funded by the then Koch Brothers invented a model to reduce taxes and 'starve' the New Deal. Arthur Laffer took this idea and generated a tax model used by Reagan/Thatcher in the 1980's cutting taxes on the wealthy - with the goal of having these taxes pay for themselves. These tax cuts didn't pay for themselves - generating deficits - also income/wealth inequality became an issue. Each of the above are on different time cycles and impact cycles. Cable TV and the news media contributes to this polarization - due to their Business Models - clicks and revenues favoring the most outrages talking points and rebuttals. The ground rules for today's current set of politicians: Get Elected; Get the Majority; Enact policies favorable to your base. Book begins with an 'even/balanced tone' - later more of his biases present themselves. His suggestions for solutions are 'okay' - a variant of getting more centrist candidates elected with the idea of politicians running and governing "from the Center" - similar suggestions made by Michael Porter - American Competitiveness Institute - about an end to GerryMandering (through an independent Commission) - having one, open primary - where the people who get the most votes go on to the general election (could be two republicans/two democrats). Finally, I didn't hear Ezra Klein "provide a lot of hope" on how this problem would be solved. I heard him say - that the Demographic changes over time 20-24 years could "Turn Texas Blue" - and move the election - [solution through Demographics] but otherwise not a great deal of hope on a solution to this matter. I heard that the current Polarization could be the 'base case' for many years into the future. I'm not sure what this will bode for the U.S. in its Great Power Competition with China, Russia and others. A very interesting book - some key thoughts and analysis on our reversion to Political Tribes. A stray thought as I read about the rise of China and the endangerment of the American Empire - is this Polarization associated with the decline of an Empire? Political junkies would like this book. Carl Gallozzi cgallozzi@comcast.net

7 people found this helpful

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Save your money.Just another bitter liberal view.

Uninformed. Sore loser. Can't be objective with such negatively focused bias. Regardless of your political views this book is not based on facts, only one bitter loses opinion.

7 people found this helpful

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Good diagnosis; weak proposed solutions.

Klein lays out the history and recent Social Science of polarization well. Some proposed solutions are good while others are quite bad. Very much worth the read.

5 people found this helpful

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Some interesting insights

Previously I had thought that getting big money out of politics would be laudable albeit impossible. The following quote is an example of the kind of insights the book provides: “Institutional donors want government to work, it’s true, but they want it to work in their favor. If individual donors give money as a form of identity expression, institutional donors give money as a form of investment. Individual donors are polarizing but institutional donors, they’re corrupting. American politics thus is responsive to two types of people, the polarized and the rich. ... The Supreme Court, in a series of rulings dating back to the 70s, decided that political spending is constitutionally protected speech. So you can’t regulate it out of politics. But that means that the workable reforms tend to toss us between the plans that amplify the power of small donors, which worsen the problems of polarization, or plans that permit institutional money to flood the system, with all of the attendant corruption.”—Ezra Klein, Why We Are Polarized

3 people found this helpful

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good book but just okay narration

I liked the content, but there's definitely something weird going on with the narration. Specifically words running together. At points he sounded drunk.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-12-20

Excellent insight and argument

Really fascinating listen to the history of US politics and how they are today. As always love listening to Ezra speak.