[Review] “Why We Are Polarized” by Ezra Klein

Photo by Parker Johnson on Unsplash

I am a big fan of Ezra Klein’s podcast and listening to Why We Are Polarized in the audiobook format made the book feel like a 7-hour long podcast episode.

In the book, Klein provides a detailed history of polarization in American politics, focussing on changes taking place during the 20th and 21st centuries. He draws on research in political science and psychology to explore how identities and political values align/diverge, and how the current moment in American politics is different from/similar to all the others. His central argument is essentially that the last two decades have given rise to “political mega-identities” where the members of the two parties are more sorted not just in political preferences, but also socio-demographic aspects such as race, religion, sexuality etc. but also more mundane identities such as eating habits (vegans are more likely to be democrats). I know relatively little about the actual structure of American government and electioneering (especially embarrassing that because I have lived on the East Coast for the past four years) and found the book fairly edifying on that front.

However, I doubt the book would’ve held my attention in its entirety had I tried to read it from page to page (instead of passively listening). At many points Why We Are Polarized feels like an extended literature review of academic work on the topic — an Ezra Klein trait that works great when he is in conversation with people on his podcast, but less so when his voice is the only one we can hear. I wish we had heard more of his perspectives as well, from his career as a politics reporter and blogger. I didn’t think the book was a waste of time, but also don’t doubt that there may be more engaging work on the same topics out there.

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