“Why I am better than you and you are better than someone who didn’t buy this book.” That’s the tagline on the cover, and that made me laugh, so then I wanted to read it.
I think this one is intentionally polarizing and decidedly trying to annoy some people with it’s cover design (ok, and it’s contents), but it does make some interesting points. It says that in the US, rather than the current divide really being between the Rebublicans and Democrats, it’s actually more realistically between the Populists and the Elites. Stein points out that a lot of people are either thinking over feeling (Elites), or feeling over thinking (Populist). And these people can be on either side of the political spectrum. People don’t like being looked down on or patronised, being made to feel like they’re not heard or not good enough, so they don’t like the word “elite” and they don’t like people who they feel think they are better. For example, people who argue with facts and figures in a snooty, condescending way (Elites) when a conspiracy theory that feels like it explains something (Populist) is brought up in conversation, according to Stein. So the Populism mentality is growing. Along with conspiracy theories.
He also talks about people’s loss of faith in science, government and educational institutions and things of that nature, since the 70’s. People are more and more feeling that they can’t trust science, the media, facts, experts, and so they have to go with their gut over evidence, even when the evidence is solid. They may also take anecdotal evidence and how something felt, over empirical evidence. Populists live in a post-truth world.
Stein writes in a conversational, comedic tone and pokes fun at himself and his own pretensions as much as he does at anyone else. He hangs his research and ideas along a loose through line of jokingly saying he’s going out to cure the world of Populism, while heading out into the world to talk to four disparate groups, and then discussing his research with us while telling his story. It’s interesting when he goes into the world of the Elites since they’re not always who you think they are. They’re not a closed group of the rich who run the world. They’re often not even rich at all. I also liked how much he winded up liking a friendly group of people from a Republican voting Texas town when he thought that he wouldn’t.
As I said up top, this one isn’t going to appeal to all of you, so don’t come at me in the comments if you don’t agree with the book. Maybe read it and then go tell Joel Stein how much you hated it and why on his social. I’ll keep my personal thoughts out of the review here. But I can say that it’s funny, well written and researched and has a different point of view. I learned some things.
Read It If: If you read books, according to Stein, you’re already an Elite, so you might as well buy this book. Or, if you’ve noticed people lately using what feels right as an argument over demonstrable facts and wondered what that was about.
Thank you to Hachette for the advance copy of this book for review. In Defense Of Elitism is out now.