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The Political Mind: A Cognitive Scientist's Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics Paperback – June 2, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (June 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143115685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143115687
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lakoff (Don't Think of an Elephant) harnesses cognitive science to rally progressive politicians and voters by positing that conservatives have framed the debate on vital issues more effectively than liberals. According to his research, conservatives comprehend that most brain functioning is grounded not in logical reasoning but in emotionalism—as a result, huge portions of the citizenry accept the Republican framing of the war in Iraq and supporting the troops rather than liberal appeals and phrasing of the occupation in Iraq and squandering tax money. George W. Bush won the presidency by concocting a redemption narrative, persuading tens of millions of voters that his past moral and business shortcomings should be viewed as a prelude to pulling himself up, rather than as disqualifying behavior. While sections of the book employ technical scientific terminology, the author masterfully makes his research comprehensible to nonspecialists. His conclusion—that if citizens and policy-makers better understand brain functioning, hope exists to ameliorate global warming and other societal disasters in the making—will be of vital importance and interest to all readers. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


" Unyielding, provocative, ambitious . . . filled with fascinating scientific research, is apt to find a receptive audience among citizens who hunger for a new progressive renaissance."
-San Francisco Chronicle

More About the Author

George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1972. He previously taught at Harvard and the University of Michigan. He graduated from MIT in 1962 (in Mathematics and Literature) and received his PhD in Linguistics from Indiana University in 1966. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Don't Think of an Elephant!, among other works, and is America's leading expert on the framing of political ideas.

George Lakoff updates may be followed on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+. Find these links, a complete bibliography, and more at

Customer Reviews

Really, "all" Lakoff does is give us a metaphor for thinking about what works, so we can implement the methodology effectively.
If you really like both of those books, then you might also like this book (though I'd still recommend that you read Lakoff's "Moral Politics" first).
Gregory J. Casteel
The author starts by writing that for decades the majority of Americans have been thinking in a way that makes them think like conservatives think.
James Bonhamton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

170 of 193 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on June 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
George Lakoff, cognitive scientist and political commentator, returns in The Political Mind to themes already made familiar in earlier books such as Moral Politics (2002), Don't Think of an Elephant (2004) and Whose Freedom? (2007). He argues that political discourse arises from a process of conceptual and metaphorical framing which ultimately is grounded in the way the brain works, and that an understanding of this process is essential for successful political campaigns.

I don't know that there's really anything in The Political Mind that Lakoff hasn't already said in one form or another elsewhere (the primary reason for the three-star rating). But he does stress here what he sees as the errors of the theory of mind he argues was formed by the Enlightenment and which political progressives still assume today. Lakoff characterizes that theory as stressing the transparency of mind, drawing a sharp division between reason and emotion, and assuming that reason is a universal human capacity that accurately describes the world. But nothing in this model, asserts Lakoff, is correct. Much of what we call the mind is unconscious; what we think, because of our tendency to operate through largely unconscious metaphorical frames, is largely constitutive rather than straightforwardly conceptual; and reason is rarely dispassionately reflective.

So what's the connection between all this and politics? Simply, claims Lakoff, that progressive politicians still buy into the Enlightenment model of mind, and operate accordingly in trying to influence voters and win elections. "Rational" arguments in the Enlightenment mode are ineffective because they rest on a false understanding of how the mind works--the assumption that our decisions are made consciously, abstractly, and dispassionately.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Ken Ransford on July 18, 2008
Format: Hardcover
We think in metaphors, and words describe metaphors. A metaphor is a description like "He's cold as ice." He's not cold, he's unfriendly, but we know what it means. Metaphors form neural pathways, or connections, between neurons. The more we activate the pathways, the stronger they become, and the more we accept them as true. Metaphors, words, thoughts, and language therefore have a neurological basis that result from physical transformation of brains (actual physiological change to brain cells similar to increased muscle mass that results from weight lifting).

Republicans have intuitively known this and have used language to create metaphors and neural pathways that have become dogmatic in America--example: tax relief, page 234. Relief is not normally connected to taxes (road building, social security, and armed forces result from taxes, not relief). However, tax relief has become a metaphor in the US that is identified as generally good, and puts anyone who criticizes the concept on the defensive.

The conservative Republican model society is based on Old Testament concepts: right and wrong are absolute. It is based on a strict father model (page 78) that relies on discipline. The father tells the children how to behave and punishes them if they do not heed the father. Children learn discipline so they will do the right thing without question (think of Marines who obey commands in the heat of war as described in the book Flags of Our Fathers, James Bradley and Ron Powers, 2001). Obeying authority without questioning it is paramount. That's why Republicans supported President Bush's pardon of Scooter Libby for lying to Congress - Libby was merely obeying orders.
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77 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Michael P. Maslanka on June 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
While building on his previous books, Lakoff also gets into a new area: the use of narratives in poltics.The DWIs and purorted drug use of President Bush ,standing alone, never mattered because people saw him through the narrative of Redemption, the overcoming of adversity and the possibility of salvation. The opening section on Anna Nicole Smith and the narratives used to view her contain some of the book's best writing. it also helps explain the power of Senator Clinton---women who have it rough(sex discrimination, faithless husband etc) don't just identify with her, they are her and she is them as she struggled for the nomination. He hammers away ,as before on frames and the building of them. As a trial attorney I see this all the time---if the other side responds to my framing, I will usually win because in telling their "story" they just end up repeating mine. Instead, to be persuasive you must create a different story. The Dems are still having a hard time grasping this fundamental truth.Some good stuff on how we are wired for empathy. He coins a new word "privateering" for what happens when a government function is abandoned by government and handed over to corporations; ie a wealth transfer, think no bid contracts a la Iraq and Katrina.The book is like chocolate cake---almost too rich, and it loses focus as it goes along. Still , it deserves a 5 star rating because it is a book of ideas, which is always welcome, no matter party affliation.
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Bartmore Grund on June 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is Lakoff's latest and most fascinating elaboration of mind/metaphor theory since its appearance in "Women, Fire and Dangerous Things" (1987). It is arguably the most important, too, as his discussion makes sense of the reasons behind stark differences we may notice in disparate attitudes about pressing things that matter to us here and now - public policies, policy makers, and the institutions of power that touch our lives.

Drawing on the latest brain science and a very nice range of examples to support his case, Lakoff develops logically persuasive and easily understood models for the cognitive cause-and-effect relationships that emerge as political differences. So straightforward are these approaches to discerning and understanding political differences voiced in public discourse that they prove again the case he has been building for what's really going on beneath the surface.

Students/readers of linguistics, communication theory, sociology, political science, cultural studies, philosophy/epistemology would find this book illuminating and invaluable.
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