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The Second Civil War: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America Hardcover – November 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With this intelligent and expansive book, Los Angeles Times political correspondent and columnist Brownstein dissects the hyperpartisanship that he believes has unnecessarily inflamed our differences and impeded progress against our most pressing challenges. The first half of the book examines the roots of this hyperpartisanship, beginning with the 1896 election of William McKinley, which the author argues ushered in four decades of fierce partisan division. The 1938 resurgence of the Republican Party marked the start of the age of bargaining, with presidents and legislators crossing party lines to govern through consensus. The author believes both parties became more ideologically consistent during the 1960s, resulting in a sorting out of the electorate that eventually led to today's partisan divisiveness. This thorough history lays the groundwork for Brownstein's incisive analysis of the contemporary Republican and Democratic parties. He resists blaming any one party or president for the state of contemporary American politics, instead attributing partisan divisions to interest groups, changes in congressional rules and practices and the realignment of the parties and electorate. This sophisticated though lengthy book lays out a complex history with lucid precision, painting a damning portrait of contemporary politics that's sure to provoke and captivate readers interested in American politics and history. (Nov. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“ Brownstein knows what he’s talking about.”
—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

—Allan Brinkley, The New York Times Book Review
“ [From] one of America’s best political journalists . . . a sparkling new book.”
The Economist --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First Edition edition (November 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201390
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201394
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,859,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

It was the smallest re-election margin ever since the two-party system began in 1828.
Loyd E. Eskildson
This is a book that contributes to the conversation - a conversation that will optimistically lead to another era of cooperation.
Chris Gregory
Politics and History-- This is a well written book, well thought out and thoroughly researched.
Bill W. Baker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on December 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ronald Brownstein's new book, "The Second Civil War", offers up much to be digested in history, calculation, process and outlook. The author, a distinguished contributor to the national political scene, has studied American politics from McKinley to Bush. We seem to be right back where we started from, with a mid-twentieth century romp through bipartisanhip.

Brownstein's book is a fair comparison of how the country felt and voted at any given time since 1896. The era from McKinley to Hoover more or less matched the hyperpartisanship of today, while FDR's time through the 1980s allowed for compromise and historic legislation. While this is a comprehensive work of age-old politics, it's really more about the last fifteen years....the era of Clinton and "W". This is the part of "The Second Civil War" where Brownstein makes his mark and it's clear he has some distinct opinions. The Gingrich crowd, never a particularly likeable American flavor favorite, began the ball rolling in earnest toward a "take-no-prisoners" approach to Congress, heightened only by the intense partisanship of the Bush presidency. In so many words, Brownstein points out that because of this, we've lost more than we've gained and it will take years of rebuilding to set things straight. He's right, of course, and I kept wondering while reading this book if we've really hit the political nadir just yet in America.

I highly recommend "The Second Civil War" for its insight and depth. Ronald Brownstein has done a remarkable job in putting this book together and it should be read by all who have a serious interest in American politics and those who care about where this country might be headed in that regard.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joan M. Swan on December 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ron Brownstein does a masterful job of describing the nature of partisanship and bipartisanship in the US Congress from 1896 to the present. He describes the situations and attitudes that led to the extreme partisanship from 1896 to 1932. He consistently lauds bipartisanship in the making of public policy but he also describes the splits in the majopr parties that made bipartisanship both possible and necessary. I disagree with his present analysis of the need for, and desirability of, bipartisanship today. Nonetheless he does a masterful job of describing the present basis for the present extreme partisanship which he decries. His recommendations for a more bipartisan approach to policy making makes a lot of sense. I just think that the country is moving more to a realignment than he thinks. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in the present, unhealthy gridlock read this book.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Alan A. Elsner VINE VOICE on September 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Why is is so difficult for Congress or the President of the United States to get anything done? Why is it that our elected leaders cannot tackle so many of the deep and important challenges facing the nation? Journalist Ron Brownstein attempts to answer these important questions in this provocative and illuminating book.
Full disclosure: I know the author. We both covered national politics, he for the Los Angeles Times and I for Reuters in the 1996 and 2000 presidential race. We were friendly but and not personal friends, although, I deeply respect his judgment and talent.
Brownstein argues that partisan politics have become so bitter, toxic and divisive that neither party has any interest in cooperating with the other even when the national interest demands it. Both parties have become beholden to their political bases which have become bitterly antagonistic, professing loyalty to widely divergent cultural values. Yet, in order to get anything done, it remains necessary to build bipartisan coalitions. It may be possible to narrowly win elections based primarily on energizing the base, as Bush did in 2004, but when important national challenges loom, a president who has not reached out to the other party invariably finds it impossible to govern effectively on the shaky basis of such a narrow majority.
In an exhaustive historic review, Brownstein goes through previous periods of American history. The Republicans from the 1890s to 1929, governed in a similar way -- and were turned out of power after they were blamed for the Great Depression for decades. In the 1940s and 1950s, both sides reached out more to the center, forming bipartisan coalitions. In those days both parties were much more diverse than today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bill W. Baker on February 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Politics and History--

This is a well written book, well thought out and thoroughly researched. The strongest case it makes is neither for conservatives nor liberals, but the need for moderation. Those rare times when the parties have worked together have been the only times that the Washington powers have achieved worthwhile goals. Polarized and uncompromising times produce nothing but threats, and not since the Civil War--not even Vietnam and Iraq--has the country be so divided. We might as well be shooting at each other as killing with wrong headed policies and laws that express nothing but the extreme views that are arrived at by brute power rather then compromises and modeeration. That, too, is a civil war, just a different kind, but, in many cases, just as damaging.
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