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Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent Hardcover – May 22, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“I just finished reading a book ... it's fascinating. It's called OUR DIVIDED POLITICAL HEART by E.J. Dionne, who I think is one of our most thoughtful public philosophers. And it's the best book he's written in 20 years, in my opinion, since he wrote a book called Why Americans Hate Politics. I highly recommend it.” ―President Bill Clinton

“A fast-paced, historically rigorous explanation of how inaccurate readings of our nation's formation and development reinforce our imbalanced, factually impoverished public debate. Dionne bolsters the intellectual, constitutional and moral foundations on which this stronger, more just America can be rebuilt.” ―The Nation

“A well-mannered, thoughtful attempt to restore civic grace and productive political conversation.” ―Boston Globe

“[A]n earnest effort to reach across the political divide….Dionne takes his readers on a richly researched tour of history to restore the broken consensus about who we are and what America stands for. His case is strong enough, serious enough and grounded enough to challenge those on the other side of the divide to offer a counterargument as rigorously argued as this one.” ―Washington Post

“Engrossing.” ―David Brooks, New York Times

“As he has so often, E.J. Dionne has written a brilliant new book, and it places our current division in political and cultural context.” ―Paul Begala, Newsweek

“[A] mash-up course in philosophy and graduate-level American history, written in an avuncular style with choice nuggets of deadpan wit.” ―Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[I]t would be hard to find a more civil, well-reasoned or hope-filled book about the current polarized state of the country. By all means, read this book.” ―America magazine

“[A] comprehensive, well documented tour through our history.” ―Daily Kos

“[Dionne's] extensive knowledge of Washington allows him to ably illustrate our remarkable political history, and he renews our hope that cooler heads can prevail with a renewed balance of individual rights and the needs of the community.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“[A] much-needed fact-based review of the Constitution, a realistic portrait of its creators, and a balanced history of the ongoing friction in the American psyche between desires for liberty and commonwealth. The book clarifies much misinformation swirling around controversies about the founding fathers, the validity of originalism, and the traditional and historic roles of government and the free market in U.S. society. Tea Partiers and Occupiers alike may be surprised and enlightened by this lucid analysis, all the more convincing for its sympathetic treatment of both sides of the argument.” ―Publishers Weekly

Our Divided Political Heart recalls us to an American past that speaks powerfully, and hopefully, to our present political travails. Every citizen concerned about the state of our politics should read this book.” ―Michael J. Sandel, author of Justice

“This is a brilliant book about America's current political divide. But more importantly, it's an insightful exploration of our nation's history and our ability to balance individualism with community. That sense of balance has been lost, and this book shows how we can restore a shared appreciation for our historic values.” ―Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin

“E. J. Dionne is the thoughtful conservative's favorite liberal, and the liberal all the rest of us learn from. Our Divided Political Heart is at once a grand arc of American thought from the nation's founding, and an up-to-the-minute diagnosis of the weird and sudden turn we've taken in left-right relations. With malice toward none, Dionne nevertheless sounds the alarm about the new threat to the "long consensus" that's been key to our stability and our national greatness. A thrilling book, from one of America's most universally respected minds. You should buy it.” ―Rachel Maddow

“This is E. J. Dionne's best yet, a mature work pulsating with historical discovery, intellectual energy, and moral rigor. One of our most eminent, most up-to-the-minute reporter-columnists turns out to be as wired into the American political world of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries as he is to the candidates, think tanks, consultants, and talk-radio fantasists of 2012. He takes us on a sweeping, surprising journey that vividly illuminates who we are and how we got here, devastatingly debunks what some among us think about who we are and how we got here, and shines a light on the neglected commonalities beneath our seemingly intractable conflicts, revealing some national strengths that, with a bit of wisdom and a bit of luck, just might take us to a better place. ” ―Hendrik Hertzberg, author of Politics and Obámanos!

“E. J. Dionne sagely reminds us that our country's main political tradition has always been ordered toward flourishing communities as well as free individuals. Conservatives will find much to disagree with in Dionne's interpretation of that tradition, but they will also be educated and stimulated.” ―Ramesh Ponnuru, Senior Editor, National Review, and author of Party of Death

“Are Americans rugged individualists? Are we community-loving civic republicans? The answer to both questions, writes E. J. Dionne in his wise new book, is yes. We value individualism but not as an end in itself; we value community but not at the expense of fundamental liberties. And contrary to the Tea Party's noisy revisionism, this is what the Founders believed as well. Twenty years after his classic of political journalism, Why Americans Hate Politics, Dionne has once again excavated our current political dilemmas and shown how we can rise above them.” ―Jacob S. Hacker, coauthor of Winner-Take-All Politics

“E. J. Dionne is the latest in a long line of serious American journalists who are also serious thinkers in their own right. It is therefore not surprising that he has written an extraordinary book at an extraordinary time in our history. Dionne shows us that we can't understand our present unless we understand where we came from. Moving beyond a sound bite version of our history he gives us a deeply informed and eminently readable account of our story with all its conflicts, failures, and triumphs. He has written a book for all of us who consider ourselves citizens of the American Republic, a book that not only speaks to where we are at this perilous moment, but of where we need to go. In a word, this book is indispensable.” ―Robert Bellah, coauthor of Habits of the Heart and author of Religion in Human Evolution.

“Through all the twists and turns of American history E. J. Dionne brings his story straight to the point: We aren't the nation of pure individualism that many imagine, and we never have been. Our Divided Political Heart is the tale of how the old familiar communitarian America became alien to us; in the insightful style we expect from Dionne it delivers a sharp shock of recognition.” ―Thomas Frank, author of What's The Matter with Kansas?

“E. J. Dionne's compelling exploration of the dual traditions that compose the American ideology is indispensible for anyone who wants to understand how the past both shapes our present conflicts and can help us imagine a better future.” ―Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers

“E. J. Dionne is an intellectual and civic treasure. In this brilliant and timely book, he reminds those to his right that the moral compass of true conservatism points to community and compassion. He reminds his fellow progressives that not being allergic to national government is not the same thing as making it work in a humane and cost-effective fashion. Beautifully written, meticulously researched, and persuasively argued, here is an historically informed how-to manual for recognizing and reversing the worst aspects of our nation's polarized politics. Read this book and get ready for the revival.” ―John J. DiIulio, Jr., Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

“E.J. Dionne is a unique voice in American public life. Our Divided Political Heart reflects his sustained engagement with American history and harvests his sophisticated understanding of our present predicament to explain why our politics has turned so sour in recent years. Astutely diagnosing the persistent tensions in American culture between individualism and community, Dionne also points the way from our current soul sickness toward a democratic renaissance.” ―James T. Kloppenberg, author of Reading Obama

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a columnist for the Washington Post, and University Professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University. He appears weekly on NPR and regularly on MSNBC and NBC's Meet the Press. His twice-weekly op-ed column is now syndicated in 140 newspapers. His writing has been published in the Atlantic, the New Republic, the American Prospect, the Washington Post Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Commonweal, New Statesman, and elsewhere. He is the author, editor, or coeditor of numerous books, including the classic bestseller Why Americans Hate Politics, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was nominated for the National Book Award. His most recent book is Souled Out. Dionne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with wife, Mary Boyle, and their three children.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st US Edition edition (May 22, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608192016
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608192014
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #763,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Authors writing about political partisanship try not to offend either side--lest liberals and conservatives retreat to their talking points and shut down debate. To avoid appearing too partisan they analyze how historical precedents (especially those set forth by the founders or in the Constitution) relate to our current situation. For example:

* In Drift, Rachel Maddow cites how the founders (particularly Jefferson) rejected large standing militaries but how presidents since Reagan have found roundabout ways to conduct continuous military actions.
* In It's Even Worse Than It Looks, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein describe how the constitutional system struggles to work within the ideology-driven environment that has evolved over the last 40 years.
* In The Republican Brain, Chris Mooney explicitly recommends such a story strategy--"liberals and scientists should find some key facts--the best facts--and integrate them into stories that move people [and]... here is where you really have to admire conservatives. Their narrative of the founding of the country, which casts the U.S. as a "Christian nation" and themselves as the Tea Party, is a powerful story that perfectly matches their values. It just happens to be wrong. But liberals will never defeat it factually--they have to tell a better story of their own."

This is kind of the strategy E.J. Dionne takes in Our Divided Political Heart but with some interesting twists. As a Brookings colleague of Thomas Mann, Dionne's narrative shares some similarities with Mann's description of how and when conservatives got onto their current path. But Dionne doesn't focus much on conservatives vs. liberals or on ways to resolve the current impasse.
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Format: Hardcover
When "liberal" versus "conservative" has become a daily diet among op-ed columnists, what a treasure it is to read a conscientious journalist committed to discovering, describing, and synthesizing historical interpretations regarding the contradictory duality of individual and community responsibility which is the heart and strength of American democracy. Dionne credits President Clinton for one of the most dramatic illustrations of this philosophy by pulling a penny from his pocket and reading from the side next to Lincoln's picture the single word, "Liberty" and turning it over to read from the other side, "E Pluribus Unum" -- Out of Many, One.

E.J. Dionne's "Our Divided Political Heart" is challenging reading but deeply rewarding. He emphasizes the fact that historical interpretations both reflect and shape current policy. He cites the example of President Reagan popularizing the ideal of Winthrop's "City on a Hill" but practically no one who admires the slogan is aware that the Puritan leader admonished his fellow citizens "We must delight in each other, make others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our community as members of the same body." Only when struck by disasters such as a tornado or hurricane do large numbers of us reflect that standard. We find no irony in idolizing cultural heroes from both sides of this heritage -- think "It's a Wonderful Life" and "High Noon.
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Format: Hardcover
"This book is an effort to make sense of our current political unhappiness, to offer an explanation for why divisions in our politics run so deep, and to reflect on why we are arguing so much about our nation's history and what it means."--E. J. Dionne's

E. J. Dionne's is my favorite rational liberal political commentator; discussing around a Sunday table with David Brooks will always make my day. The days of political camaraderie are over, but the gifted analyst still prescribes some viable medicines to the current poisoned political milieu. We cannot compromise because we lost the core of our identity, that motivates our exceptionalism. EJ claims: one reason underlying our irritating political lockout, is caused by polarized minds and ego centered hearts; extreme individuality is paralyzing our political will.

Dionne narrates in a vivid analytical tour of American sociopolitical history, the Progressives and the 'New Dealers', starting with the Founding Fathers all the way to the Populists. He offers a compelling analysis of America's contemporary politics, and its current situation that puzzles the American voters at large, as well as the conventional wisdom of political analysts. The federal government has been always considered the active executive partner putting into reality the American population's dreams of opportunity and prosperity.

"A yearning to reverse decline played just below the surface in Obama's campaign in 2008. His victory was a response to a national mood conditioned by anxiety. ..., Americans worried that in the first decade of the new millennium, their country had squandered its international advantages, degraded its power ... in Iraq, and wrecked the federal government's finances.
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