The Red State-Blue State Divide, As Seen by Amazon Books

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AUGUST 23, 2012

The Red State-Blue State Divide, As Seen by Amazon Books

Amazon has a fascinating “election heat” map listing the 100 best-selling “red” (i.e., conservative) and “blue” (i.e., liberal) books, and also calculating, based on the number of sales in each state for the top 250 red and blue books,  which states are majority-red and which are majority-blue. The map, which is updated hourly, delivers some bad news—or at least it did when I checked it at 12:45 p.m.

1) America is significantly more red in its reading patterns than in its voting patterns. Only New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont sell more blue books than red ones. Everywhere else sells more red books except Minnesota and Maryland, where it’s a tie.

2) My book (The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis And What We Can Do About It), at 82, only barely makes the list of 100 best-selling blue books, while Joe Stiglitz’s book on the same subject is way up at 8. Hey Joe, how ’bout redistributing some sales my way?

Amazon’s methodology is far from perfect. Winner-Take-All Politics, a book about politics and income inequality by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, is misclassified as a red book, which it most definitely is not. The many volumes of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography are classified as blue books, even though they portray the author of the Great Society as a bit of a monster. I’d say Caro’s books are unclassifiable, reluctant though I am to give up his many book sales for the blue team, which can use all the help it can get. Also unclassifiable is Christopher Hitchens’s final volume of collected essays, Arguable, which is here placed in the red column (where he ranks 82nd, like me).

The most striking finding of all is what the red-book list shows about conservative readers' tastes. Books hating on Obama are very popular—The Amateur, by the bottom-feeding Ed Klein, ranks first, Obama’s America, by Dinesh D’Souza, ranks, fourth, and so on. But books that say nice things about conservative politicians are almost wholly absent. Most surprising of all, No Apology, the campaign manifesto of Mitt Romney—the man Republicans will nominate next week as their presidential candidate—was ranked dead last, at 100, when I first checked. When I checked again, the list had been recalculated. This time, it didn’t make the list at all.

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posted in: technology, timothy noah, amazon, joe stiglitz, maryland, massachusetts, minnesota, new york, vermont, we can, the plank

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