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What Were We Thinking

A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era



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About The Book

The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book critic uses the books of the Trump era to argue that our response to this presidency reflects the same failures of imagination that made it possible.

As a book critic for The Washington Post, Carlos Lozada has read some 150 volumes claiming to diagnose why Trump was elected and what his presidency reveals about our nation. Many of these, he’s found, are more defensive than incisive, more righteous than right.

In What Were We Thinking, Lozada uses these books to tell the story of how we understand ourselves in the Trump era, using as his main characters the political ideas and debates at play in America today. He dissects works on the white working class like Hillbilly Elegy; manifestos from the anti-Trump resistance like On Tyranny and No Is Not Enough; books on race, gender, and identity like How to Be an Antiracist and Good and Mad; polemics on the future of the conservative movement like The Corrosion of Conservatism; and of course plenty of books about Trump himself.

Lozada’s argument is provocative: that many of these books—whether written by liberals or conservatives, activists or academics, Trump’s true believers or his harshest critics—are vulnerable to the same blind spots, resentments, and failures that gave us his presidency. But Lozada also highlights the books that succeed in illuminating how America is changing in the 21st century. What Were We Thinking is an intellectual history of the Trump era in real time, helping us transcend the battles of the moment and see ourselves for who we really are.

About The Author

Photograph © Bill O'Leary

Carlos Lozada is an opinion columnist at The New York Times and cohost of the Matter of Opinion podcast. He has won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism and is the author of What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era and The Washington Book

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (October 6, 2020)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982145620

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Raves and Reviews

What Were We Thinking is crisp, engaging and very smart...There is a simple, piercing clarity to many of Lozada's observations.” New York Times Book Review

"A book that solemnly analyses 150 often trashy books about someone who is not known to have read a single book and hired stooges to write the 20 self-puffing volumes published in his name? Yes, Carlos Lozada’s survey of what he archly calls 'Trump Studies' is all of those paradoxical things and it is an utter marvel: sober though frequently very funny, fairer minded than the subject deserves, in the end profoundly troubling even as it looks ahead to America’s recovery from the Trump malaise.” The Guardian

“An immensely valuable book... Thoughtful, clever and engaging... Lozada offers a brilliant, wrenching analysis." —The Washington Post

"An elegant yet lacerating volume... In a low period for American democracy, Lozada aims high"The Guardian

"The meta Trump book you didn't know you wanted (and needed) to read... Lozada’s book is in conversation with the best books he touches on, by authors like Jill Lepore and Timothy Snyder, drawing out an American narrative that encompasses all its complexity and unmet promise." The Los Angeles Times

"A must-read." Political Wire

"[An] engrossing, insightful book." The National Book Review

“A Rosetta Stone for anyone trying to make sense of the last few years of public debate and discourse.” –Vanity Fair

"Lozada has written the ultimate hot take on the Trump era of American politics. Unquestionably, the years ahead will be filled with history books about the Trump legacy, but for right now, leaders would be smart to start with this book." Forbes

“Probably the best book about the Trump presidency so far is Carlos Lozada’s What Were We Thinking, in which the author, The Washington Post’s excellent book critic, read 150 books written during the Trump years and analyzed what their perspectives told us about the man and his time in the White House. His conclusions, and I share them, are that in essence the Trump presidency was uniquely chaotic and yet at the same time a reflection of deeply embedded characteristics of American society." Peter Osnos

?“Ranging and witty.... Somewhere between a survey and a book review and a psychoanalytic portrait of an age.” —Jacob Siegel, Manifesto! podcast

"A fine reduction of complexity that serves any interested reader as a compass, enabling them to navigate through the rough seas of recent American politics... The strength of this book lies in the fact that it questions taken-for-granted assumptions and catch-all, simplistic conceptualisations such as 'neoliberalism', 'populism' and even 'fascism'. Instead the author reads between the lines. He detects not only some finer points that often get lost in the noise of all the scandals but also sees in the Trump administration a kind of dialectic between continuity and rupture."— Dublin Review of Books

“Lozada is. . . one of the rising stars in Washington's cultural, political, and journalistic world, which he knows and describes with depth and finesse. His book is not just an editorial guide to the Trump era, but a lucid analysis of the time in which we live. Its usefulness, therefore, transcends the limits of American democracy.” — El País

"Washington Post book critic Lozada debuts with an incisive survey of the 150 nonfiction books he’s read on the Trump era....Readers will appreciate this useful guide." —Publisher's Weekly

"A nimble overview of the library of Trumpiana" —Kirkus Review

"Kudos to Carlos Lozada for his wide-ranging survey of the many books written about the Trump era. Being able to digest more than 150 books on this topic is itself a literary feat, but he managed to write with a degree of objectivity most of us find difficult to attain during this conflicted time." Letter to the editor, The Washington Post

"No matter who wins in November, 'What were we thinking?' will be a pertinent question for years." Washingtonian Magazine

"Lozada highlights where these books succeed and where they fail, providing a comprehensive perspective on contemporary America." Book Trib

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