Thomas Frank

ESSAYS


Show all essays by publication: Artforum Magazine | Bookforum | Dalkey Archive Press | Financial Times | Harper's Magazine | Le Monde Diplomatique | London Review of Books | Los Angeles Times | New York Times | Playboy | Rolling Stone Magazine | Salon | The American Prospect | The Guardian | The Nation | The New York Observer | The New York Review of Books | The Wall Street Journal | The Washington Post
Los Angeles Times essays


New York Times columns


Book Reviews

Joe Klein’s Turnip Day, A review of Politics Lost for the New York Observer, May 1, 2006. His bio of Woody Guthrie was better.

The Curmudgeon, Washington Post Book World, February 5, 2006, a review of Marion Elizabeth Rodgers’ comprehensive and impressively researched biography of H. L. Mencken.

Taking names: Anti-liberalism in theory and practice, A review of Bernard Goldberg’s 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, Harper’s Magazine, February 2006. It’s not much of a book, but it speaks encyclopedias about the conservative mindset.

'John Kenneth Galbraith': The Presidents' Man , Review of the excellent biography by Richard Parker, New York Times Book Review, February 27, 2005.

American Psyche, Review of The Great Divide: Retro vs. Metro (and two other books), New York Times Book Review, November 28, 2004. An unfortunate use of some very valuable research.


Essays since the publication of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”

“What’s the Matter With Liberals?,” New York Review of Books, May 12, 2005. Answers the question: Why do we suck?

“Why WWI?,” The American Prospect, January 5, 2006. Answers the even more vexing question: Why do I collect World War I relics?

“Looting Homeland Security,” Rolling Stone (with Eric Klinenberg), December 2005. Eight thousand words on the failure of FEMA, and it’s still not enough.


Essays relating to “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”

How the U. S. Senate is doing its damndest to live up to the blueprint for culture war I describe in the book. For the New York Times.

A dispatch from the Democratic Convention in Boston. For the Los Angeles Times.


For Harper’s Magazine I have written a number of feature stories over the years. You need to be a subscriber to the magazine to access these articles online. These are my favorites:

Brand You: Better Selling Through Anthropology,” Harper’s Magazine, July, 1999. I attend a gathering of highly educated advertising people in the throes of romantic self-deception. They speak of themselves as liberators. As tribunes of the plebs. They marvel at the magic of “chaos.” This essay was later included in The Best Business Stories of the Year, 2001 Edition, edited by Andrew Leckey and Marshall Loeb.

“It’s Globalicious,” Harper’s Magazine, October, 1999. On Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’s foreign affairs columnist, and the greatest of the free-market romantics.

“The Trillion-Dollar Hustle,” Harper’s Magazine, January, 2002. The mind-bending con behind the push for Social Security privatization, and the ways in which it is sold as the purest ambition of idealistic youth.

Get Rich or Get Out,” Harper’s Magazine, June 2003. The Bush budget is pushing the federal government deep into debt, but not in the ordinary Keynesian way. In its every nuance, it is an engine for showering gifts on the rich and screwing the working class.


Essays for Le Monde Diplomatique, the excellent French weekly.

The America that will vote for Bush, A primer on the Republicans’ appeal to class anger and, more importantly, a discussion of the qualities of the American left that allow them to get away with it.
February 1, 2004

Enron: Elvis lives, A primer on Enron.
February 1, 2002

Malls aren’t us, A story about trends in shopping mall design. More interesting than it sounds.
August 1, 2001

US 'newseum' to mediocrity, I visit Gannett’s Newseum, a monument to crappy journalism.
August 1, 1999

Creation myth of the "geo-architect",
July 1, 1999

France, an unforgivable exception , On the New York Times’s persistent Francophobia. This was long before the UN showdown with France over Bush’s Iraq war, remember. Back then the crime for which France was the scapegoat was its infernal skepticism about the claims of the “New Economy” boosters.
April 1, 1998


Essays for Artforum Magazine.

I wrote the “Slant” column for Artforum in 1998-99. The art world made an ideal target for the critique of commodified dissent I was then working on, and a few of the columns were memorable. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost nearly all my copies of the magazine, and nothing from that era is online.

The best pieces I did for Artforum were when I got to write the “Top Ten,” a free-format analysis of whatever ten things the author felt like analyzing. I am still proud of the “Top Ten” I wrote for them in April, 1998.


“The Bullshit Boys” It was the summer of 2002: The “New Economy” had fallen apart, Enron had collapsed, the neo-liberal world had fallen on its ass. And yet the leading theorists and thinkers and boosters and puffers of the whole flatulent, fraudulent fiasco were still riding high. (As, I might add, they still are today.) Why are there no consequences for the golden boys of the libertarian right? Unfortunately, this particular critique was not amenable to mass-circulation American publications (since most of them were caught up in the puff-bubble in one way or another) and it had to be published in the Guardian.

“Rocking for the Clampdown” Harvard Design Magazine, Number 17 (Fall, 02). A consideration of the nation’s two big rock museums, the Experience Music Project in Seattle, and the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. While the latter is obviously a monument to the music industry, the EMP presents itself as something very different: Interactive, grass-roots, “alternative,” even. What it really is, though, is a monument to a different industry: Paul Allen’s Microsoft and his vision of the creativity-driven economy.

“Let’s Talk Class Again” Conservatism reacted to the collapse of the “New Economy” by suddenly rediscovering the good ol’ culture wars. Forget NASDAQ: Get mad about the “liberal elite”! A Review of Bias, by Bernard Goldberg, for the excellent London Review of Books.

“When Markets Rule Politics” Financial Times, April 6, 2001. My first foray into the matter of Social Security privatization. (Guess what, I’m against it.) Main point made here: While pundits worry constantly about the “politicization of markets,” the real concern should be the opposite. Investing Social Security funds in the stock market will “marketize” our politics, give Wall Street a weapon with which to threaten any liberal legislator who might want to consider measures that would empower labor or protect the environment or otherwise discomfit the stock market. “Touch Wall Street and you’re dead.”

I must admit, it is surpassingly strange to me that while American newspapers were generally unreceptive to the above analysis, a British business publication has opened its op/ed pages to me. Another favorite story for the Financial Times:
“America’s Sucker-in-Chief” December 14, 2000. Bush’s market populism prevails. My stab at writing an election-day story, postponed by a full month due to the Florida recount. A man of utter, child-like credulity is elected to the highest office in the world.

“All Good, No Bad” I visit Singapore, a land where management theory has supplanted politics. Context, December 2000. While you’re on their website, spend some money and support the very worthy Dalkey Archive.

“Marching With Mammon” An introduction to the concept of market populism.


Frank vs. Enron In the summer of 1997, electricity deregulation reared its head in Illinois. I was maybe the only person in the state to give a damn about the subject, and as a result I had my first brush with Enron. For the Chicago Reader, December, 1997. Ironically, of the many columns I wrote for the Reader, this was the one that drew the least interest.
My thoughts on Enron on the eve of its (self) destruction. These appeared in the very last print issue of The Industry Standard, July 23, 2001. This was the first story in any American business magazine to call Enron evil.

This one was written during the collapse, and appeared in Salon in December 01.

The bitter aftermath, written for The Nation magazine, April 02. While researching this piece I paid a visit to the Enron tower in downtown Houston and was able to leave the building with one of their company motivational posters (”Enron: Excellence”) under my arm.