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  • Published: 28 November 2023
  • ISBN: 9780241638293
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $55.00

The Identity Trap

A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time

The origins, consequences and limitations of an ideology that has quickly become highly influential around the world.

For much of their history, societies have violently oppressed ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. It is no surprise then that many who passionately believe in social justice have come to think that members of marginalized groups need to take pride in their identity if they are to resist injustice.

But over the past decades, a healthy appreciation for the culture and heritage of minorities has transformed into an obsession with group identity in all its forms, one that has quickly become influential around the world. A new ideology - which Yascha Mounk terms the 'identity synthesis' - seeks to put each citizen's matrix of identities at the heart of social, cultural and political life. This, he argues, is the Identity Trap.

Mounk traces the intellectual origins, consequences and limitations of these ideas, explaining how they have been able to win tremendous power over the past decade and why their application to areas from education to public policy is proving to be deeply counterproductive. In his passionate plea for universalism and humanism, he argues that the proponents of identitarian ideas will, though they may be full of good intentions, make it harder to achieve progress towards genuine equality.

  • Published: 28 November 2023
  • ISBN: 9780241638293
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $55.00

Praise for The Identity Trap

A powerful, timely book, seeking to understand the origins and impact of the ideas that rightly or wrongly constitute "identity politics" - where they come from, what effect they have, where they could lead. His book is both an excellent analysis and an eloquent plea for the recovery of shared values, the ideas that link us instead of dividing us

Anne Applebaum

Yascha Mounk explains the intellectual roots of our current focus on identity, what's wrong with it, and how we can get back to belief in a shared humanity in an erudite yet easy-to-read account

Francis Fukuyama

In The Identity Trap, Yascha Mounk explains how a few powerfully bad ideas, propelled through institutions by people with good intentions, are causing systemic dysfunction and dangerous polarization. This is among the most insightful and important books written in the last decade on American democracy and its current torments, because it also shows us a way out of the trap

Jonathan Haidt

In his indispensable book, Yascha Mounk proposes an alternative to the ceaseless combat between "woke" and "anti-woke" extremes -- one that takes seriously the enduring malignant legacy of systemic discrimination, yet correctly identifies that universal values, not group solidarity, offer the surest path to justice, fairness, and enduring social peace. The Identity Trap is necessary reading

David French

The Identity Trap brings vital context to some of the most fraught and divisive debates of our time

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Yascha Mounk is our most active contemporary defender of liberal democracy… (a) brave and important book

Martin Wolf

Mounk’s painstaking and thoroughly researched account is a revelation

Nina Power, The Telegraph

Barack Obama’s favourite political thinker... Having thoroughly skewered right-wing populism and its brash demagogues in popular books, Mounk’s next target may surprise his considerable fanbase. The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time explains how dangerous styles of thinking developed in and once largely conned to the academy have now gone mainstream – and why we should all be worried ... As a darling of the political left, Mounk’s criticisms of America’s elite universities will probably hit harder than the anti-woke rants to which institutions have become accustomed. His constructive tone, however, may help higher education institutions to play their part more effectively in a defence of democracy to which he has dedicated himself.

Matthew Reisz, Times Higher Education

Among the many achievements of Yascha Mounk’s The Identity Trap is that he unearths the roots of today’s ideology with the patience of an archaeologist. Mounk calls it the "identity synthesis" – he avoids the word woke, perhaps wisely – and does a superb job of showing how unstable and authoritarian the woke worldview was always going to be.

Nick Cohen, The Spectator

Mounk’s analysis is nuanced and balanced. His goal is not merely to critique the identity synthesis, but to explain how leftists came to embrace its dead-end fixation on identity; and to offer ideas about how they can be returned to the path of liberalism.


Yascha Mounk tackles one of the most consequential, controversial and — as he puts it — counterproductive contemporary debates with great seriousness as well as sensitivity. This book is brave, bold, erudite, and rich in detail. Monk is impressively thorough in his analysis of the theories and personalities, social developments, and demographic and technological changes that have brought us to an impasse in identity politics. This is a must read for anyone who wants to explore an alternative approach to framing public life and building coalitions to create a fair and equal society

Fiona Hill, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

The most comprehensive and reasonable story of this shift that has yet been attempted. . . Mounk has told the story of the Great Awokening better than any other writer who has attempted to make sense of it.

Oliver Traldi, The Washington Post

Bold, timely and buttressed by data.

The Economist

A fascinating account of the intellectual origins of identity politics. Mounk is a firm defender of free speech. He is also a historian of ideas, who gives a careful account of the work of thinkers such as Derrick Bell, Michel Foucault and Kimberlé Crenshaw, revealing the theory that underpins influential ideas such as critical race theory and intersectionality.

GIdeon Rachman, Financial Times

Mounk was already one of the great commentators on the rise of dangerous populism; now, with this book, he becomes a great commentator on the rise of what he calls "the identity synthesis", though others may know it as "identity politics" or "woke tosh", according to their preconceptions. Where did it come from? Where is it going? And is it a good or bad thing? Mounk addresses these questions calmly and intelligently, which is more than most have achieved.


A well-argued treatise about wokeness and cancel culture from a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University. The left’s swerve towards authoritarianism is "oddly unexplored territory" in intellectual history, Yascha Mounk contends. Bold and timely, this book asks questions about identity politics that many on the left are too afraid to ask.