Kirkus Reviews QR Code


How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America

by Amy Chua, Jed Rubenfeld

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-59420-546-0
Publisher: Penguin Press

Husband and wife professors at Yale Law School explore why some cultural groups in the United States are generally more successful than others.

Chua made waves in 2011 with her controversial best-selling book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which contrasted the high-expectation stance of a certain kind of Chinese mother with that of the relatively relaxed style of most other mothers in America. This book explores the reasons why some groups, such as those of Asian heritage, are succeeding disproportionately to their numbers in the population at large. (Yes, tiger mothering has something to do with it.) Why do Asian-Americans dominate admissions at the Ivy League and other top universities? Why are so many Nobel Prize winners Jewish? Why are there so many Mormon CEOs? Why are Nigerian-born Americans overrepresented among doctorates and MDs? Chua and Rubenfeld (The Death Instinct, 2010, etc.) argue that each of these groups is endowed with a “triple package” of values that together make for a potent engine driving members to high rates of success: Each views their group as special (think of the Jewish idea of “the chosen people”); each has instilled in them an insecurity about their worthiness that can only be palliated by achievement; and each is taught the values of impulse control and hard work. The authors claim that the U.S. was originally a triple-package nation. However, while Americans still view their country as exceptional, in the last 30 years, the other two parts of the package have gone out the window, replaced by a popular culture that values egalitarianism, self-esteem and instant gratification, creating a vacuum for more motivated groups to fill.

On a highly touchy subject, the authors tread carefully, backing their assertions with copious notes. Though coolly and cogently argued, this book is bound to be the spark for many potentially heated discussions.