A fascinating, vigorously argued work that probes deeply into the way “WEIRD people” think.

THE WEIRDEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD

HOW THE WEST BECAME PSYCHOLOGICALLY PECULIAR AND PARTICULARLY PROSPEROUS

The chair of the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard limns the social and mental conditions that have made the West wealthy.

Other writers, notably Carlo Cipolla, have linked the rise of literacy to prosperity in the developed world. Henrich takes the argument further to correlate it to being “WEIRD”—i.e., "Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.” Literacy is a major component, especially the Protestant literacy that placed the vernacular Bible into the hands of individuals, emphasized free will, and encouraged the cultivation of individual traits and interests. So it is that Westerners—and members of societies that have emulated the West, such as Japan—also have peculiar, novel, and relatively recent mental markers, including a bias toward the right hemisphere of the brain and for analytical processing of data in the place of “broad configurations and gestalt patterns.” There are emotional and sociological sequelae, including the development of cultures that favor guilt over shame and of notions of justice and social organization that accord high levels of trust to strangers as opposed to kin-based groups. This last represents a significant break with primate tradition, with its preference for “kin altruism.” There are all kinds of wrinkles to this engrossing story, which Henrich illustrates with graphs and charts. Where there are high rates of cousin marriage, he writes, the more likely it is that people mistrust strangers; concomitantly, there are few “impersonal trust levels” that allow for the flourishing of credit and trade. Throughout, the author dives deep, even correlating the willingness to donate blood to the extension of kin altruism to those who aren’t related to us. “Many WEIRD people,” he writes, “have a set of folk beliefs that lead them to assume that any observed psychological differences among populations are due to economic differences.” In fact, the opposite is true: First come the psychological differences, then comes the money, which, the author allows, isn’t perfectly understood.

A fascinating, vigorously argued work that probes deeply into the way “WEIRD people” think.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-17322-7

Page Count: 747

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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