The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous

Joseph Henrich. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $35 (704p) ISBN 978-0-374-17322-7
Henrich (The Secret of Our Success), a psychology and economics professor, proposes a grand thesis about how the cultures he identifies as WEIRD—“Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic”—came to be so, in this ambitious and fascinating book. The acronym is intentional, to signal that the cultural experience and individualistic mindset of countries such as the U.S. and U.K. are historically unusual. The first major shift Henrich identifies occurred in medieval Europe, as traditional kin-based loyalties were weakened by the intellectual and cultural dominance of the Roman Catholic Church. In his view, the later emergence of representative democracy wasn’t due to “an intellectual epiphany” but to the experience of those people in the late Middle Ages who “began to form competing voluntary associations” and thus became more open to viewing themselves as individuals. Henrich also explores the persistent distinction in mindset between individualistic and communal societies, based on psychological studies conducted by himself and colleagues. For example, people in individualistic societies more often reported experiencing guilt, concerning how one views oneself, while those in communal societies more often felt shame, concerning how one is viewed by other people. This meaty book is ready-made for involved discussions. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 07/02/2020
Release date: 09/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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