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Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,936 ratings  ·  346 reviews
The bestselling author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua offers a bold new prescription for reversing our foreign policy failures and overcoming our destructive political tribalism at home

Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. In many parts of the world, the group identities that matter most - the ones that people will kill and
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published February 20th 2018 by Penguin Press
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4.22  · 
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 ·  1,936 ratings  ·  346 reviews

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Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Whether you lean left or right, this book will make you uncomfortable. And I believe it should. If it didn't, it would be a book appealing to one ideology over another and defeats the whole purpose of analyzing political tribalism and the appeal and danger that comes from both engaging in it and also by ignoring it.

Chua first looks at what political tribalism is, the role it plays in other parts of the world, and how it is different than the dynamic in the United States. She then dissects US fo
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Globe, World, Earth, Hands, People, Kids, Circle

Back when our ancestors were gathering and hunting their food on the African savannahs or later roaming throughout Europe, Australia, and Asia, or later still, crossing the Bering Strait to settle the Americas, it made sense for them to put their tribe above all others. To feel committed to their own tribe of people at the exclusivity of all others. They were used to living in small groups of people, depending on each other to survive, and the tribal mentality they'd evolved with made perfect se
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“The grand ideals of democracy have a hard time competing with a simpler, more primal need: belonging."

Professor Amy Chua's name is one few have not heard of. Her first book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, tore through the bestseller lists in 2011, bringing to the forefront so much of the anxiety and confusion we have about the way we raise our children and sparking furores about parenting authoritarianism and permissiveness on a global scale. This latest offering of Chua's moves away from the
Apr 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Conceptually, there isn't really anything that could be considered new here, but it is a very timely reminder of the role of group identities, which Chua terms as "tribes" in the book. She takes a look at the outsized role group identities played in America's past forays in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela and against various terror groups, before finally turning to the country's current internal politics. There were so many paragraphs in this book that made me go "Exactly!" - A quick and i ...more
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Of all the post-Trump dystopia books, this one resonated with me the most. Chua has her flaws, but she is a great writer. There is nothing particularly new in here (humans are tribal, the US denies this which is why we keep screwing up in our "nation-building efforts abroad," and most crucially, the US is turning more tribal), but I think her analysis is spot-on. I imagine she'll get attacked from some on the left for her take on the misuse and distractions of of micro-aggressions and intersecti ...more
Peter Tillman
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, at-bg-pa
I learned a lot of really interesting stuff in Prof. Chua's book. She’s very sharp, does her homework, and writes really well. The book is short & pithy. You should read it. Foreign policy and military officers, in particular. 5 stars!

Start by reading Amy’s (no relation) review here, a good, short introduction:
“Whether you lean left or right, this book will make you uncomfortable.”
And don't forget to read the publisher's introduction, above.

Here are
Gary Moreau
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amy Chua doesn’t mince her words. But she is very insightful and this is a good book that will make a significant contribution to the debate over the state of America and our collective future.

For me, actually, it is really two books. In the first book she does a meticulous job of articulating and analyzing America’s many foreign policy blunders, starting with the Vietnam War. Her basic thesis is that American foreign policy has consistently ignored the perils of tribalism, and, specifically, th
Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua is an interesting examination of tribalism as an internal and very human trait, with a particular focus on the United States and recent bipartisan tensions in that country. The book first begins by examining American Exceptionalism and the idea of the American nation and American dream. These concepts have long been intertwined in the US's national consciousness, and promote ideals of individualism, human freedom, immigration a ...more
Bradley Ferguson
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Four and a half stars for me. Before I get into my thoughts on the book, I feel like I need to explain some background of what got me interested in reading it.

The current political scene in America is beyond frustrating to me. I cannot stand the big news outlets such as Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, and I also am annoyed by the social media takeover of the left vs the right. Everytime anything ‘big’ (election, new bill, a shooting, something said by a political leader, a scandal, etc.) happens, peop
Peter Mcloughlin
Amy Chua gets into some really dangerous territory in this book but keeps her head as she explores some explosive trip wires of race, class, ethnicity, and identity. She is novel and very unconventional yet still presenting a plausible and compelling argument that while surprising is anything but cranky. see my updates for a bit of the favor of the book
Feb 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-read, 2018-best
I gave this book only 3 stars for reasons explained below...but the book is timely and is very important for a project I'm working on, and I do think most people should understand the concepts discussed here.

But much of this book contains very little new perspective, other than to remind us that we are a tribal species. That we live in and support our tribes, even when we don't recognize them as such. This became very important to understand following the election of Trump.

But where this book fa
Graeme Roberts
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I picked up Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations because it was highly rated by Goodreads members, though I hesitated because I associated Amy Chua with one of her earlier works, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which deals with her attempts to parent in the Chinese way. I couldn't have been more wrong.

This book is original in thinking, well-written, concise, and entirely coherent. Ms. Chua shows that American failure to understand the tribal loyalties of Vietnam, Afghanist
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
For millions of year humans have lived in small, tribal societies. Tribes promote co-operation between their members, which is the essential human advantage over other species. However, this also leads to competition with other tribal groups – us against them. We are evolutionarily adapted to living this way.

Civilization can be thought of as the creation of a much larger super-tribe. This requires the suppression of the exclusive loyalty within the conquered tribes. But even today, the conquest
Michael Austin
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2018
This is the first book I have read in 2018 that I would call "indispensable." This is kind of silly, I know, because most people will never read it and will live happy and productive lives anyway. So it is not indispensable like, say, water is indispensable. But it is still a very good book and a very important book that most people would profit by reading.

Unlike several other similar books I have read recently about the state of political discourse, it is not skewed towards one side or the othe
Bob Nichols
Sep 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Tribal instinct Chua says is both about belonging to a group and excluding others from it. It is the classic we-they dynamic that, she argues, the U.S. has been “spectacularly blind to” in the conduct of its foreign policy – Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. Instead of tribal factionalism, we have seen conflicts in terms of ideological battles – mainly democracy versus communism, socialism versus capitalism.

Our tribal natures blind us to our domestic politics as well. We know about the disaffect
Amy Chua was interviewed by the amazing Ezra Klein on his podcast: Amy Chua on how tribalism is tearing America apart, which clearly showed she's near the front on thinking about tribalism and partisanship. That's pretty important: I've become convinced that this problem is the defining one of our age, and that the likely absence of a solution could be the other contributing factor (along with climate change) to a civilizational collapse within the coming decades.

I haven't read the book, so thes
Gordon Larsen
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read Political Tribes because I liked Amy Chua's book The Triple Package and because the topic of political tribalism is really timely. I wasn't disappointed. Chua has some insightful observations about U.S. foreign policy failures that occurred because we didn't understand the powerful role of tribes. And then the most relevant discussion starts about halfway through when she pivots to the role of tribes in the U.S. political system. Here she does a great service in helping us understand bett ...more
Catherine Tan
May 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A scholarly page-turner you didn't know you needed to read. In IR, we are often given a slew of frameworks w/ which to explain failures in foreign policy (e.g., inorganic exportation of modernity, populism, democratic deficits). A lot of these are even framed in terms of dichotomous battles: left vs right, Democratic vs Republican, capitalism vs communism. But often, one gets the impression that they're not quite what captures the reality of things. Enter Amy Chua's book, which taps on a simpler ...more
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Amy Chua has published a new book and it does not concern Tiger Moms. About 15 years ago, she wrote the wonderful “World on Fire” about nations where elites were supported by dominant economic minorities and where such a configuration of groups could lead to violent conflict against the economic minorities.

Her new book, Political Tribes, updates her earlier book to the time of Trump, La Pen, and others around the world to show how severe economic inequality, coupled with the presence of a domina
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have things to say about this book. The main thing is that EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ IT!

After making strong cases that tribalism was an important factor in the Vietnam War, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Dr. Chua points to the US as a country divided "tribally" based on ideology and race. While this in and of itself may sound unremarkable, it is the way that Chua makes her case that makes this book a gem. She is empathic and insightful in her analyses of both the right and the left; consequently, there a
Shane Hawk
Easily the most engrossing book I’ve read this year.
Andrew Angel
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A MUST read for Liberals and Conservatives. Amy clearly articulates what is happening in our country and how it has happened in other countries before. I highly recommend it.
Compelling argument that I think is well worth the read. She traces ethnic tribalism through numerous U.S. foreign policy blunders (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela) to built the framework for how political tribalism is influencing the present moment in the United States. She constructs a strong case for how the poorest Americans (especially the white working class, but she also talks about the poorest African Americans and Latinxs) have been systematically cut out and the various means thr ...more
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Chua makes the argument that American politics (policy, journalism, activism) doesn't pay enough attention to the tribal nature in the US.

Before describing various "tribes" in the US, Chua gives an overview of some horrible US foreign policies that failed to look at local tribalism (that usually ran along the lines of religion, race, and/or class). Instead, US policy makers put things within ideologies of capitalism vs socialism and completely missed how other ideologies dictated people's loyal
Kressel Housman
I’m really glad I went into this book knowing something about Amy Chua, or it would have been much tougher to get through. For those who don’t recognize the name, Amy Chua is the famous “tiger mother” whose parenting memoir hit the book charts and stirred up controversy a few years back. She doesn’t portray herself in a flattering light there, but I also got to know her through a more humanizing portrayal in J.D. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy. Amy was his professor at Yale, and he doesn’t desc ...more
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author takes us through one U.S. foreign relations debacle after another. Her basic message being that in order to interact with other countries, we must understand the internal political groups -- or tribes -- and their long term history of relationships, struggles, and loyalties.
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Amy Chua believes that the strength of the United States lies in its being a "super-group", a tribe that transcends the normal barriers of tribe defined by language and race and religion. And she sees this super-group fracturing. Trump has obviously helped accelerate that process and bring it to the fore, but he certainly didn't start it.

This is mainly a book about the US, but to help clarify her subject, she spends the first few chapters wandering through a few other countries, such as Vietnam
Jun 25, 2018 added it
Chua's basic premise is that humans are tribal and as such we all belong to groups. She has called "America" a super-group, which has a strong national identity that binds people together. It's a unique kind of group whose membership is open to everyone of different backgrounds - ethnic, religious, cultural, racial. (p12). In support of this, Chua says that the 14th amendment was not only revolutionary, but rare in a global sense. Even today citizenship because you were born in a country exists ...more
Bruce Katz
May 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There are already some fine reviews of this book. There’s no compelling need for me to add my voice to theirs. I agree with those who praised the book for discomforting people on all sides of our political/cultural divide — without being morally noncommittal. I agree too with readers who said they would have wished for more: more in-depth analysis, more “meat”. But these are both good things. It’s a book that made me glad that I read it and helped clarify my thinking on several important issues ...more
Jeff Whitlock
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was close to 5 stars. Great analysis of the current political climate in America. Helped me gain better empathy for and understanding of Trump supporters.

My biggest critique of the book is that Chua should have spent less time supporting her point of American blindness to group identity dynamics in foreign conflicts and more time suggesting solutions to the current tribalization of American politics.
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Amy L. Chua (born 1962) is the John M. Duff, Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School. She joined the Yale faculty in 2001 after teaching at Duke Law School. Prior to starting her teaching career, she was a corporate law associate at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. She specializes in the study of international business transactions, law and development, ethnic conflict, and globalization an ...more
“America’s continued existence as a super-group is under tremendous strain today. America is beginning to display destructive political dynamics much more typical of developing and non-Western countries: ethnonationalist movements; backlash by elites against the masses; popular backlash against both “the establishment” and “outsider minorities” viewed as disproportionately powerful; and, above all, the transformation of democracy into an engine of zero-sum political tribalism.” 3 likes
“Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. We crave bonds and attachments, which is why we love clubs, teams, fraternities, family. Almost no one is a hermit. Even monks and friars belong to orders. But the tribal instinct is not just an instinct to belong. It is also an instinct to exclude.” 3 likes
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