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

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  561 ratings  ·  113 reviews
Harvard University's Joseph Henrich, Chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, delivers a bold, epic investigation into the development of the Western mind, global psychological diversity, and its impact on the world

Perhaps you are WEIRD: raised in a society that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. If so, you're rather psychologically p
Hardcover, 704 pages
Published September 8th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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C F. Henrich does not know that the Romans had already abolished intensive kinship with their ban on cousin marriages and individual landholdings. So he is…moreHenrich does not know that the Romans had already abolished intensive kinship with their ban on cousin marriages and individual landholdings. So he is starting from a false premise in 400 AD at the end of the Roman empire. Then there is no evidence that the Church was able to control marriages anyway, so that argument fails. I am sorry that more reviewers have believed that it did and accepted his argument about the power of the Church to control sex lives without question.
So proto-WEIRDness does not exist -though perhaps it did in Roman times as there was vibrant political life in Roman cities.
Historians have tried to find glimmers of individualism in English villages in medieval times but they have been disputed.
Where is European democracy, the D, before the nineteenth century ( at a time when there was still intense opposition to it)? Where was wealth -the R -without the European domination of the globe from the eighteenth century? Where was mass education (the E) before the late nineteenth century? I cannot understand why Henrich has to go back to medieval times when the masses were subservient, beset by poverty, famine and plague, and almost certainly worse off than they had been in Roman times. (Some economists say it was not until 1800 that Europeans were as well-off as they had been under the Romans.)
And my original question is still unanswered- how does a society's psychology be transmitted down the generations? Henrich claims that the Church's marriage policies led to urbanisation and industrialisation. Sadly he has not even read the many sophisticated works by historians that find other explanations. I must have read hundreds of books on European history ,especially church history, but none makes more than a passing reference to the consanguinity rules and then explain that most marriages and cohabitation arrangements took place outside the Church.
Industrialisation led to the mass exploitation of the population so, if WEIRDness existed for the majority, it went backwards.Yet Henrich talks of it growing!!
So why not follow the mass of historical evidence and see the components of WEIRDness as post 1800 as European societies exploited the industrial masses and extended their global reach to exploit other societies (as most historian believe) ?
One of the major problems of this book is that, shall I be generous?, Henrich knows little of the the diversity of European societies but somehow convinces his readers that the mass of different ethnic groups and languages did not hinder 'the European collective brain'. I am saddened that he bypasses so much work on European history without even knowing that it is there. And he could have trotted round to history departments in Harvard to have found out!!
This book will go down like a lead balloon with anyone who knows the immense amount on work done on the components of what Henrich calls WEIRDness. As said above, they are largely post -1800. (less)

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Start your review of The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous
My favourite non-fiction books are those that provide me with some new insight. It’s pleasant enough to read books that reinforce my existing views, but I don’t enjoy them as much as a book that presents me with new arguments and leaves me thinking about their implications. This book achieves that. There’s a lot in here that I find quite difficult to accept, but I have to concede that the author provides a mass of evidence for his arguments. The amount of research within the book is quite incred ...more
Jason Furman
The WEIRDest People in the World is among the best books I have read in the last five to ten years. In his earlier book, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter (also an outstanding book), Joseph Henrich chronicled the success of the human species, grounding it in our ability to learn from each other and the co-evolution of culture and genes, a story that takes place over hundreds of thousands of years. The WEIRDest Peop ...more
Stefan Schubert
Jan 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Henrich essentially does three things in this book:

1) He shows that the West is more psychologically different from other parts of the world than is usually assumed.

2) He argues that Western psychology was a major cause of the Scientific and Industrial Revolution, and why the West came to dominate the world.

3) He gives an explanation of how Western psychology developed. His theory is that the Catholic Church's rules against cousin marriage and a ranger of other customs that sustained "intensive
Henry Percy
Nov 07, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I borrowed this book from my local library, so I do not show up as a verified purchaser. All page numbers refer to the Kindle version. I learned a great many interesting things from this book, but so much of the methodology is troubling.

I sent these observations and more (5 pages worth) to Mr. Henrich before posting this review. He informed me that the first item, which I thought was a typo, was correct, and my second point was not "on target," so he stopped reading. So much for intellectual cu
C F.
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In a little parable that David Foster Wallace tells in his famous commencement speech, two young fish ask each other, “What the hell is water?” I like books that make me ask what-the-hell-is-water type questions. Books that challenge me to jump out of the cultural waters in which I swim to examine this liquid that I normally think nothing about.

The Weirdest People in the World by Joseph Henrich is such a book.

“Weird” is a double-entendre. It is, on the one hand, an acronym for Western, Educated,
This one was a mixed bag for me. Author Joseph Henrich is a Canadian professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University, and Chair of the department, according to his Wikipedia page.
I put this book on my list after Henrich's appearance on Michael Shermer's Science Salon podcast, which I enjoyed.

Joseph Henrich :

The WEIRDest People in the World is a very in-depth dive into social psychology that expands upon its subtitle. It is a very long book: the versions I have clocked in
Oct 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the book, there were a ton of interesting ideas there. But I did have some qualms. Some sections had overly long descriptions of social science experiments. I think a lot of charts shown were not really super helpful. A lot of that kind of stuff could have been in an appendix or website for people who wanted extra details. But there were a lot of interesting conjectures on how societal changes can affect personality and psychology (and vice-versa) and a good lesson that human psychology ...more
Santiago Ortiz
Psychology seems to have two realms: humans and individuals. Psychology researchers study how humans think, feel, learn, behave, etc… and therapists focus on individuals. There’s the sense that culture is just the background in which "psychologies” express themselves. A big part of this missconception comes from the fact that most of the findings in psychology belong to a very idiosyncratic sample of humans: Western, Educated, and from Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic countries (the WEIRD pe ...more
Yannick M
Extremely important book. Probably will fundamentally change the way they look at the world for many.
Joe Farmartino
Oct 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I'm a sucker for broad historical books that attempt to explain why cultures differ, especially with regard to the Great Divergence, where Western Europe separated from the rest of the world around 1500 AD and came to dominate/colonize the rest of the world. Joe Henrich's book "The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous" offers up the best argument I have encountered so far and is one the most fascinating books I have ever read.

Peter McCluskey
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Henrich previously wrote one of the best books of the last decade. Normally, I expect such an author's future books to, at best, exhibit regression toward the mean. But Henrich's grand overview of humanity's first few million years was merely a modest portion of the ideas that he originally tried to fit into this magnum opus. Henrich couldn't quite explain in one volume how humanity got all the way to industrial empires, so he split the explanation into two books.

The cartoon version of the i
In the times we live in, it is not easy to unabashedly glorify a race as highly successful and sing songs of its unique facets as reasons behind that success. This is particularly difficult when the unique list consists of cultural norms and practices that might be widely unacceptable in other civilizations, implicitly demeaning others' practices.

The provocative book on the WEIRD does this and far worse. The author spends almost no effort on sugarcoating by highlighting any of the WEIRD culture
Alex Zakharov
Dec 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
“The WEIRDest People in the World” will undoubtedly and deservedly become a classic in sociology, despite the fact that Henrichs’ thesis per se is not particularly new. After all, the importance of impersonal institutions for state development has been widely acknowledged (e.g. Henry Maine’s famous “from status to contract” concept), the underappreciated effect of Catholicism on European societies has been repeatedly pointed out by Francis Fukuyama, and the role of competition and experimentatio ...more
Oct 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a sort of broad and ambitious book. The author is an anthropologist and one of the people who coined the term WEIRD (western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) to describe the populations most psychological studies are done on. The book covers:
- a review of the literature on cross-cultural psychological differences
- a review of the anthropological research on how cultural norms evolve and how they interact with people's psychology
- the author's theory of how WEIRD societies end
Nov 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gennonfiction
There are a vast number of books devoted to answering the question "Why did European countries happen to dominate the world between 1500 and 1900?"

This book is another entry in that pile and to my mind makes an interesting and unique contribution.

In his 2015 book, "The Secret of Our Success", Henrich argued that the key quality that makes humans different from other animals is our biological ability and inclination to IMITATE each other. This CULTURAL evolution allows us to change much more rapi
Henri Tournyol du Clos
This is an important thesis, but you should read the papers on which it is built and ignore this bloated monstruosity. Henrich cannot write, that should be obvious to everyone by now.
Dec 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics_economy
This books belongs to the glut of books that have appeared in the last decade or so and that ask the big historical "everything" questions. Maybe the avalanche started with Jared Diamond's "Germs, Guns and Steel" which attributed the rise of the West to physical conditions like climate, geography and such. Yuval Noah Hariri's "Sapiens" followed suit with his popular theories in which collaboration seems to be the key to happy civilizations and where he lets his imagination run a bit too often. I ...more
Jan 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
The WEIRDest people in the World (2020) by Joseph Henrich is a very interesting account of how the psychology of the West is different from other societies and how this psychology worked historically in the West. WEIRD people are Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic. Henrich is a professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard.

Henrich starts by looking at how psychologists test people in the West and very often assume that people in all cultures are the same. Indeed, much of
Sep 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
A very well-argued book with a great selection of examples and exploration of the implications. Henrich goes out of his way to convince you the relationships hold (drink for every time he says the results stand even after holding x number of factors constant). The ingenuity is the acronym and the central insight is that many sweeping conclusions about human psychology including assumptions used in economics apply specifically to people in democratic, rich Western societies, who are historical an ...more
Nov 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a very empirical look at how people not living in capitalist liberal democracies--the typical experience for humans until the last 100 years--tend to behave towards each other. It has a similar message to Jared Diamond's "World Until Yesterday"--human cultures have been much, much more diverse than we normally think, and the "average" culture on many dimensions is far from ours.

A great example is marrying a cousin: it was typically encouraged in the past, but it's considered legall
Emil O. W. Kirkegaard
Highly recommended. Main theory about the importance of the church rules is perhaps not true. See Kevin Macdonald reply in mankind quarterly.
Vadim Polikov
Feb 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Wow. Wow. Wow. Every decade or so a book comes along that upends an entire discipline and offers an entirely new perspective, opening up new avenues and ideas to explore. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt did that for Psychology, giving us a new way to understand why people hold the moral views they have and why they disagree.

Even more rare is the book that melds two disciplines into a combined theory to explain the world. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond combined Anthropology with Hi
Jukka Aakula
Oct 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Probably the best non-fiction book I have read. This made the same kind of impression on me as Dawkins' "Selfish Gene" 36 years ago or maybe Avner Greif's "Institutions and the Path to the Modern Economy".

I have followed Henrich for a long time - read all his books and most of his scientific articles - I see his work as a continuation of the older guys Pete Richerson and Rob Boyd. Their paper "Punishment allows the evolution of cooperation (or anything else) in sizable groups" made the idea of n
Harsha Varma
What could be the reasons for the incredible growth seen in the West over the past 500 years? Joseph Henrich makes a compelling argument that an edict passed by the Catholic church banning cousin marriages could’ve played a crucial role.

The Church prohibited marriage to blood relatives, including distant relatives up to sixth cousins. This led to a more fluid society where people had to look farther for spouses. The Church also encouraged neolocal residence post marriages. Neolocal residences m
Sep 20, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
+extending Guns, Germs, Steel.

Not marrying cousins as an edict => rise of W.E.I.R.D / individualistic thinking ? Worth exploring.
Andrew Norton
Feb 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are reading this review, you are probably from a WEIRD culture – Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic. Your psychology differs significantly from the mindset of traditional societies and, to a lesser extent, wealthy contemporary Asian societies. In ways consistent with this psychology, your society’s social, economic and political institutions are also very unusual in human history.

As a general observation this is not novel. In an early chapter of The Weirdest People in
Jan 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book is of a type I call "history through the lens of 'x'", where an author provides (or attempts to provide) a plausible answer to the question, "how did we get here?" framed in a certain field of study. In this book, the author is Henrich and the lens is 'the co-evolution of culture, psychology, biology and economics'.

This book suffers from a bit of a title problem because it sounds like the freak book from Curb Your Enthusiasm. WEIRD is an acronym for:
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are two main claims to Heinrich's book:
1) There are significant patterns of psychological difference between W.E.I.R.D. societies and pretty much all other human societies/cultures. These differences are crucial for understanding why WEIRD societies are the way they are, but have mostly been ignored by academic psychology and economics, which have formulated their theories as if all of humanity conforms to WEIRD psychology.
2) The Catholic church prohibiting cousin marriage and other intra-
Nick Walsh
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Joseph Henrich is an anthropologist. He is the Chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology of Harvard University and a professor of the department.

Joseph Henrich's research focuses on evolutionary approaches to psychology, decision-making and culture, and includes topics related to cultural learning, cultural evolution, culture-gene coevolution, human sociality, prestige, leadership, lar

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“Monogamous marriage changes men psychologically, even hormonally, and has downstream effects on societies. Although this form of marriage is neither “natural” nor “normal” for human societies—and runs directly counter to the strong inclinations of high-status or elite men—it nevertheless can give religious groups and societies an advantage in intergroup competition. By suppressing male-male competition and altering family structure, monogamous marriage shifts men’s psychology in ways that tend to reduce crime, violence, and zero-sum thinking while promoting broader trust, long-term investments, and steady economic accumulation” 3 likes
“The radial patterning of Protestantism allows us to use a county’s proximity to Wittenberg to isolate—in a statistical sense—that part of the variation in Protestantism that we know is due to a county’s proximity to Wittenberg and not to greater literacy or other factors. In a sense, we can think of this as an experiment in which different counties were experimentally assigned different dosages of Protestantism to test for its effects. Distance from Wittenberg allows us to figure out how big that experimental dosage was. Then, we can see if this “assigned” dosage of Protestantism is still associated with greater literacy and more schools. If it is, we can infer from this natural experiment that Protestantism did indeed cause greater literacy.16 The results of this statistical razzle-dazzle are striking. Not only do Prussian counties closer to Wittenberg have higher shares of Protestants, but those additional Protestants are associated with greater literacy and more schools. This indicates that the wave of Protestantism created by the Reformation raised literacy and schooling rates in its wake. Despite Prussia’s having a high average literacy rate in 1871, counties made up entirely of Protestants had literacy rates nearly 20 percentile points higher than those that were all Catholic.18 FIGURE P.2. The percentage of Protestants in Prussian counties in 1871.17 The map highlights some German cities, including the epicenter of the Reformation, Wittenberg, and Mainz, the charter town where Johannes Gutenberg produced his eponymous printing press. These same patterns can be spotted elsewhere in 19th-century Europe—and today—in missionized regions around the globe. In 19th-century Switzerland, other aftershocks of the Reformation have been detected in a battery of cognitive tests given to Swiss army recruits. Young men from all-Protestant districts were not only 11 percentile points more likely to be “high performers” on reading tests compared to those from all-Catholic districts, but this advantage bled over into their scores in math, history, and writing. These relationships hold even when a district’s population density, fertility, and economic complexity are kept constant. As in Prussia, the closer a community was to one of the two epicenters of the Swiss Reformation—Zurich or Geneva—the more Protestants it had in the 19th century. Notably, proximity to other Swiss cities, such as Bern and Basel, doesn’t reveal this relationship. As is the case in Prussia, this setup allows us to finger Protestantism as driving the spread of greater literacy as well as the smaller improvements in writing and math abilities.” 1 likes
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