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

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  144 ratings  ·  42 reviews

A bold, epic account of how the co-evolution of psychology and culture created the peculiar Western mind that has profoundly shaped the modern world.

Perhaps you are WEIRD: raised in a society that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. If so, you’re rather psychologically peculiar.

Unlike much of the world today, and most people who have ever lived,

Kindle Edition, 704 pages
Published September 8th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published September 2020)
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  • The WEIRDest People in the World by Joseph Henrich
    The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous

    Release date: Sep 08, 2020
    A bold, epic account of how the co-evolution of psychology and culture created the peculiar Western mind that has profoundly shaped the modern world.


    Format: Print book

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    Giveaway dates: Nov 21 - Nov 28, 2020

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    Average rating 4.27  · 
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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
    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
    You may have read Jared Diamond's 1990s classic "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and understood why Eurasia with multiple necessary domesticable plants and animals and having a long latitudinal axis with similar climate conditions being perfect for sedentary empires and state formation and why it beat out other continents in terms of advantages and headstarts. Now you may ask yourself the next question. Why Europe? I mean China is also Eurasia as was Islamic empires why Europe? or even more specificall ...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
    Oct 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    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,
    Oct 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
    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
    C F.
    Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was ok
    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
    Yannick M
    Sep 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    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  ·  review of another edition
    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.

    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
    Nov 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
    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
    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
    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
    Oct 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
    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
    Henry Percy
    Nov 07, 2020 rated it did not like it
    Henrich sets great store by the Ethnographic Atlas (p. 156), a “database of over 1,200 societies (ethnolinguistic groups) that captures life prior to industrialization … So, 99.3 percent of societies in this global anthropological database deviate from the WEIRD pattern.”

    I looked the Atlas up on the web and could find no way to sort the societies by population size, but I would venture to guess that many were a few thousand souls or less. In other words, an ethnolinguistic group of a thousand m
    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
    Sep 20, 2020 marked it as to-read
    +extending Guns, Germs, Steel.

    Not marrying cousins as an edict => rise of W.E.I.R.D / individualistic thinking ? Worth exploring.
    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
    I got a degree in International Relations many years ago, and I recall shying away from the sub-discipline known as Development Studies for a number of reasons, including nervousness about the cultural prescriptivism as well as what appeared to be a lack of analytic rigor (not that any of the social sciences do too well on that latter point).

    In the years since then, I've drifted to paying much more attention to social psychology, and I'm a believer in Jonathan Haidt's assertion that humans are o
    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.
    Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    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-
    Will A
    Oct 30, 2020 added it
    I first came across Jack Goody's thesis that the medieval European Catholic Church's family policies (opposing cousin-marriage, marriage without consent of the partners, remarriage to in-laws, adoption, levirate marriage, and polygyny, and promoting the stigma of illegitimacy) killed off tribalism and inaugurated individualism in Francis Fukuyama's excellent "Origins of Political Order". Fukuyama essentially accepted Goody's theory without criticism as an essential component of Western European ...more
    Roo Phillips
    Oct 30, 2020 rated it liked it
    Maybe 2.5 stars. A subtitle for this book might be: Correlation = Causation. Henrich packs in a ton of social science research, from pre-civilization up through modern day. A lot of it is very interesting, some I have never heard before. However, I had two big issues with this book.

    1. Its premise is that the psychological differences found by those living in western culture were caused by the Catholic church's marriage and family program dating back to early middle ages. This was an interesting
    Oct 29, 2020 rated it liked it
    3.5 stars almost 4

    “Instead of ignoring psychological variation, policy analysts beed to consider both how to tailor their efforts to particular populations and how new policies might alter people’s psychology in the long run.”

    This is good reading for any Westerner who needs reminding how abnormal or WEIRD they are, how unique the historical circumstances in the west were to influence the cultural envolution of humanity to where the west is today. I myself found it an interesting read in regard t
    Nov 15, 2020 added it
    On a cross-country drive in the middle of grad school (probably 2005 or so), climbing up the Rocky Mountains in a Toyota Corolla, I realized I couldn’t do my dissertation on Hegel because I just couldn’t believe that history had a logic, progressing towards more and more self consciousness. But the ambitious, panoramic conception of history that Hegel attempts to motivate didn’t lose its appeal for me—I still want to understand why our world is the way it is right now in the broadest sense. This ...more
    Auke Hunneman
    Oct 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
    Shelves: favorites
    This book is an amazing achievement and should be mandatory reading in universities. Borrowing from several disciplines, it makes the convincing case that the Roman Catholic Church has had a tremendous impact on our psychology through its marriage and family program. In particular, the church’s impact on our WEIRD psychology (Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic) has helped building values and norms that foster friendliness to strangers, market exchange, peace, and analytical thinking ...more
    Nov 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
    Shelves: owned
    Probably one of the most important books of the 21st Century. Henrich's thesis, if supported over time, explains how the Modern stage of cultural development evolved from the Traditional stage. And, why, this particular line of cultural evolution has survived as the leading edge of cultural development.

    At the same time, I think Henrich could have really benefited by another round of editing. As it stands, half the book is text and half are footnotes, some purely bibliographic, but many giving a
    Rhys Lindmark
    Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
    Compelling data for why Western society is WEIRD (individualistic, analytical, etc.)—that the Catholic church (and specifically their non-poly marriage program) broke kinship structures and led to voluntary structures we know today (companies, cities, etc.).

    Too long though. Could be 50% the length, imo.
    Nguyen Xuan
    The Weirdest People in the World by Joseph Henrich
    As I read it by Nguyen
    I strongly suspect WEIRD to be a mischievous pun.
    Since Industrialized would rather apply to a country or a nation and Democratic to a political system or institution rather than to a person, and Educated can be safely implied when someone is “Western” and “Rich”, WEIRD actually amounts to Western and Wealthy or WW.
    Essentially he's rediscovered the importance of the rise of individualism in European history. He brings a lot of interesting recent psychological literature into the story. But he isn't a historian and doesn't know the literature, so he thinks his idea is new. Also his idea that the Catholic Church's consanguinity rules were crucial is full of holes.
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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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    11 likes · 8 comments
    “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” 1 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.” 0 likes
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