How societies develop the way they organize and govern themselves differently in different parts of the world. Each way seems so natural to the inhabitants that they cannot understand that others might have developed completely different ways to organize and govern themselves. Yet those different ways seem natural and proper to those groups.
This is an extremely important book, filled with deep insights and a large amount of evidence for the claims, studied throughout the world (mostly in the field, not just laboratory studies).
The opening sections of the book are important and easy to read. However, I found the middle sections very difficult reading. That is because Henrich is an anthropologist and an academic, so the middle part is filled with important details about the origins and history of WEIRDness, and all the experiments and analyses he and his group have done. (It is an impressive number of studies all over the world.)
Henrich, J. P. (2020). The weirdest people in the world: How the west became psychologically peculiar and particularly prosperous. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
These middle sections are essential for understanding the multiple origins (and their differences) of WEIRDness historically and globally, but hard reading if you simply want the summaries. So for the non-academic reader, i recommend skipping the middle sections (stop when you feel overwhelmed with the details of all the experiments) and jump to Chapter 10 (or possibly Chapter 11), where the book gets more readable as Henrich presents the conclusions relevant to today’s world.
From the publisher:
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, WEIRD people are highly individualistic, self-obsessed, control-oriented, nonconformist, and analytical. They focus on themselves—their attributes, accomplishments, and aspirations—over their relationships and social roles. How did WEIRD populations become so psychologically distinct? What role did these psychological differences play in the industrial revolution and the global expansion of Europe during the last few centuries?
In The WEIRDest People in the World, Joseph Henrich draws on cutting-edge research in anthropology, psychology, economics, and evolutionary biology to explore these questions and more. He illuminates the origins and evolution of family structures, marriage, and religion, and the profound impact these cultural transformations had on human psychology. Mapping these shifts through ancient history and late antiquity, Henrich reveals that the most fundamental institutions of kinship and marriage changed dramatically under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church. It was these changes that gave rise to the WEIRD psychology that would coevolve with impersonal markets, occupational specialization, and free competition—laying the foundation for the modern world.