Simplistic and unscientific. But it’s fun to read and a great conversation piece.
288 pages, ★★★★★
Richard Nisbett’s previous work had been criticized for having an overt Western bias. He admits this in the introduction. The Geography of Thought was, in part, an attempt to repair the author’s image. This book is essentially a collection of ways in which “Easterners” are the exact opposite of “Westerners”. Cultural differences are exaggerated ad absurdum, while both sides are treated with great respect.
Despite this, The Geography of Thought suffers from classic mistake of “Oppositism“, where the author falls for the erroneous assumption that every aspect of life in the East must be the exact opposite of that in the West because, well… “East” is the opposite of “West” in the dictionary.
According to this book, Westerners are individualistic, narrow-minded, focussed, racist (in favor of Caucasians) and scared of contradiction. Easterners think in groups, are broad-minded, holistic, racist (in favor of Caucasians) and embrace contradiction.
There are experiments, statistics, and pictures that help portray East and West as laughably diametric opposites. Having lived in China for several years, I testify that China is neither Western nor the opposite of Western. It’s something else entirely. To compare China with the West is helpful (and entertaining), but it’s a very simplistic philosophical approach.
Another weakness is that the book’s definitions of “East” and “West” keeps changing. At the start of the book, “East” refers to ethnically Chinese college students in the United States, and “West” refers to their ethnically European counterparts. But in the rest of the book, “East” refers to either Korea, Japan, Thailand or some unspecified part of China; while “West” invariably refers to the United States.
This book is really wrong. But it’s polite, respectful, exposes the weaknesses of the scientific method )(unknowingly) and, most importantly, is really fun to read. It will spark some lively discussion. But in 50 years’ time, when China rules the world, we will look back on this book as satire; just as a book from 100 years ago that describes Europe and America as diametric opposites would likely be looked upon with ridicule today. ★★★★★
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