According to Joseph Henrich, some unknown early church fathers about a thousand years later promulgated the edict: Don’t marry your cousin! Why they did this is also unclear, but if Henrich is right — and he develops a fascinating case brimming with evidence — this prohibition changed the face of the world, by eventually creating societies and people that were WEIRD: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic ... In the argument put forward in this engagingly written, excellently organized and meticulously argued book, this simple rule triggered a cascade of changes, creating states to replace tribes, science to replace lore and law to replace custom. If you are reading this you are very probably WEIRD, and so are almost all of your friends and associates, but we are outliers on many psychological measures ... This is an extraordinarily ambitious book...
...[an] ambitious theory-of-everything book ... Consider this the latest addition to the Big History category, popularized by best sellers such as Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. ... If Henrich’s history of Christianity and the West feels rushed and at times derivative—he acknowledges his debt to Max Weber—that’s because he’s in a hurry to explain Western psychology ... Henrich offers a capacious new perspective that could facilitate the necessary work of sorting out what’s irredeemable and what’s invaluable in the singular, impressive, and wildly problematic legacy of Western domination.
... fascinating ... an example of 'big history' at its best. It draws on a wide variety of data ...to posit a provocative explanation for major historical developments. It also takes an interdisciplinary approach to its subject, making use of evolutionary studies in culture, religion and psychology. And Mr. Henrich’s writing is admirably clear. It is worth pointing out that his thesis, first advanced in an academic journal two years ago and updated since, is still being vetted by the scientific community. One can’t help thinking that Mr. Henrich will welcome any challenges that may arise from his—surely highly literate—readership.
Henrich was trained as an anthropologist but now describes himself as a 'cultural evolutionist'. In the same way that Darwin’s theory explains how life follows pathways of adaptation via natural selection, cultural evolution proposes that human cultures develop and transmit deep understandings and values across generations. There are many pathways of cultural evolution, Henrich contends, and no single human culture. To better understand the world and Europe’s influence on it, we need to recognise that European culture is, in Henrich’s key acronym, 'weird': western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic ... A casual reader may wonder how a book about the efflorescence of European culture could say next to nothing about racism, imperialism and environmental catastrophe ... What about non-European people who have settled in weird societies? Across virtually every sphere of human knowledge over the centuries, immigrants have carried ideas and practices that have fertilised cross-cultural thinking. This process seems mostly invisible to Henrich.
There are all kinds of wrinkles to this engrossing story, which Henrich illustrates with graphs and charts ... Throughout, the author dives deep, even correlating the willingness to donate blood to the extension of kin altruism to those who aren’t related to us ... A fascinating, vigorously argued work that probes deeply into the way 'WEIRD people' think.