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Law profs provoke with book on cultural groups and success

If Law School professor Amy Chua felt misunderstood after her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother caused a media sensation three years ago, that hasn't deterred her from jumping back into the fray with another book that was guaranteed to be controversial.

Chua's previous book was intended, she says, as a semicomic memoir about trying to raise her daughters in the driven, rigorous style of Chinese-American families, but the humor and irony were lost on many who saw it as a control-freak parenting manual. Now, she and her husband Jed Rubenfeld, also a professor at the Law School, are expanding on the theme with The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. Chua and Rubenfeld take eight cultural groups (not necessarily ethnic groups—they're arguing culture, not genetics) in America—Jews, Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese, Nigerians, Mormons, and Cubans—and argue that they are successful because of a "triple package" of collective traits. A superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control, they argue, are the things these groups have in common that allow them to succeed economically.

The book does not come out until February 4, but an early, scathing review in the New York Post has the Internet abuzz, and not with approbation. The Post's Maureen Callahan criticized their "dubious data," and said the book is "a series of shock-arguments wrapped in self-help tropes, and it's meant to do what racist arguments do: scare people." On New York magazine's website today, Lisa Miller is equally dismissive but criticizes the book for being, despite its provocative thesis, "a much blander, more conventional, and less sensational read." And at The Root, Keli Goff defends Chua and Rubenfeld from the charge of racism (the book is "obnoxious, but not racist," Goff's headline proclaims) and considers whether there might be some truth to their thesis.

There's plenty more commentary to cite online, but very little of it by people who seem to have read the book. (I haven't.) Time will tell if future reviewers are any more receptive, but even if not, Chua and Rubenfeld may cry all the way to the bank: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.


Filed under Amy Chua, Jed Rubenfeld, tiger mother, The Triple Package
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