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Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393065053
ISBN-10: 0393065057
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Whether intelligence is largely determined by genetics or environment has long been hotly contested. Nisbett, a University of Michigan psychology professor, weighs in forcefully and articulately, claiming that environmental conditions almost completely overwhelm the impact of genes. He comes to this conclusion through a careful statistical analysis of a large number of studies and also demonstrates how environment can influence not only IQ measures but actual achievement of both students and adults. (People often overachieve when appropriate incentives are in place, Nisbett argues.) Nisbett builds a very strong case that measured IQ differences across racial, cultural and socioeconomic boundaries can easily be explained without resorting to hereditary factors. The result is a very positive message: schools, parents and government programs can have a huge impact if they take the right, which are not necessarily the most expensive, steps. Without those steps, he says, the current role of socioeconomic factors is frightening, with economically disadvantaged children largely condemned to failure. Although Nisbett relies heavily on statistics to document his claims, he does so in a manner accessible to general readers and uses a thoroughly appealing style to engage them throughout. (Feb.)
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“A devastating and persuasive refutation of all those who believe intellectual ability is fixed at birth. Few Americans have done as much to deepen our understanding of what it means to be human. (Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink)”

“[Nisbett’s] biggest message, largely unspoken, is one of persistence and hope. If all kids are capable of learning under the right circumstances, parents and teachers should never give up on children who appear to be low performers. Everyone has the inherent ability to be smart. (Associated Press, Dinesh Ramde)”

“If intelligence were deeply encoded in our genes, that would lead to the depressing conclusion that neither schooling nor antipoverty programs can accomplish much. Yet while this view of I.Q. as overwhelmingly inherited has been widely held, the evidence is growing that it is, at a practical level, profoundly wrong. Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has just demolished this view in a superb new book, Intelligence and How to Get It, which also offers terrific advice for addressing poverty and inequality in America.... Offers terrific advice for addressing poverty.... [and] provides suggestions for transforming your own urchins into geniuses. (Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times)”

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 282 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (February 2, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393065057
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393065053
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I bought this book based one some gushing reviews and hoping it might do some good for my parenting skills. The main thrust of the book is to dissect the question of whether IQ is a useful test, and if so, whether it comes from your genes or your environment. The author piles on a mountain of evidence that while genes matter, the environment matters at least as much. If you are willing to buy that proposition at the start, then you can skip five of the first 6 chapters without serious loss. In fact the Epilogue nicely summarizes all of this information in just a few pages, so you should just read that first. The most interesting section of these chapters analyzes how certain types of analytical intelligence have actually been improving for the general population over the past few decades due to increased levels of schooling and earlier teaching of symbolic reasoning.

Chapter 4 talks about school as an environment and the main actionable comment is don't let your kid have a rookie teacher.

Chapter 7 talks about how poverty conditions greatly hurt IQ and this information will be quite important for people with a policy interest.

One of the main points of Chapters 4 and 7 is that certain computer-based programs are highly effective at improving IQ for a fairly low price.

Chapters 8 and 9 discuss the disproportionate success of Asian-American and Jewish people. Chapter 8 declares that Asians have normal IQ scores, but they work so hard that they effectively add (e.g. 15 points of) IQ and that makes a huge difference. There is a discussion of differences in Asian and American thinking styles that concludes Asians make good engineers and Americans make good scientists.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderfully well-written book that should be read by anyone with an interest in the heritability of intelligence. Both hereditarians and environmentalists will profit from exposure to the book. Richard Nisbett is an environmentalist and makes an eloquent and accessible case for his cause against those whom he calls "strong hereditarians," those who believe that .75 to .85 of the variation in IQ within a population is heritable.By his definition, he is an environmentalist because he believes that .50 or less of the variation in IQ is heritable. Certainly there are "strong hereditarians," such as Arthur Jensen and J. Philippe Rushton, but the "strong hereditarians" he brings up and criticizes most are Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, the authors of the Bell Curve. The problem with this is that by his definition they are closer to the environmentalist side than the hereditarian side because they argue that .60 of the population variation in IQ is heritable (as Nisbett acknowledges on page 210). I mention this because one must bear in mind that among the chief adversaries on this issue, they are separated over whether .50 (or less) or .60 of the variation in IQ is heritable. Indeed, it is worth noting that by Nisbett's definition Judith Rich Harris, the author of The Nurture Assumption and No Two Alike, is an environmentalist.

One clear, but all too typical, error the author makes occurs in his discussion of "stereotype threat," the idea that when their race is made salient, blacks perform worse on IQ and achievement tests because they are afraid of confirming a stereotype. Nisbett asserts that when a test is presented as a puzzle, instead of as a test of intelligence, "black and whites do equally well on the test" ( p.95).
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Format: Hardcover
Nisbett's latest book serves several purposes. On one level, he is arguing with his fellow IQ researchers that "schools and culture matter" more than the field suspected (e.g. a 1987 survey by Stanley and Rothman found high estimates of individual heritability and plurality support for the view that both genetic differences and environment played a role in American IQ gaps). Nisbett marshals a persuasive case, and while his thesis is forcefully stated he is scrupulous in pointing out contrary arguments and evidence. Occasionally the main text seemed to overstate a point, but in the vast majority of such cases a turn to the notes section or appendices revealed that the complications had been mentioned there (with a few exceptions related to the views of hereditarians on dysgenics and the causes of low IQ in Africa), and the book could serve as a good introduction to the field for laypeople.

Another major element of the book is a call for bringing scientific rigor to education. Rigorous controlled experiments, research that takes our knowledge of IQ into account, genetics-aware studies such as Eric Turkheimer's (which measure environmental effects on phenomena such as substance abuse using twins to control for genetic effects), and clear thinking have the potential to greatly improve the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of education and improve cognition. Fear of hereditarian views and associations with racism often hinder educational policymakers from taking our scientific knowledge of IQ into account, with negative effects on educational quality, and we may hope that this text will help to diminish that stigma and help to drive further improvements in cognitive ability.
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