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Us and Them: The Science of Identity 2nd,Updated Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226044651
ISBN-10: 0226044653
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"At over 300 pages of densely packed, scholarly-yet-accessible text Us & Them takes focused attention. Bereby takes his time and makes his case. If you read Malcolm Gladwell's breezy bestseller, Blink, and wanted a meatier discussion of the same points, Us & Them will satisfy."
(Jodi Forschmeidt Metapsychology)

“What exactly is this seemingly natural tendency to sort others into ‘kinds’? This question forms the core of Us and Them, which explores the conscious and unconscious ways in which people classify one another—and more important—why.”
(Richard Lipkin Scientific American Mind)

“We leap to categorize people. . . . Berreby uses mind and brain science to investigate why the human tendency to typecast is so powerful—and apparently so automatic.”

(Psychology Today)

“[A] brave book. . . . Berreby’s quest is to understand what he sees as a fundamental human urge to classify and identify with ‘human kinds.’”
(Henry Gee Scientific American)

Review

Each of us has experienced a feeling of kinship with someone who shares a love of chocolate, a passion for foreign films, or perhaps an affinity for a person with the same skin color or ethnic identity. We might also feel alienated from someone with the same qualities if he or she belongs to a "group" we do not like.

But what exactly is this seemingly natural tendency to sort others into "kinds"? This question forms the core of Us and Them, which explores the conscious and unconscious ways in which people classify one another--and more important--why. How humans can use this propensity constructively, rather than destructively, remains a central issue of our time, argues David Berreby, a veteran science journalist. Although this penchant may be hardwired into our brains, ultimately we choose how to live. Religious strife, political conflict and clan rivalries boil down to individual behavior.

Berreby says the sciences of brain and mind offer "a new way to look at love of country, at culture, at religion (and at hatred too)." Researchers are starting to understand "how and why people think and feel in tribes, and why all of us are capable of both tribal good and tribal evil." Advances are allowing scientists to grapple with such questions as "Why can't we all get along?" Berreby investigates the social, psychological and neurological mechanisms that move humans to categorize. For example, he considers how codes in the nervous system predispose us to organize perceptions, including ones that help us feel how other people feel. Science's assault on our beliefs about race, religion and nationalism has shown that even much of "common sense" is both blind and cruel. Berreby reminds us that not long ago North Americans held by common sense that slavery was natural, women should not vote and only heterosexuals deserved respect. "Good riddance to all that," he says. Still, attitudes die hard. "A white person and a black person in today's New York City can agree over coffee that race is `all in your mind,'" Berreby contends. "But when they leave Starbucks and raise their hands to hail a taxi, the white person is more likely to get a cab. In that moment, race is as real as gravity."

Given our drive to categorize, Berreby reflects thoughtfully on how to do so responsibly. "The Us-Them code does not own you," he concludes. "You own it."

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 396 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 2nd,Updated edition (November 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226044653
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226044651
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #389,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Berreby writes the "Other Knows Best" blog and is the author of "Us and Them: The Science of Identity." His writing about human behavior and other topics has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Nature, Slate, Aeon, Nautilus, The New Republic, Discover, Vogue and many other publications. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Paris, a Science Writing Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a resident at Yaddo, and in 2006 was awarded the Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship for the first edition of "Us and Them."

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Let me begin by stating the obvious: David Berreby is a journalist. This is both good and bad for him. It is good because first and foremost he is a writer; which simply means that he knows how to write well, keep pace, extract the useful information and boil down the discussion because he has no "horse in the race." But, this leads to the bad; he is not an authority on the subject. Now, as someone who understands what an "appeal to authority" is, this doesn't pose a problem.

With that aside, I think this a terrific book. I read it about ten months ago and didn't think it was all that great; however, I re-skimmed it and began to realize just how useful it is. Berreby begins in earnest with a discussion of what exactly a tribe of people, or "human-kind" is and how the concept has been used in the past. Notable mentions go to David Hume, Sir Francis Galton and Ludwig Wittgenstein; their names pop-up continuously throughout the book. The general point of the book is to demonstrate that "tribes" are a construct, or belief, that rely heavily on folk-psychology with effects that range from pointless to extremely harmful. For example, and in reference to homosexuals, let me quote Berreby, "As I've mentioned, human kinds are real in just the way that money is real. If enough people believe in a kind of person, that kind will take its place among the realities of life. Yes, it's a mental process, not ultimate reality, that makes us believe nowadays that gay people are a human kind with a common outlook and culture, while left-handers are not." The same argument is made for race, nationality and ethnicity, amongst others. The point Berreby is making here is that belief creates reality (too a certain extent), not the otherway around. The debate is between Essentialist's and Anti-essentialist's.
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I find the criticisms of the earlier editions of this work puzzling. I've been studying the subject of us and them for more than twenty years and this is clearly the most thoughtful and insightful examination I've discovered. Berreby's book requires multiple readings to get the full benefit of his research. If this work were required reading we might move a step closer to civilization.
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Drawing from a number of sources, Berreby tells our tale: the story of Us. In fifteen chapters he develops a science of identity. He proves, without a shadow of doubt (:-)), that our ability to make distinctions between Us and Them are both sources of problems as solutions to deal with the changes of life. When you combine this book with "Paradoxical Life" (Wagner) and "Paradoxes of Group Life" (Smith and Berg) you can finish your story yourself and colour the pictures.
The book is well written, hiding the scientific sources in the notes, without directly referring to them in the text. Perhaps too many words and not enough pictures.
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This novel is not for the casual reader of the science of people. It is a in-depth look at our biases and imprinted thinking from every aspect. There is not an epiphany of learning here, but the tedious learning of what so many of us are already aware, namely that even minor occurrences create our prejudices.
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