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Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress Hardcover – May 18, 2000

3.8 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This collection of essays addresses a difficult question: Are some cultures better than others at creating freedom, prosperity, and justice? Although Culture Matters offers varying responses to this politically incorrect question, its editors, Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington, as well as the bulk of its contributors, answer in some form of the affirmative. In an introduction, Harrison (author of Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind) writes in the third person of the movement he helps lead: "They are the intellectual heirs of Alexis de Tocqueville, who concluded that what made the American political system work was a culture congenial to democracy; Max Weber, who explained the rise of capitalism as essentially a cultural phenomenon rooted in religion; and Edward Banfield, who illuminated the cultural roots of poverty and authoritarianism in southern Italy, a case with universal applications." (The book, moreover, is dedicated to Banfield, "who has illuminated the path for so many of us.") For readers loath to make value judgments about cultures, Culture Matters may be tough going. But admirers of Trust by Francis Fukuyama, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes, and any number of books by Thomas Sowell will find much to admire on these pages. Fukuyama and Landes, in fact, have written chapters--along with Barbara Crossette, Robert Edgerton, Nathan Glazer, Seymour Martin Lipset, Orlando Patterson, Lucian Pye, Jeffrey Sachs, and many others. In an especially compelling essay on Africa's continuing plight, Daniel Etounga-Manguelle asks, "What cultural reorientation is necessary so that in the concert of nations we [Africans] are no longer playing out of tune?"

And this is the point of the book: not to denigrate any particular culture, but to figure out how all people can improve their quality of life. In the words of Harrison, who pens the book's concluding essay, "It offers an important insight into why some countries and ethnic/religious groups have done better than others, not just in economic terms but also with respect to consolidation of democratic institutions and social justice. And those lessons of experience, which are increasingly finding practical application, particularly in Latin America, may help to illuminate the path to progress for that substantial majority of the world's people for whom prosperity, democracy, and social justice have remained out of reach." --John J. Miller

From Library Journal

Why do some cultures achieve economic success while others languish? Why do some countries develop successful democracies while others continue to undergo political upheavals? Are these discrepancies because of the cultural values of a people and their country? How important are these values, and can they be modified? These questions and others are discussed within the wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and sometimes quite controversial essays presented here. Drawn from a symposium sponsored by the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, essays by David Landes, Lucien Pye, Barbara Crossette, and others cover a wide variety of topics, from the effect of culture on various countries throughout the world to a discussion of culture and its role in gender issues. Also of interest are essays on how cultural issues may be the root cause of African American underachievement in the United States. Those interested in economics, cultural studies, international studies, and political science will find much to think about in this challenging collection. For academic libraries.
-Danna Bell-Russel, Library of Congress
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (May 18, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465031757
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465031757
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #730,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on July 22, 2000
It certainly seems to matter. Why, after all, should Japan have been be rich while Taiwan was poor, if culture did not matter? Or Denmark been a nation of farmers while Holland held dominion over the trade routes of the world? And why, as is asked in one of the most frustratingly tentative essays in this very variable volume, do different immigrant groups to the United States have such very different careers? Of course, it is unfashionable to ask such questions lest someone believe that to say culture matters is to imply that race matters: ie that members of wealthy races are inherently superior to members of poor races. Perhaps that is why the most compelling essays in this book are by an African development economist and a Latin American journalist who exclaim impatiently that of course culture matters and insist that the thing their nations need is to discover the cultural components of economic success and import some. Even more refreshing is the essay by Ronald Inglehardt who brings - gasp - actual measurable data to this debate. Not that anything is quite settled. We are still left with the big questions, like: Why Europe? Why not China? and What was so special about eighteenth century England? On those questions, permit me to recommend two other new books. Nathan Pomeranz's THE GREAT DIVERGENCE, which bends over backwards to prove that China could equally well have given us the industrial revolution, but for a few chance occurances that have nothing to do with culture. And BULLOUGH'S POND by Diana Muir, which, in the course of discussing a number of other things, does lead one to wonder if there may have been something about those Calvinists after all.
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By A Customer on June 20, 2000
Agree or disagree, you have to admit that there is food for thought in this collection. After all, if culture doesn't matter why is Singapore rich while Banglsdesh starves? The problem with this sort of thing is that it is so hard to pin down. Jared Diamond, after all, can tell us exactly how many domesticable plants there were per square mile on any given coast, and a phalanx of econometric historians tells us how taxes or wages impacted growth at given points in the past. By comparison culture is a slippery customer. Still, this is an interesting read. As a companion volume, I recommend Diana Muir's Reflections in Bullough's Pond, a dazzling little volume that plays out the culture wars on the ground.
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I'm afraid some may jump to conclusions simply from the title and contributors of this collection. This book is a fascinating discussion on the differences in culture around the world and how these have affected cultural paths. There really is no judgement involved. If you're curious at all about the way modern thought, from the most micro of microeconomics to the universals of anthropology, regards cultural differences and how those differences might contribute in a positive or negative way to the world's future success, then read it. You can be of any political persuasion, if you have an open mind, you will appreciate it.
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The essays in this book are uneven. Some go nowhere, while others soar. Generally, the essays toward the beginning of the book -- those by David Landes, Michael Porter, and Carlos Montaner, especially -- are outstanding. In contrast, the essays toward the end of the book are, generally, uninspired and uninspiring.
The theme of the volume is that culture matters. The best half-dozen essays in this book (along with the nice Introduction by Lawrence Harrison) make a powerful case that culture does indeed matter. It remains true that a generally accepted and precise definition of culture remains elusive; certainly, doing useful quantitative analyses of cultures is, as of now, only far off on the horizon. But the imprecisions that still mark discussions and analyses of culture should not prejudice scholars against recognizing the large role that culture plays in determining economic outcomes.
Anyone who believes that economic outcomes are strictly determined by the laws and regulations enforced by a sovereign state should read this book. He or she will have an almost-impossible task defending that position.
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The editors did a reasonable job of bringing in some good minds to explore the topic. However, though the issue of study was relevant and timely, these kinds of books that come out of symposium are generally a little too disultory to really do any topic justice. They are more to justify the costs of the conference and say to the sponsors, "look what we did." This book is no exception. Most of the authors are just re-hashing their own previosuly written articles and throwing a little cultural flavor in to make it presentable.
The reason I give it even 4 stars is that it is in fact the best modern book out there on the topic. What I would like to see at this point is one of the authors to pick up the ball and write an in-depth and coherent work on the subject.
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By A Customer on May 17, 2000
I saw this book reviewed in TIME and decided I had to read it. It's absolutely fascinating to see such a diverse group of scholars write about the role of culture in societal progress. You may not agree with every piece in this book, but every piece in this book will make you think. I particularly liked the articles by Orlando Patterson and David Landes.
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