Geography of Thought review

A review of Geography of Thought by Richard Nesbitt.

I’ve read about a third of this book carefully now and skimmed through the rest. I had to put it down. It just rubbed me the wrong way. So then I read some reviews online and thankfully found other people who were also a little bit disgusted by it. And I think it boils down to Nesbitt overstating his conclusions.

Nesbitt does a good job of collecting a lot of research findings (I’m reluctant to say evidence) that show Asians perform differently on many cognitive tests compared to Americans and Europeans. However, he then makes huge leaps and jumps to posit that this proves there’s immutable differences between Asians and Americans. I’ll agree that you may find differences in perception and thinking tendencies amongst difference groups of people. However, to keep pinning it back to race or ethnicity is not cool. Nesbitt should also know that you’ll find a lot of differences in language ability amongst Asians and Americans, but this is not because of their race! We grow up in different environments and our brains develop to take advantage of what’s available around us. This is human, not racial. If a baby of chinese parents is born and raised in America, he will speak and sound -get ready for this- American. I’m pretty sure this applies to other cognitive skills too, not just language.

The other thing that got me hating this book is Nesbitt’s writing style. He doesn’t really let the reader do his own thinking. No numbers are presented with any of the research findings. You won’t find a single graph in this book, nevermind p-values and effect size. I could accept this if Nisbett was a journalist, but he’s a professor!

And then there’s Nesbitt’s prejudices. On page 188, he asks, “Why do nonlogical Asians tend to do so much better in math”.. (p188), ). “Nonlogical Asians”? Oh f*ck off Nesbitt. And, “Americans do tend to generate more counterarguments than Chinese do. In effect, Americans may not know their own strength, failing to understand how easy it is for them to attack an argument” (p.183). Really? Americans are so awesome, they don’t even know it. Give me a break man, you’re killing me. The book is full of prejudiced writing like that. Here’s my favorite: page 189, “Asian superiority in math and science is paradoxical, but scarcely contradictory”. He concedes Asians do better in math and science… but wait, it’s not because they are smarter, it’s because they work harder. I wish I was making this up.

Anyways.. onto the end. I give this book a 2/5. Interesting topic. Well researched. But poorly analysed, badly written, and (in my Asian opinion) misguided.