This book begins with the question of who is successful in America. The answer is not a list of individuals who have accumulated wealth, achievements, or fame. Instead the authors focus on groups whose members measure above average in business and other forms of "...material, conventional, prestige-oriented success." These cultural groups are defined similarly: "...their members tend to be raised with, identify themselves by, and pass down certain culturally specific values and beliefs, habits and practices." America's most successful groups include Mormons; immigrants from Cuba, Nigeria, India, China, Iran, and Lebanon; and Jews.
These groups are not genetically superior or recipients of unfair advantages, argue authors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld. They share three cultural characteristics the authors call "The Triple Package." Members of each group have a Superiority Complex, "...a deeply internalized belief in your group's specialness, exceptionality, or superiority." Members of successful groups are characterized by Insecurity, "...a species of discontent--an anxious uncertainty about your worth or place in society, a feeling or worry that you or what you've done or what you have is in some fundamental way not good enough." Finally, these cultural subgroups value Impulse Control, "...the ability to resist temptation, especially the temptation to give up in the face of hardship or quit instead of persevering at a difficult task."
Triple Package values run counter to three strong currents in contemporary American culture. Rather than regarding any person or culture as Superior to any other, Americans shy away from comparative judgments. Insecurity is seen as a threat to self-esteem, which has become a core value in public education where the competition which can lead to achievement is softened to reduce disappointment and negative self-esteem. Impulse Control is incompatible with the immediate gratification and unrestrained freedom valued in our indulgent, youth-oriented culture. Triple Package subcultures are successful in part because they contrast so sharply with the mainstream culture around them.
The book explores how these values are manifest differently in the eight successful subcultures. There are analyses of how successive generations can lose their subcultural heritage, becoming simultaneously more mainstream and less successful. Contrasts with the values of poverty-stricken subcultures, such as those found in Appalachia and inner-city neighborhoods highlight the advantages of Triple Package values as a path to individual as well as group success.
This is a well-researched and thoughtfully written book. The arguments and supporting evidence are clearly communicated. An extensive and usable chapter notes section allows readers to engage with the authors' main points in depth. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in subgroup differences in contemporary American culture.
on 8 September 2014
Initially I bought this having read "Battle Hymns of a Tiger Mother", thinking this book may have an interesting debate on what makes people successful, but it really turns out to be a long, drawn out cultural view of the development of jews and chinese in the USA. If you want a historical, anecdotal account of the proliferation of the "ethnic minority" in the USA, then this is the book for you. As for the "crux" of the book of what the "Triple threat" is, you need not read further than the first few chapters.
Overall I am disappointed in the content of the book and it felt like an extremely drawn out journal article or thesis, padded out with lots of historical accounts of ethnic minorities within the USA.
As Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld explain, the paradoxical premise of their book is that "successful people tend to feel simultaneously inadequate and superior. Certain groups tend to make their members feel this way more than others; groups that do so are disproportionately successful...This book offers a new way to look at success -- its hidden spurs, its inner dynamics, its costs. These costs can be high, even crippling. But when properly understood and harnessed, the package of three cultural traits described in this book, become the source of empowerment unconfined by any particular definition of success."
The three cultural traits, the Triple Package (i.e. a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control or self-discipline) "is accessible to anyone. It's a set of values and beliefs, habits and practices, that individuals from any background can make a part of their lives or their children's lives, enabling them to pursue success as they define it." Chua and Rubenfeld examine several groups but focus primarily on, listed alphabetically, on African-, Asian-, Cuban-, Hispanic and Latino-, Indian-, Iranian-, and Nigerian- as well as Jews and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints (LDS) or Mormons.
It is important, indeed essential to keep in mind that Chua and Rubenfeld do NOT suggest that all members of each group aspire to or are under severe pressure to embrace and personify the Triple Package. I hasten to add that the nature and extent of each attribute in those who do possess all three vary, sometimes significantly. Chua and Rubenfeld's aforementioned premise -- their information and insights -- are research-driven (as indicated by extensively annotated notes, Pages 231-308) and what I found of greatest interest and value are the patterns revealed by that research. These patterns help to explain (at least to some extent) values and behavior. For example:
o Children in the U.S.A. are taught to believe that everyone is equal, that no group is superior to another. However, all of the most successful groups in this country tend to believe (although they may not say so) that they're exceptional, chosen, or superior in one or more ways.
o Children are taught that self-esteem is the key to success. However, in the groups that Chua and Rubenfeld examine, members tend to feel insecure, unworthy, inadequate...and must prove themselves otherwise.
o One of the major cultural values in the U.S.A. is immediate gratification, "living in the moment." However, all of the most successful groups tend to affirm the need for -- and cultivate -- strict self-discipline and impulse control.
I use the phrase "tend to" intentionally. Chua and Rubenfeld are commendably sensitive to the perils of ethnic stereotyping and I do not wish to suggest (or even imply) otherwise. As they explain, "Superiority plus insecurity is a formula for drive. Superiority plus impulse control is a formula for hardship endurance. When the Triple Package brings all three elements together in a group's culture, members of that group become disproportionately willing and able to do or accept whatever it takes today in order to make it tomorrow."
These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Chua and Rubenfeld's coverage.
o Jews and academic achievement (Pages 24-26 and 193-196)
o Cuban American Exiles (36-41, 71-72, and 87-89)
o Insecurity: Jews and Mormons (60-68)
o Mormons and superiority complex (64-68)
o African Americans and superiority complex (72-78)
o Iranian Americans and insecurity/scorn (89-95)
o Indian Americans and insecurity/scorn (95-102)
o Chinese Americans and academic achievement (123-124, 126-131, and 171-173)
o America and the Triple Package (199-225)
When concluding their immensely thoughtful and thought-provoking book, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld observe, "At the end of the day, the Triple Package is a form of empowerment, which can be used for selfish gain or for others' good alike. People who have it are not guaranteed anything, and they run the risk of real pathologies. But they are in a position to transform their own and others' lives...The real promise of a Triple Package America is the promise of a day when there are no longer any successful groups in the United States -- only successful individuals."
I agree with the spirit of that last sentence but presume to suggest that, with very rare exceptions, those who make the American Dream a reality for themselves do so with the assistance of countless others.