Timely and fascinating

'Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Culture Wires Our Minds, Shapes Our Nations, and Drives Our Differences' by Michele J. Gelfand (Robinson; Pb £13.99). Reviewed by Louise Beaton.

Rule Makers, Rule Breakers is that wonderful combination of a fascinating theory, well expounded, with plenty of examples. Michele Gelfand, who has previously only written text books, is an expert on tightness–looseness theory, which explains how culture drives social norms and influences the way we act without our even realising. While this sounds a fairly dry concept in isolation, in this book it becomes a compelling, absorbing and timely read. With a style that draws you in and fairly rattles along, the book should appeal to both the general popular science reader as well as the psychologist.

As the product of an American writer, the book shows more of a bias towards the US, but for me this does not detract from the message, with Gelfand providing helpful examples of the theory in action to illustrate a lot of the points made. Additionally, she is able to draw on a network of global researchers, providing relevant and intriguing examples and research findings, some of which will already be familiar to those with an interest in psychology, but used here in different contexts, to good effect.

This use of examples is where the book is most timely, as Gelfand provides intriguing explanations for some of the questions currently causing a lot of debate: Trump’s rise in popularity and the unexpected results in the 2016 US election, and, of course, how the UK became so split over the Brexit referendum. It presents a thought-provoking new perspective on both these issues and numerous others.

The book ranges widely and covers a large amount of material, leaving a feeling that certain areas could have benefited from being expanded upon. But that could also be because it is such a fascinating book, one finds oneself wanting to know more. It is, however, a fairly short read at 376 pages with a third of the page count taken up by the index and detailed notes.

Overall, an excellent read, and I for one am very much hoping this is not the last time Michele Gelfand ventures into popular science writing.

- Reviewed by Louise Beaton, who is an Open University psychology graduate

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