The one-sentence summary

Anthropology provides a wholly new way of viewing human behaviour.

Can’t be bothered to read it? Listen to the 5-minute podcast in two parts. 


  • There are three big ideas in the book:
  1. In an era of global contagion, we urgently need to cultivate a mindset of empathy for strangers and value diversity.
  2. A key principle of anthropology is that listening to someone’s else’s view, however “strange”, does not just teach empathy for others, but it also makes it easier to see yourself. Author Horace Miner said: “Anthropology alone among the sciences strives to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.” The aim is to increase our understanding of both.
  3. Embracing the strange-familiar concept enables us to see blind spots in others and ourselves.
  • Echoing these principles, the book covers:
  1. Making the strange familiar: all humans instinctively shy away from and scorn cultures that seem strange, but it pays to embrace “strange” and culture shock by using participant observation or ethnography.
  2. Making the familiar strange: it is human nature to assume that the way we live is “normal” and everything else is weird, but that’s wrong. There are multiple ways to live, and when we look at the world through someone else’s eyes, we see ourselves more objectively – particularly risks and opportunities. When people feel they are dealing with “others” they often get things wrong.
  3. Listening to social silence: we live in a world of constant noise, but much is hidden in plain sight. Ethnographic tools such as habitus, reciprocity, and sense-making can help.

Habitus: developed by Bourdieu, we use mental and cultural maps that we inherit from our surroundings, so we could be one thing in one context and quite different in another.

Reciprocity: a form of social debt that binds people together

Sense-making: the process by which people give meaning to their collective experience

  • All of this can be crystalized in the phrase: “That may be your worldview, but it is not everybody’s.” Simple to say, but not easy to remember.
  • We can get to anthro-vision by:
  1. Recognizing that we are all creatures of our own environment in an ecological, social and cultural sense.
  2. We must accept that there is no single “natural” cultural frame: human existence is a tale of diversity.
  3. We should always seek ways to immerse ourselves in the minds of others to whom we are different to gain empathy.
  4. We must look at our own world with the lens of an outsider to see ourselves clearly.
  5. We should use that perspective to actively listen to social silence.


  • Unlike many in the West, the Chinese are less concerned about facial recognition by machines because of their experience with the Cultural Revolution and their subsequent distrust of bureaucrats. By comparison, machines are fine.
  • WEIRD people tend to be self-obsessed, control-orientated, nonconformist and analytical. They are Western, Educated, Individualistic, Rich, Democratic. This is why so much research and decision-making is misguided, because it is unrepresentative.
  • Journalists (and perhaps all of us) need to address our bias 4 ways:
  1. Recognize that our lenses are “dirty”
  2. Consciously note our biases
  3. Attempt to offset these biases by trying to see the world from different perspectives
  4. Remember that our personal lens will never be perfectly clean


  • This sheds light on many complicated circumstances in politics, financial markets and workplaces.