Sadly I had to read this book on Kindle, so my usual method of saving passages and ideas by the folded page is failing me. I can tell you this is one of the most interesting (but also flawed) books I read this year, with “family structure is sticky and it determines the fate of your nation” as the basic takeaway.
Todd suggests that the United States actually has a fairly “backward” and un-evolved family structure — exogamy and individualism — not too different from that of hunter-gatherer societies. That makes us very flexible and also well-suited to handle the changing conditions of modernity. Much of the Arab world, in contrast, has a highly complex and evolved and in some ways “more advanced” family structure, involving multiple alliances, overlapping networks, and often cousin marriages. The mistake is to think of those structures as under-evolved outcomes that simply can advance a bit, “loosen up with prosperity,” and allow their respective countries to enter modernity. Rather those structures are stuck in place, and they will interact with the more physical features of globalization and liberalization in interesting and not always pleasant ways. Many of those societies will end up in untenable corners with no full liberalization anywhere in sight. Much of Todd’s book works through what the various options are here, and how they might apply to different parts of the world.
To be clear, half of this book is unsupported, or sometimes just trivial. There were several times I was tempted to just stop reading, but then it became interesting again. Todd covers a great deal of ground (the subtitle is A History of Humanity from the Stone Age to Homo Americanus), not all of it convincingly. But when he makes you think, you really feel he might be on to something.
Todd describes Germany as having a complex, multi-tiered, somewhat authoritarian family structure, and one that does not mesh well with the norms of feminism and individualism that have been entering the country. That family structure is also part of why Germany was, relative to its size, militarily so strong in the earlier part of the twentieth century. He also argues that the countries that stayed communist longer have some common features to their family structure, Cuba being the Latin American outlier in this regard.
Todd makes the strongest bullish case for Russia I have seen. He reports that TFR is back up to 1.8 after an enormous post-communist plunge, migration into the country is strongly positive, and Russia is very good at producing strong, productive women (again due to family structure). If you think human capital matters, the positives here are significant indeed.
Here is some related work by my colleagues Jonathan Schulz and Jonathan Beauchamp on cousin marriage.
You can order Todd’s book here. Recommended, though with significant caveats, mainly for lack of evidence on some of the key propositions.