Amy Chua received a lot of attention for Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a memoir about raising two daughters "the Chinese way." While Westerners will have many issues with her parenting style, Chua has insisted that the book is not intended as a how-to guide (despite the publisher’s claim on the back!). Rather it is the enjoyable story of a family at the intersection of cultures, and it is told with wit and self-deprecating humor throughout.Chua makes the point - which, like many truths, seems obvious once she has said it - that you don’t enjoy something when you’re not good at it, you don’t get good at it until you’ve done a lot of unenjoyable work, and that once you’re good at it, you love it. So it is with music, so it is with sports, so it is with academics. Effort trumps ability, and genius and virtuosity are less the result of innate talents than of long, rigorous practice. That abstract point was lived out and validated repeatedly in these pages.
In short, tiger mothers push their children. Hard. Contra the Western model which rewards a child’s effort, tiger mothers reward only complete success when preceded by considerable effort. As a result, their children tend to be driven and excel in whatever they pursue -- which is also entirely determined by their mother. They don’t have the freedom and choice we Westerners give our children, and consequently, they waste less time on idle pursuits. On the other hand, they also aren’t good at, as Chua put it, "enjoying life," and they don’t give much attention to less formal aspects of knowledge like navigating social circles and engaging people.
We read this book out loud and laughed out loud all through it. It’s that funny. But it also holds valuable lessons about raising children, learning, and adapting to changing circumstances. You will likely reject many details of Chua’s philosophy and style, but it is still a stimulating book. And you can’t argue with success.