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Book Review: The Way of Brain Success

Hey there. Been a while. Actually I just got back from Taiwan (I’m saying this in a “we do a lot of travelling” middle-class-person-showing-off-voice, by the way…this is the one where you pretend it’s no big deal to you while at the same time trying to emphasize it; I’ve worked pretty hard on this voice so I’m kind of proud of it).

As you know, I often project the image of a raving anti-Semite. But actually I hate people who are intolerant of other ethnicities. And the Basques.

The Basques.

Why is there a “q”? Why do they get the “special” language? Why is there Basque Freemason writing on the back of the American $5 bill?

Made you look!…Haha…too much Internet for you!

I’d like to Basque in the glory of this topic the whole day, but we have a book review to do, so let’s get started. The book is The Way of Brain Success: 猶太人の頭の中. The author is one Andrew J. Sutter. The Japanese translation is by his wife, 中村起子/NAKAMURA Kiko.


The Way of Brain Success

  • Title: ユダヤ人の頭のなか / ユダヤジンノアタマノナカ
  • Format: Non-fiction, Paperback
  • Author: Andrew J. Sutter
  • Furigana: Negatory.
  • Genre: Personal development.
  • Veracity: Non-Fiction
  • Color: Black and white
  • Illustrations: Essentially, none.
  • YesAsia

Structurally, this book is quite interesting…it was written in English by the author (who’s Jewish, so…we have a good chance that he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to “Jewish stuff”), but always with the intention of publication in Japanese; AFAIK, there is no English version bar Sutter’s original manuscript. TWOBS was intended from the start to be a Japanese book, and the translation was so good that it led one Japanese customer on Amazon.JP to comment that “it’s like it’s not even a translation”…if he knew the path to its publication, he would understand why he felt that way. So, in terms of style and audience, this is a purely Japanese book.

While the government of Japan refused to partake in the anti-Semitism that was terribly en vogue in let’s just say certain parts of Europe in the 1940s (and, well, frankly…even today on certain European island nations beginning with B and ending in ritain — at least at my high school), Protocols of the Elders of Zion-style judaeophobic books do exist here, unfortunately. Before everyone goes freaking out, there are also more level-headed books, like 加瀬 英明/KASE Hideaki’s ユダヤの力/YUDAYA NO CHIKARA. But the crappy books needed to be answered and Sutter was just the chap to do it.

But first, let’s get into:

Why Khatzumoto was even interested in a topic as ripe for grief, libel, slander, misunderstanding, simple crudeness, scapegoatery, scapesheepery and appalling violence, as Jewish science, I mean, success?

For the answer to that question, you need look no further than my undergraduate experiences.

Experience number one. It was a computer science class in the computer science building with the best computer science professor in the world (Iowa, represent!). Outside, summer. Inside, dark. Room, dimly lit. Whiteboard, white but hard to see. Professor, really interesting as always. And he, that man, my sensei, said something that is probably common knowledge for everyone else, but hit me like lightning. He said that the source of the worldly success enjoyed by the Jews of Europe in the past 250 or so years, lies in the fact that the Jewish men of Europe could all do something that almost all the gentiles could not: read. Indeed, another name for the Jews is “the people of the book”. Also, “the people of the Nobel prize”.

Experience number two. When I was a kid, I used to read and watch TV simultaneously. Often, I’d be reading two or sometimes even three books and watching the ‘levision. It felt entirely natural to me but a lot of people got on my case about it (Them: “Pick one!”, Me: “No!”). Then, in 2004 I’m at a college friend’s family house and her dad is in the kitchen with magazine on the table a novel in hand and a documentary on the telly and it was like everything was warm and fuzzy because finally someone understood me and it turns out he’s Jewish which tangentially connects it to this post.

Indeed, these college experiences helped set the stage for my literacy “revelation”, which I very verbosely shared with you here. I got interested in how the Jews as a people — with exceptions, of course — had risen, literally from the ghetto, to success in so many fields. How they dealt with every ridiculous obstacle that was placed in their way. Can’t own land? Learn a trade. Trade guilds won’t let you in? Deal with money. No access to reliable customers? Provide consumer financial services for high-risk clients. WASP law firms won’t let you in or make you partner? Make your own and win crappy cases until the whole legal world knows you’re the best. Your country kicks you out because they say your science is different? Go and be Einstein somewhere else. Columbia University won’t allow you to attend because they have a “Jewish quota” (WTF?). Go to MIT and become Richard Feynman anyway (smooth move, Columbia).

I bet the same idiots who whine about affirmative action now (can of worms! can of worms!) would have whined about “Jews winning all the university places” back when the Ivy League was busy rejecting Richard Feynman and anyone else who looked too smart and had a German-sounding name. Mediocre members of a majority ethnic group loooooove flapping lip about how some minority is ruining it for them; it happens in the US with ethnic minorities; it happens in Kenya with Desis; it happens in Malaysia with ethnic Chinese (my Malay friends are going to beat me up over this). Funnily enough, though, the smart kids of all ethnicities never whine: when you’re the best, you’re the freaking best.

As Sutter explains, culture is everything (not genetics: Sutter says the evidence just isn’t there). The Jews built a religious culture founded on literacy and encouraging of learning: learning itself was considered worship. Sutter describes a traditional ceremony in which children were given honey as a reward in conjunction with some activity involving reading or memorizing parts of a certain religious text; the aim of the ceremony was literally to teach them that learning is sweet (reminds me of how I used to eat Jelly Bellies after each Chinese SRS rep); in terms of behaviorism, this is so many types of right it’s not even funny. So, when the Haskalah came and restrictions on secular activity were loosened, it was a matter of shifting the focus of that prodigious intellectual activity from the finer details of religious jurisprudence to whatever presented itself in the world outside. Not to mention the fact that the ever-present danger of being “asked to leave” led the Jews as a group to seek a portable, long-lasting, borderless asset — more valuable than land, cattle or bling and quite impossible to steal: knowledge.

Sutter and Kase both recount various interesting fables passed down in the Jewish community, illustrating the value of brain over brawn in even the direst of situations. There’s one about a Jew who is brought to a magistrate in some European country in medieval times, accused of murdering a gentile’s child. The magistrate is a raving anti-Semite, but is also a gentleman, and so likes to give the appearance of fairness; he announces to the Jewish guy: “Look here, Greenbaum; I’m a fair man. Since there were no eyewitnesses and DNA forensic evidence tests haven’t been invented yet, let that God of yours decide your fate. In this hat are two pieces of paper, one says ‘guilty’ and the other ‘not guilty’. You pick. The paper shall be your fate”. Greenbaum knows that the magistrate reads too many shady conspiracy parchments, and is a thoroughgoing Jew-hater, and realizes that both pieces of paper say “guilty”; but there’s no way he could slander the town magistrate and live. Seemingly resigned to his fate, he mutters a prayer, reaches into the hat…pulls out a piece of paper…and eats it. Everyone goes into shock; his family is all screaming: “What are you Jewing?! Jew CRAYzay!”. And then he tells the magistrate: “the paper I didn’t pick is still there; you can check against it”. Greenbaum lives. Intellectual muscle saves the day. The end.

Another Jewish fable for children (this time from Kase) tells of a ship, again in dayes of olde. On it were two merchants and a scholar. The two merchants sell i-Parchments, designer clothes, bling and all manner of other luxury merchandise. They’ve been on the ship a few days, and the topic of conversation comes to the scholar and what he sells. The scholar tells the merchants he sells the most valuable merchandise in all the world, better than bling, designer clothes and i-Parchments. The other merchants are curious but puzzled. Bored, they ask around the ship, looking for the scholar’s merchandise. Eventually they realize that the scholar has no merchandise, and they’re like: “that Greenbaum kid is an egit”. Days later a storm hits, the ship sinks and almost everyone dies. The merchants and the scholar float ashore, stranded in a strange new land. With no insurance and all their merchandise gone, the merchants become beggars. The scholar goes into town and becomes a consultant for the king, makes a lot of gold and eventually uses his wealth to help his former fellow passengers back on their feet. Once again, the day is saved thanks to intellectual muscle.

Contrast this attitude to knowledge and its acquisition, with how many other cultures treat geeks and geekery. Think how most gaijin act towards Japanese-learning fellow gaijin. They call them names (“geeks”, “weebos”). They tell them to “stop pretending to read”. Tell them “they can do that at home”. They tell them to “stop acting Japanese”. Jock culture and sports heroes are lionized — and perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, it’s just that too many people forget that most sportspeople are in fact interchangeable pawns (always one injury away from being thrown away like so many used Kleenex) in a wider game played and run by the aforementioned geeks. Everybody wanting to be a gladiator when it would be safer and easier and far more profitable to be a stable owner instead…

Fortunately for me, my mother listened to TONS of Barbara Streisand when I was a child. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing whatsoever. But she was always going on and on and on about the value of knowledge this and Barbara Streisand that and no one can take knowledge away from you and are you even listening and put down the Game Boy and this is my favorite Barbara song.

My Japanese journey (and, even the Chinese one) had its fair share of opposition, but the early microculture of my nuclear family, the fact that our home was reader-friendly — this set a good example. Growing up it all seemed quite normal. But as an adult, I have met a few people who treat me like a freak who “reads all the time”; interestingly enough, their social station somewhat reflects this attitude to “booklurnin!”. It’s not like I’m an intellecual juggernaut (I want to be :D)…and it’s not like economics is everything — knowledge is valuable in and of itself. But, let’s be coldly realistic for a second: most manual labor is as unremunerative as it is taxing; while it is very valuable to society, quite frankly it is not valued by society at all. At all. On the other hand, intellectual labor is almost the total opposite — thinking up ways to do less (“laziness”, of a sort) wins extra credit. At least it seems like that to me.

Currently, all intellectual life depends on literacy. Not, I think, because straight text is a superior medium (quite the opposite), but because it’s been around longer, boasts the highest quality and quantity of content, and has been chosen as the primary medium of intellectual discourse in the society we live in (of course, oral-centric intellectual cultures have existed — Celtic civilization and Ancient Greece are good examples). Today, a good-sized bookstore or library (link to pictures of 誠品/Chengpin, a really nice bookstore in Taipei…I spent a whole night reading at their 24-hour branch 😀 …) simply has more and better information in it than the most premo premium cable. Thus, to cut yourself off from literacy is to cut yourself off from text is to cut yourself off from the bulk of intellectual activity and from the highest-quality information in the world. As a foreigner in a bibliocentric country like Japan, this means you are restricted to one of three roles: (1) sheltered expat, (2) cultural ambassador, (3) exploited manual labor. There is no middle ground.

The moral of the story is: don’t be a schlemiel; learn to read and keep reading — it’s fun and there’s a future in it. And get this book for the full story, because anything I say must be tainted and watered down quite a bit. Anyway, the massive worldwide Basque blogging conspiracy won’t let me make this post any longer, so…goodbye for now.

  25 comments for “Book Review: The Way of Brain Success

  1. Jon
    February 26, 2009 at 21:44

    It isn’t really true to say that Japan in that era “refused to partake in anti-Semitism”; the entire Fugu Plan was predicated on full participation in it, from the supposed gain (the innate financial wizardry or somesuch) to the risk that led to its name. The most that can be said about attitudes towards Jews is that it doesn’t seem like there was much outright violence against them (I say “seem” because I’ve only done about five minutes of research into that topic right now).

  2. February 26, 2009 at 22:24

    While it’s true that the Fugu Plan exploited what the Japanese anticipated to be “Jewish potential”, the Japanese government didn’t, for example, condone the Final Solution. It actually offered Jews a way out of Europe before the Pacific War started up. (Not that it was a desirable “way out”)

    Antisemitism is characterized by a repulsion, so it would seem counter-intuitive to invite someone you despise to your possessed territory. But, yes – Exploitation: That’s the keyword.

    Kats – If you want some more Jewish perspective in pop-media, have a look at the first season Mad Men. Well, that is if you can find it dubbed in Japanese?

  3. February 27, 2009 at 04:02

    I’ve heard (from random internet sources, so take this may or may not be completely false) that there’s a considerable market in Japan for conspiracy theory books and such about Jewish people and that some of that antisemitism is leaking into the general population. Again, I have no idea if this is true or not. But Khatzumoto lives there. Is this true?

  4. khatzumoto
    February 27, 2009 at 04:09

    Unfortunately…I have not not seen it.

  5. February 27, 2009 at 04:50

    LOL! I didn’t mean that I thought that would be a bad thing if there weren’t any! That’s great! I mean…unless you’re into that sort of thing…

  6. Harry
    February 27, 2009 at 05:07

    Hey! Your back. Finally a new post of Knowledge. :0
    Moral of the story = Keep reading?

    Thanks again man.

  7. February 27, 2009 at 13:32

    I just wrote about the Chinese ability to just put their heads down and deal with stuff going wrong, and I think the stereotypical (but reasonably widespread and accurate) view of Jewish success is similar. Few people have gotten the short end of the stick more consistently and made more out of it. Nurture is, as you mention, a lot more important than nature here.

    I like that you’re emphasizing reading here, too. Sometimes I think people get stuck up on SRS and sentencing (trees) without paying much attention to just reading like mad (forest). I’ve never met an intelligent person (in any language) that wasn’t a reader of some sort. If you aspire to be an intelligent person in another language (as I hope that most learners do), there’s no reason to believe that it would be any different.

  8. Erick
    February 27, 2009 at 14:09


  9. February 27, 2009 at 15:37

    Khatz, I’d be great to get an update on your trip to Taiwan and your Chinese progress…Sorry to bring it up, I know its probably annoying hearing so many people wanting to know how your progress is going before you’ve even completed the task…But, I think it’d be interesting to hear if you discovered anything about your Chinese ability while in Taiwan(whether it be weakness’s and/or strengths in your listening/speaking ability)!

    Great post as always!

  10. Ceryni
    February 27, 2009 at 22:22

    Keep in mind Terence, Khatz has been working on Cantonese. Taiwan speaks Mandarin and Hokkien. Cantonese is spoken in Hang Kong and Guang Dong i believe.

  11. February 28, 2009 at 02:34

    Thank you Ceryni, I was under the impression that HK and Taiwan used Cantonese. Just goes to show how little I know about anything outside Japan…

  12. February 28, 2009 at 09:36

    Hey! Wut you readin’ for?


    Reading is such a great way to be able to choose the material you see in a foreign language. You can take your own pace and not have to rely on others to speak about the cool stuff you are interested in.

    Otherwise this post was far too intellectual for me.

  13. Maya
    March 1, 2009 at 10:31

    quick question: is “yappa” a short form of “yappari”?

  14. Andrew J. Sutter
    March 6, 2009 at 15:32

    Thanks very much for your kind words about my book. BTW, I think the 猶太 characters are more common in Chinese (maybe your Taiwan influence). I definitely wanted to stick with katakana to avoid the somewhat racist “dog” associations in the characters. And there are a few illustrations in the book, though they are sparsely distributed and for the most part PowerPoint-ish. But thanks, 本当に!

    Based on the discussion of education in this book, my wife and I were asked to write another, ユダヤ人が語った親バカ教育のレシピ (Index Communications 2006). This includes several interviews we did with a Nobel laureate, a MacArthur Pirze winner, and other prominent people about how they were brought up. We didn’t all watch TV while reading, but there are many other similarites across the board, despite wide disparities in income, domestic situation, etc. The Korean translation of 親バカ is due to appear in a couple of weeks; the translation of ユダヤ人の頭のなか appeared there last year, though with a title, cover and some other modifications I did not approve of.

    Unfortunately, it’s typical of Asian publishers to sensationalize books about Jews without the authors’ knowledge. In the case of the first Korean book, it was done AFTER a Korean friend of mine had already reviewed and approved the manuscript. The reason is greed, rather than racial animus; by appealing more to the audience’s expectations (Jews = secrets of getting rich, in this case), they figure it will sell more. The publisher even expected I’d be cool with that, because of potentially more royalties. Something similar is at work in the unbalanced coverage of Japan in US media — US editors won’t accept stories unless they’re about some wacky fad or the Japanese economy going down the toilet (though stories about knife-wielding nuts in Akihabara do break through). I was lucky that my Japanese publisher was more on the level (though I’d have definitely sued if they hadn’t been).

    I agree with what you say about literacy, and am both admiring and envious — I’ve been living in Tokyo for 2 years now and am far, far from it. Thanks again.

  15. Andrew J. Sutter
    March 6, 2009 at 16:04

    PS: correct reading of character 起 in my wife’s name is ゆき, though this is not a common spelling of Yukiko.

  16. Ivan the Terrible
    March 7, 2009 at 12:28

    You’re back in Japan, and now I’m back in Taiwan. Ach! Oy vey iz mir!

    Bleh. At some point in the future you’ll either be back in Taiwan or I’ll be in Japan. In either case, all will be made right. Hope you enjoyed your trip to this fair and happy land of motor scooters and betel nut chewers.

    And as a history student, particularly a World War II buff, I must protest against the insinuation that Japan was free from anti-semitism in the bad old days of the ’30s and ’40s. There’s an interesting book called War Without Mercy which offers a comparative examination of Western Allied and Japanese views and propaganda depictions of one another. Due to the alliance with Germany, you could find more and more anti-semitism filtering into Japanese propaganda as time went by, with Britain and the United States depicted more and more often in the typical Nazi propaganda style of ‘international finance Jewry.’

    The main difference, of course, was that few Japanese really had their hearts in it. It’s hard to work up a burning, fiery passion of hatred of an ethnic group you have hardly the slightest history of interaction with. The Jews of the Shanghai Ghetto had more and more restrictions placed on them, but despite pressure from the Nazis the Japanese never handed them over to be shipped to Auschwitz.

  17. Ivan the Terrible
    March 7, 2009 at 13:39

    Incidentally, I’ve always found some of the similarities between the Jews and the Chinese interesting.

    1) Both cultures traditionally placed an enormous amount of emphasis on learning, to the point that some Jews would often devote practically their entire lives to study of the Talmud, just as many young Chinese would devote their entire lives to study of the Confucian classics and passing the Imperial examination.

    2) Both have a pretty massively widespread diaspora. You can find Jews and Chinese in the most absurdly diverse places.

    3) Both cultures are really, really old. Really old. And proud of it.

    4) Deserved or undeserved, both have a reputation for clannishness. There’s us, and there’s them.

    5) Rather more unfortunately, they both seem to have the same negative stereotypes. Stingy money-grubbers, cheaters, only care about themselves, come in and take all the money from the poor, persecuted majority.

    6) Sort of incidental similarity, but both had a rather horrific experience living under Axis occupation in World War II.

    Is it just me? Maybe. In any case, a rather large difference, of course, is the Jews being outnumbered by Han Chinese 100 to 1.

  18. Steve
    March 10, 2009 at 00:03

    I found the point about Jewish literacy compelling, but I have a caveat to add about the young-students-learning-scripture-for-rewards part of the argument. This happens in protestant churches across the U.S. today, and that in no way instills a tendency to apply that literacy towards any subjects beyond the Bible. So there has to be more than the encouragement of learning of one specific kind, for a culture to embrace openness of thought. In most cases in most places, indolence wins.

  19. Steve
    March 10, 2009 at 00:18

    To add a little more, I think constant travel (if you have a decent bed, ample food, and occasional friends or acquaintances) is the best thing for a mind. You are thrown back on your thoughts, your journal, and what you can recall of things elsewhere, whether they be in books or in the real world. That constant movement makes the most meaningful connection between reading and life. I find it more important to remember that for one’s own sake than for anything else.

  20. montecristo73
    September 17, 2009 at 01:07

    Just ordered the book! It seems to be right down my alley of interest, me being a Spanish-speaking Caribbean of Jewish ancestry, studying Japanese.

  21. vicnet
    October 30, 2009 at 05:17

    So whenever you’re stuck in life, just ask yourself: WWJD? -> What Would Jews Do? 😉

  22. Harold
    November 23, 2009 at 03:20

    I am Jewish. I was brought up in a semi-secular Jewish home. The TV was rarely on; we all read books. I used my allowance to get a library card for a public library with a larger collection than there was in my own town when I turned 14.

    I was born in NYC. Until I was 9 I had never had any but cursory contact with non-Jews. I really knew next to nothing about their thoughts or culture. Then we moved to NJ and things totally changed. Very few Jews; lots of non-Jews. I was beaten up regularly for having killed Jesus, etc. etc. Never told anyone since I figured, Why bother; my parents will just freak out.

    I still have a broken tooth from one of those interfaith meetings. It is my reminder that I have to learn to take care of myself. I ( we) can never depend on others.

    At age 20 I went to Israel where I studied Babylonian Talmud. That is the number one contribution of the Jews to civilization, IMHO. It teaches you how to think. It is the most amazing self-development key that I have ever encountered.

    There are English translations but you really have to study it in Hebrew and Aramaic ( the language of the Jews when they were expelled from Israel by the Romans in 70AD). There are many, many brilliant commentaries. The whole Talmud is basically questions, answers, questions, answers by the brightest minds of the Jewish world over many centuries up until the present.

    That is what the raisins and honey are all about. Not to study the Bible; to study the Talmud.

    The Talmud is where all the mental and intellectual prowess of Jews derives from.

    And, thanks for this wonderful blog!!

  23. Jake
    November 8, 2011 at 15:46

    “But actually I hate people who are intolerant of other ethnicities. And the Basques.”
    I laughed pretty hard at this. It reminded me of the scene in Austin Powers: Gold Member (takes place in Japan, so it’s relevant here) when Nigel Powers said that there’s two things he can’t stand in this world: people who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch.

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