Where I got the book: from the library.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is Amy Chua's much touted (I could say notorious) memoir of how she raised her two daughters to become academic high achievers and musical prodigies using Chinese methods. Chua states up front that her sweeping assessments of the relative virtues of "Chinese parents" and "Western parents" are just that, very broad opinions, and that Chinese-style parenting can be found in many non-Asian homes, typically where the parents are first-generation immigrants.
Having a kid who spent much of middle school in gifted classes where the Chinese kids outnumbered the rest, I can confirm anecdotally that much of what Chua covers in her book conforms to the normal practices of Chinese parents. An extremely limited social life, "always programs" as one mother proudly told me, Chinese school at the weekend, hours of homework and extra drills were the norm; a grade below an A was unacceptable. My child hid her very first D from me because in her Chinese friends' world, a D meant a total parental meltdown and probably solitary confinement till the age of 25. When my kid grew away from her friends in high school she plunged joyfully into the Western model of underperformance, only to rediscover achievement all by herself in her senior year. She now tells me that I should have been more of a Tiger Mother and that she's going to raise her kids the Chinese way.
But enough about me! I really enjoyed Chua's book. I agreed with quite a few of her criticisms of Western parenting as selfish (she is particularly critical of mothers who neglect their children's education so that they can pursue interests of their own) and lazy (Chinese mothers are willing to invest every spare minute in their children's development, etc.) And she attacks the scary spectacle of self-esteem, which is producing impossible children unable to deal with authority. Believe me, I know. Sorry, me again.
I was interested in Chua's own overachiever, type A+++++ personality; she cheerfully admits to her tendency to spread tension over every family gathering and her inability to enjoy herself. Toward the end of the memoir she does come over as a bit more human, and begins to concede that Chinese parenting does not always work (it was not successful for her father, and only partially worked with her youngest daughter) and that some Western ideas, such as pursuing your own passions rather than your parents', have some sense in them.
Still, when you consider how limited our Western aspirations are for our children (most of us just want them to be happy and to have monstrous self-esteem like my kids SORRY) compared to those of Chinese parents, who see Yale, Harvard, Nobel prizes and Olympic medals in their children's future, you may pause for a moment. The Chinese parents I've met began saving for college when their children were foetuses, and investigating Ivy League institutions when their kids were in 7th grade. So now I don't feel so horrible after all for insisting that we start homework straight after school AND WE SIT AT THE TABLE TILL IT'S DONE (that lasted until high school, when I lost control).
I'm struck by how much this book made me reflect on my own parenting successes and failures, as illustrated by the way I keep interrupting this review with news about me. Battle Hymn was very nicely written, lively, and easy to read. I rather hope that some of Chua's ideas catch on.