Book Reviews

Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid

by Robert Sternberg, editor

Reviewed by Dan Woll
Superintendent, St. Croix Central School District, Hammond, Wis.



Despite the casual title, this book is a collection of serious research articles—some so pedantic that it is difficult to discern the important parallels between the research and the real world of school administration. Editor Robert J. Sternberg, a professor of psychology and education at Yale University, invited 14 eminent scholars to comment on the theme.

The exceptions to the abstract nature of much of the work are so notable that the book ultimately weighs out as a helpful resource for administrators looking for an explanation of some of the puzzling behavior they observe in their work.

An excellent example is a piece contributed by Carole Dweck of Columbia University. Any administrator who has ever been stunned at a board meeting by the incomprehensible behavior of a usually thoughtful member should read her explanation of the “beliefs that make smart people dumb.”

Dweck cites research showing that individuals who view intelligence as fixed are most vulnerable to underachievement and self-handicapping behavior. They care more about looking smart than they do about learning and accomplishing something. She elaborates effectively on the implications.

Unfortunately the writing in this work is uneven. While the academic qualifications of all authors are unimpeachable, the fact is some write better than others. A cover-to-cover reading is not going to benefit many administrators, but an examination of selected chapters will offer valuable insights.

(Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid, edited by Robert Sternberg, Yale University Press, 2002, 288 pp., $29.95 hardcover)