I’ve never met Mitt Romney personally, but I suspect he’s probably a reasonably bright person. Dummies don’t usually get two post-graduate degrees from Harvard.
But these assumptions are frequently tested. Take Romney’s reading comprehension skills, for example.
The good news is, the Republican candidate has a habit of buying books and citing them on the campaign trail. The bad news is, he doesn’t seem to understand what he’s read. This came up a few months ago when Romney seemed badly confused about Noam Scheiber’s The Escape Artists. He then struggled with the point of David Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations and Daron Acemoglu’s Why Nations Fail.
And then there’s Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, which Romney cited in Israel as part of his criticism of Palestinians. As the Republican told supporters, the Pulitzer Prize winning book “basically says the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there. There is iron ore on the land and so forth.”
Diamond wrote a New York Times op-ed to question what in the world Romney is talking about.
That is so different from what my book actually says that I have to doubt whether Mr. Romney read it. My focus was mostly on biological features, like plant and animal species, and among physical characteristics, the ones I mentioned were continents’ sizes and shapes and relative isolation. I said nothing about iron ore, which is so widespread that its distribution has had little effect on the different successes of different peoples. (As I learned this week, Mr. Romney also mischaracterized my book in his memoir, “No Apology: Believe in America.”) […]
Mitt Romney may become our next president. Will he continue to espouse one-factor explanations for multicausal problems, and fail to understand history and the modern world? If so, he will preside over a declining nation squandering its advantages of location and history.
Adam Serwer joked, “Next time, Mitt Romney should cite books by dead authors so they can’t publicly rebuke him for misinterpreting their books.”