Features February 2004
Of human accomplishment
On Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 BC to 1950 by Charles Murray.
Readers familiar with Charles Murray’s work (Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life) know that he is not a man to shy away from controversy or bold opinions. In Human Accomplishment,1 Murray’s aim is nothing less than to determine the geographic and chronological distribution of creative genius in science and the arts across the whole of the world during twenty-eight centuries, from 800 BC through 1950. It’s a tall order. Murray assembles histories, surveys, and encyclopedias of the arts and sciences, 163 of them, and records their treatment of significant figures. Using an initial cut-off that leaves only individuals who are mentioned in at least 50 percent of his sources, he comes up with...
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