Human Accomplishment by Charles Murray
The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950

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Synopsis

A sweeping cultural survey reminiscent of Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence.

"At irregular times and in scattered settings, human beings have achieved great things. Human Accomplishment is about those great things, falling in the domains known as the arts and sciences, and the people who did them.'

So begins Charles Murray's unique account of human excellence, from the age of Homer to our own time. Employing techniques that historians have developed over the last century but that have rarely been applied to books written for the general public, Murray compiles inventories of the people who have been essential to the stories of literature, music, art, philosophy, and the sciences—a total of 4,002 men and women from around the world, ranked according to their eminence.

The heart of Human Accomplishment is a series of enthralling descriptive chapters: on the giants in the arts and what sets them apart from the merely great; on the differences between great achievement in the arts and in the sciences; on the meta-inventions, 14 crucial leaps in human capacity to create great art and science; and on the patterns and trajectories of accomplishment across time and geography.

Straightforwardly and undogmatically, Charles Murray takes on some controversial questions. Why has accomplishment been so concentrated in Europe? Among men? Since 1400? He presents evidence that the rate of great accomplishment has been declining in the last century, asks what it means, and offers a rich framework for thinking about the conditions under which the human spirit has expressed itself most gloriously. Eye-opening and humbling, Human Accomplishment is a fascinating work that describes what humans at their best can achieve, provides tools for exploring its wellsprings, and celebrates the continuing common quest of humans everywhere to discover truths, create beauty, and apprehend the good.

 

About Charles Murray

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CHARLES MURRAY is the W. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He first came to national attention in 1984 with Losing Ground. His subsequent books include In Pursuit, The Bell Curve (with Richard J. Herrnstein), What It Means to Be a Libertarian, Human Accomplishment, In Our Hands, and Real Education. He received a bachelor's degree in history from Harvard and a Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives with his wife in Burkittsville, Maryland.
 
Published October 13, 2009 by HarperCollins e-books. 688 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Michelangelo is thus the world’s premier artist because he figures most heavily in the indexes of art surveys—but, Murray rejoins, “Shakespeare gets more attention that everyone else because Shakespeare wrote better than everyone else.” Setting aside the question of whether intellectuals, like Ho...

Nov 01 2003 | Read Full Review of Human Accomplishment: The Pur...

Publishers Weekly

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Co-author with the late Richard Herrnstein of the neo-racialist book The Bell Curve , Murray returns with a mammoth solo investigation that is less likely to spur

Oct 13 2003 | Read Full Review of Human Accomplishment: The Pur...

The New York Times

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It might seem remarkable that only three of the 167 encyclopedias from which Murray compiles his data set predate World War II, but Murray says he has discounted for the single worst effect of relying on contemporary publications -- ''epochcentric bias,'' or the tendency to overvalue the present ...

Nov 30 2003 | Read Full Review of Human Accomplishment: The Pur...

Publishers Weekly

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The chapters describing achievement at the book's beginning are, at many points, well-written and informative, but they end up clouded with the latter part of the book's numerical hubris and grand pronouncements.

Oct 13 2003 | Read Full Review of Human Accomplishment: The Pur...

BC Books

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The art and science subjects that are researched in this book are: “Astronomy,” “Biology,” “Chemistry,” “Earth Sciences,” “Physics,” “Mathematics,” “Medicine,” “Technology,” “Combined Sciences,” “Western Music,” “Philosophy” (both Western and extra-regional), “Literature” (ditto), “Art” (ditto), ...

Aug 17 2005 | Read Full Review of Human Accomplishment: The Pur...

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