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Charles Murray's "Human Accomplishment" Database Is Now Online
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January 24, 2016, 08:35 AM
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Charles Murray’s book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 came out in 2003 when he was still in the doghouse for The Bell Curve, before Coming Apart finally got him out. So almost nobody besides me paid it much attention. But I found it fascinating, a sort of Bill James Baseball Abstract for the history of the arts and sciences.

Murray has now put his Human Accomplishment database of 4002 eminent individuals online. You can download it into Excel.

Update: Commenter robot has copied into a Google Docs spreadsheet.

My 2003 review in The American Conservative explains Murray’s methodology and some of its strengths and weaknesses.

One thing that occurs to me is that Murray’s dispassionate disinterestedness appeals mostly to people of a meta-statistical bent (i.e., me). For example, his methodology says that two most eminent composers of Western music are Beethoven and Mozart in a close tie. My response is: that sounds about right, suggesting that his methodology passes this quick test of prima facie reasonableness. If it passes other tests of reasonableness, then it can be used to search for general patterns.

But reasonableness and general patterns are not very exciting. Many people would prefer an argument about why Beethoven could beat Mozart in a fight or vice-versa.

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