2,750 years of achievement by the top tier of homo sapiens

Monday, June 8th, 2020

Ethan Morse opens his “detailedreview of Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment with this warning:

There are reasons to read this book and not to read this book.

First, the not-reason. From the title, Human Accomplishment details the successes of humans from 800 BCE to 1950 — 2750 years of achievement by the top-tier of homo sapiens. Statistically speaking, the average person will neither contribute nor perform anything absolutely significant to society. (They may contribute some relatively significant, but nothing absolute.) This book serves as a stark reminder of this fact. Some are uncomfortable with this and prefer to live thinking that they have or eventually will have a profound impact on the world, which is perfectly fine. Don’t read this book nor this review. Done.

Now, the more compelling to-reason from another perspective. From the title, Human Accomplishment details the successes of humans from 800 BCE to 1950 — 2750 years of achievement by the top-tier of homo sapiens. Conveniently compiled in a single 668-page book (which includes the main body chapter, appendices, notes, bibliography, and index), Murray objectively (more on the use of this term later) lays out the crowning moments of the human race in science and the arts. No need to go through volumes of text wondering if your favorite author is considered among the best ever (hint: they’re probably not). Instead, consult this book and find out who the best ever are among sciences, philosophy, art, technology, and literature.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    Give me technology, medicine, agriculture and law/political science. These all yield concrete benefits.

    Philosophy and literature may make us wiser, contributing indirectly to progress in concrete things. But that’s hard to substantiate.

    Except where the humanities lead to political science that makes a measurably more happy and prosperous society, or when it leads to greater personal peace of mind, I must doubt the humanities.

    The notion of the perfectibility of man is aspirational at best, wishful thinking most of the time, and snake oil much of the the time. Keep your highfalutin rhetoric and give me gadgets. Gadgets are real.

  2. Albion says:

    Human achievement is best appreciated if it can provide what you want, when you need it.

    Someone once said to me the safety pin was a sublime piece of engineering, but at the time I thought little of it as I didn’t need one. Once I started changing nappies/diapers on my little ones I swiftly appreciated how much genius went into it.

  3. Ezra says:

    “Don’t read this book nor this review. Done.”

    This Murray man is a terrible white man racist. Undoubtedly the great accomplishments and achievements of the human species as listed will be devoid of all the wonderful accomplishments and achievements of the sub-Saharan peoples. Those many accomplishments and achievements of which are well know to all.

    BURN THIS BOOK. Of course i have not read it or intend to read the book but BURN IT ANYHOW.

  4. Dave says:

    Social progress comes and goes. In 1970, women in Muslim countries walked about with faces and hair uncovered and mingled freely with men. In AD 400, Roman Britain was a multicultural diversitopia; by AD 500 it was 100% Anglo-Saxon.

    Technological progress is much stickier. Nazis invented the assault rifle in 1944; today they are mass-produced in the stateless tribal areas of Pakistan.

  5. Harry Jones says:

    People who don’t understand science and technology believe in social progress.

    People who don’t understand human nature believe in the perfectibility of man.

    Neither group understands history.

  6. Gavin Longmuir says:

    The moment I see that dog whistle “BCE”, I stop reading. Whoever wrote this does not think for himself, and is totally beholden to Political Correctness. The probability is high that everything else the writer scribbled will be worthless and a total waste of time.

  7. Harry Jones says:

    I generally don’t stop reading until I’ve hit three red flags – or dog whistles, if you prefer. I miss fewer good articles that way, and the bad ones tend to hit the three red flags quite quickly so I don’t lose much time.

    A lot of people use a little PC lingo because they don’t know any better. They don’t necessarily mean anything by it. Blame the school system. Others do it because it’s expected by them. These don’t mean anything by it either.

    But nobody hits three red flags unless he’s a jackass.

  8. Eddie S. says:

    Gavin I dunno. I use BCE because I want to keep the religious aspect out of it. Otherwise I try to be as non-p.c. as I can.

  9. Mike in Boston says:

    “I use BCE because I want to keep the religious aspect out of it. Otherwise I try to be as non-p.c. as I can.“

    Then, even if not intentionally, you are part of the problem. You are staking out a position just sliiiiightly further uphill on the slippery slope. We all know where that ends up.

    The only defensible Schelling point is to extirpate every scrap of PC.

  10. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “I use BCE because I want to keep the religious aspect out of it.”

    That reminds me of the old Fawlty Towers skit when German tourists arrived at the hotel — “Don’t mention the war!”

    BCE — some religious people understand this means “Before the Christian Era”; just like CE means “Christian Era”, a dumbed down version of AD for uneducated people who do not know any Latin.

    The Usual Suspects say, no, it really means “Before the Common Era”. But what defines this previously unknown “Common Era”?

    If Lefties really want to keep religion out dates, then why pick as Year 0 for their mythical “Common Era” the notional date when the founder of Christianity was born? They should have chosen some other date for Year 0, like the year Mahomed was born or the year English traders brought their first African slaves to those English Caribbean plantations. But that would have required them to create instead of destroy — and the Politically Correct know only how to destroy.

    For the rest of us, falling in with herd behavior to abandon generations of BC/AD for some cheap knock-off puts us in the same camp as those who today are intent on pulling down statues of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln.

    Political Correctness is poison for the mind. Reject it! Reject it totally!

  11. Ethan Morse says:

    Glad you enjoyed it. Just FYI, I changed some file names, so the new link is here: https://ethanmorse.github.io/knowledge/texts/books/accomplishment/accomplishment.html

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