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Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book) [Paperback]

Richard J. Herrnstein , Charles Murray
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (270 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 10, 1996 0684824299 978-0684824291 1st Free Press pbk. ed
The controversial book linking intelligence to class and race in modern society, and what public policy can do to mitigate socioeconomic differences in IQ, birth rate, crime, fertility, welfare, and poverty.

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Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book) + Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010 + The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life
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Editorial Reviews


Michael Novak National Review Our intellectual landscape has been disrupted by the equivalent of an earthquake.

David Brooks The Wall Street Journal Has already kicked up more reaction than any social?science book this decade.

Peter Brimelow Forbes Long-awaited...massive, meticulous, minutely detailed, clear. Like Darwin's Origin of Species -- the intellectual event with which it is being seriously compared -- The Bell Curve offers a new synthesis of research...and a hypothesis of far-reaching explanatory power.

Milton Friedman This brilliant, original, objective, and lucidly written book will force you to rethink your biases and prejudices about the role that individual difference in intelligence plays in our economy, our policy, and our society.

Chester E. Finn, Jr. Commentary The Bell Curve's implications will be as profound for the beginning of the new century as Michael Harrington's discovery of "the other America" was for the final part of the old. Richard Herrnstein's bequest to us is a work of great value. Charles Murray's contribution goes on.

Prof. Thomas J. Bouchard Contemporary Psychology [The authors] have been cast as racists and elitists and The Bell Curve has been dismissed as pseudoscience....The book's message cannot be dismissed so easily. Herrnstein and Murray have written one of the most provocative social science books published in many years....This is a superbly written and exceedingly well documented book.

Christopher Caldwell American Spectator The Bell Curve is a comprehensive treatment of its subject,never mean-spirited or gloating. It gives a fair hearing to those who dissent scientifically from its propositions -- in fact, it bends over backward to be fair....Among the dozens of hostile articles that have thus far appeared, none has successfully refuted any of its science.

Malcolme W. Browne The New York Times Book Review Mr. Murray and Mr. Herrnstein write that "for the last 30 years, the concept of intelligence has been a pariah in the world of ideas," and that the time has come to rehabilitate rational discourse on the subject. It is hard to imagine a democratic society doing otherwise.

Prof. Eugene D. Genovese National Review Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray might not feel at home with Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Lani Guinier, but they should....They have all [made] brave attempts to force a national debate on urgent matters that will not go away. And they have met the same fate. Once again, academia and the mass media are straining every muscle to suppress debate.

Prof. Earl Hunt American Scientist The first reactions to The Bell Curve were expressions of public outrage. In the second round of reaction, some commentators suggested that Herrnstein and Murray were merely bringing up facts that were well known in the scientific community, but perhaps best not discussed in public. A Papua New Guinea language has a term for this, Mokita. It means "truth that we all know, but agree not to talk about." ...There are fascinating questions here for those interested in the interactions between sociology, economics, anthropology and cognitive science. We do not have the answers yet. We may need them soon, for policy makers who rely on Mokita are flying blind.

From the Publisher

The ability to manipulate information has become the single most important element of success. High intelligence is an increasingly precious raw material. But despite decades of fashionable denial, the overriding and insistent truth about intellectual ability is that it is endowed unequally. In this audio presentation of The Bell Curve, author Charles Murray explores the ways that low intelligence, independent of social, economic, or ethnic background, lies at the root of many of our social problems. He also discusses another taboo subject: that intelligence levels differ among ethnic groups. According to the authors, only by facing up to these differences can we accurately assess the nation's problems and make realistic plans to address them. However, if we accept that there are intelligence differences among groups, we must learn to avoid prejudicial assumptions about any individual of a given group whose intelligence level may be anywhere under the bell curve. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

Product Details

  • Series: A Free Press Paperbacks Book
  • Paperback: 912 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st Free Press pbk. ed edition (January 10, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684824299
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684824291
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (270 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,923 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
806 of 873 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More facts and less name-calling, please October 14, 2005
Since you're reading this, I assume you're thinking of buying — or at least reading — this book. That being so, you'll probably want to read other reviews than mine. This is in principle a good idea; but having just read all of them (147 at the time of writing) I should warn you that you'll need both considerable stamina and a strong stomach: there are indeed thoughtful and informative reviews, but they are islands in a sea of drivel. By "drivel" I mean the following:

1) Reviews consisting entirely (or almost entirely) of expostulation rather than information ("racist garbage", "most important book of the 20th century")

2) Asserting what the book doesn't deny and denying what it doesn't assert.

3) Distortions of the book's content, and other disinformation, for instance:

- "the panel criticized the authors for not explaining what intelligence is" (intelligence is defined on page 4 (!) ).

- "The Bell Curve ignores bad diet" (Nutrition is explicitly dealt with on pp. 391-3).

And so on.

Many of the critics appear not merely to have misunderstood the book, but not even to have read it; amusingly, this is actually admitted in one review ("Although Head has only browsed through the book, she has seen this kind of pseudo-science before"). Some appear to be basing their argument upon the Moralistic Fallacy: if different groups had different average IQs for even partially genetic reasons, it would be a Bad Thing, and therefore that cannot possibly be the case.
Read more ›
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682 of 768 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, and implying frightening consequences August 4, 1998
In reading the synopses above and the few negative reviews below, I have to wonder if their authors read the book in question, or merely the media hype. This book is not about "ethnicity and intelligence." It's not racism, nor even about race.

This book tries to show that A) people are becoming stratified according to intelligence (you go to school with, work with, and largely socialize with people of similar ability) and B) many of our social problems can be explained in terms of differences in intelligence (ie, in blunt terms, dumb people are more likely to commit crimes, etc.) They provide a huge base of data to support their thesis.

The authors have bent over backwards to try to avoid any hint of racism in their studies; the only place the issue even arises is when they report that blacks and Latinos have historically scored lower in IQ tests than have whites (Asians have scored higher), and that the claims of "cultural bias" are not supported by any data or studies. These details alone are enough to inflame the politically correct among us, unfortunately.

To portray this book as some type of white supremecist manifesto, you would have to have a strong agenda of your own, and totally disregard the content of the book.
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79 of 87 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I picked up "The Bell Curve" three years ago, and resolved to read it cover to cover, which I did. Quite a lot to absorb, but ultimately worth the time investment. I wouldn't suggest it for those who have less than a passing interest in race issues, since the authors took a measured and scientific approach to an otherwise emotional topic. This makes for a thoughtful but demanding read, which I believe is a far superior approach to the topic than a "jazzed up", rhetoric filled, pulp novel, written for popular consumption. However, this means that the book is slow and requires careful reading in order to fully get at what the authors are saying. Most importantly, contrary to popular belief, the book is not all about race. Rather, the majority of the book envolves analysis of race neutral studies. Approximately 20% of the book is actually dedicated to racial analysis, and it is my honest opinion, having read the book, that the authors took a good-faith approach to a controversial topic. I do not know if their analysis was correct, but I do know that the controversy was undeserved. The hype that surrounded this book was less about the authors work and more about our society's inability to come to grips with the issue of race. In the final analysis, all the book proved was that the issue of race is far more complex than the popular media would have you believe. If you really care about this topic, read this book. Really read it, and then think about it. Then, whether you are outraged or inspired, atleast you will have a leg to stand on when you quote/criticise the work.
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182 of 211 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Class Structure Explained October 2, 2000
Readers who have not yet read this book will be surprised to learn that the main topic is not race, but how intelligence explains class structure. The authors argue that intelligence, not environment is the primary determinant of a variety of social behaviors, including class, socio-economic level, crime, educational achievement, welfare, and even parental styles. Hernstein and Murray back up these claims with some of the most persuasive data ever seen in the social sciences. The importance of a person's intelligence cannot be understated. Its is the number one determinant in shaping one's life. Hernstein and Murray do not stop there however. They go on, arguing that the bottom 15 percent in intelligence are simply not capable of taking care of themselves, falling into poverty, drugs, alchoholism, etc. American society can no longer accept such conditions for lower cognitive class. They make concrete suggestions on how to change this condition. They also make striking claims about the danger of affirmative action programs in promoting people who are not qualified to do important tasks. And finally, they deal with the issue that makes this book so controversial: The lower tested intelligence of African-Americans. At no point do they the claim the gap is only due to genetics. They suggest past environmental factors come into play. But their main point is that modern day racism cannot explain the gap, and programs designed to bridge that gap will fail, and putting underqualified individuals in important positions is not the answer. The authors really do not go into detail about why the gap exists, setting themselves up for criticism. But at least another scholar can research this topic and try and explain it. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
Now that I am getting older it was interesting to look at academia from an outside perspective.
Published 9 days ago by BJ
4.0 out of 5 stars Gives scientific support to ideas we all have.
The first section of this book is written for lay persons. It confirms what we have all observed and thought but have repressed because it was politically incorrect to say. Read more
Published 12 days ago by Tom Standard
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read
Yes, this book is highly controversy real, primarily due to the chapter on racial differences in average intelligence.

It's a fascinating read. Read more
Published 23 days ago by John B. Farmer
5.0 out of 5 stars Ok, now we know for sure, everything goes better if you are smarter
In an age in which everything is dominated by intellectual work, the smarter people are doing better than the less smart. Read more
Published 24 days ago by W. Sid Vogel
5.0 out of 5 stars Controversial but sound
This is a very controversial books for not unjustifiable reasons. But in the end, Murray and Herrnstein give a fair chance to the other side and show that there is indeed a genetic... Read more
Published 27 days ago by Critical Reviewer
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK!
This book is the bible on IQ testing. It tells the facts of racial IQ differences. The truth is rare today in regards to racial issues but this book nailed it between the eyes. Read more
Published 1 month ago by MINT
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book on the Significance of Human Intelligence
This book is one of the best examples of expository writing you’re likely to find. The treatment is extensive, but the over 550 pages of text are a model of clarity. Read more
Published 1 month ago by John R. Holmes, Jr.
4.0 out of 5 stars A very brave approach to a subject which is so controvercial.
A friend had discussed the data compiled and their conclusions.. I was offended and suggested
both bias and bigotry was at work. He insisted I read it. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Edward M. Rosenberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Not on race or genetics but they've been "vindicated" on that too
Recently tons of new research on IQ and genetics has demonstrated that this twenty year old book now *understates* the evidence in it's favor. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Andrew Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Important book that could've been less boring
The Bell Curve was first published 20 years ago and the contention that intelligence has a causal relationship with heredity is as controversial as ever. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Daniel Estes
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Topic From this Discussion
What Was All the Fuss About?
I myself just got a copy and have been pouring through it. It looks like I'm going to end up at the same conclusions you did.

If someone agrees that IQ plays a big role in success, that heritability for IQ plays almost as much a role (if not more) as environment in shaping it, and that due to... Read More
Oct 7, 2012 by Cognition |  See all 7 posts
My intellegence.
So what exactly is your point?
Nov 20, 2011 by Chilly Down |  See all 2 posts
"The Bell Curve" and Earl Hunt's "Human Intelligence" Be the first to reply
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