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The Mismeasure of Man (Revised & Expanded) Paperback – June 17, 1996

3.6 out of 5 stars 158 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

How smart are you? If that question doesn't spark a dozen more questions in your mind (like "What do you mean by 'smart,'" "How do I measure it," and "Who's asking?"), then The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould's masterful demolition of the IQ industry, should be required reading. Gould's brilliant, funny, engaging prose dissects the motivations behind those who would judge intelligence, and hence worth, by cranial size, convolutions, or score on extremely narrow tests. How did scientists decide that intelligence was unipolar and quantifiable, and why did the standard keep changing over time? Gould's answer is clear and simple: power maintains itself. European men of the 19th century, even before Darwin, saw themselves as the pinnacle of creation and sought to prove this assertion through hard measurement. When one measure was found to place members of some "inferior" group such as women or Southeast Asians over the supposedly rightful champions, it would be discarded and replaced with a new, more comfortable measure. The 20th-century obsession with numbers led to the institutionalization of IQ testing and subsequent assignment to work (and rewards) commensurate with the score, shown by Gould to be not simply misguided--for surely intelligence is multifactorial--but also regressive, creating a feedback loop rewarding the rich and powerful. The revised edition includes a scathing critique of Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve, taking them to task for rehashing old arguments to exploit a new political wave of uncaring and belt tightening. It might not make you any smarter, but The Mismeasure of Man will certainly make you think. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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A rare book-at once of great importance and wonderful to read. (Saturday Review)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Revised & Expanded edition (June 17, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393314251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393314250
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (158 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,214 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
If you've been reading these reviews, you've started to notice a stark polarization of opinions and that they tend to fall neatly within certain sets of political motives and agendas. The same criticisms return again and again, and the more I see them, the more I have to ask, "am I the only reviewer who's even READ this book?"

Take for instance: "Gould can't hide his political agenda" -- ladies and gents, Mr. Gould does not even TRY to hide his politics. He put them up-front and center, and I believe he did so to further reenforce his key point that we are all inherently biased (no matter how much we might try to hide it or to convince ourselves that we're not) and that we absolutely cannot make the mistake of assuming that the "scientific" works we read are absolutely dispassionate, objective and impartial. Anybody who claims to be these things should be eyed with a small degree of skepticism; those who are outraged at the suggestion that they might be biased ought have that skepticism heaped upon them.

I could go on and on over the objections people raise about this book and respond like I did in the previous paragraph, or outright discount them (ie: quote from the book direct disproof of the criticism), but it would be tedious and redundant.

Whatever Gould's predispositions, whatever the extensiveness of modern research, he has made it clear and undeniable that there are some serious faults in the science of human intelligence and the reasoning which supports it. Furthermore, it's worth noting that Richard Dawkins -- quoted as being critical of Gould -- flatly rejects any concept of racial superiority.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I love the book I read in hardcover. The Kindle edition? Not so much. This edition is barely readable and contains many errors of formatting. Subheadings are formatted however the designer wanted (maybe on that day, another day, differently) and Gould's extensive quotes are difficult to differentiate from his own writing and responses (i.e. "Who said what?". As a result, I have only struggled through the first two chapters of the e-book edition. As to the subject matter and some people's responses, again, I can only comment on the acknowledgements, introduction, and the first couple of chapters. In the first chapter Gould discusses a variety of 19th century perspectives on biological determinism (which is the subject of the book). He spends a lot of time in the Introduction discussing his view of history, and how scientific approaches to figuring out whether or not a certain "race" is "smarter" or better than another developed in the past. He spends a couple of paragraphs explaining that, although the title is "The Mismeasure of Man," the book and ideas refer to both men and women. Women, in fact, got used in a number of analytical and measurement schemes in the past and their smaller skulls helped some scientists downgrade some "races" while upgrading others. Because women are generally smaller than men, for example, such scientists as Samuel Morton, famous for his many skulls and development of a system for measuring dead skull contents using lead shot after mustard seeds failed the reliability and consistency test (If you're some white supremacist reading here - this guy started out putting mustard seed in people's dead, dried-out skulls, then rightly figured it didn't pack consistently and advanced to using more consistent, reliable, lead shot).Read more ›
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The Mismeasure of Man is the first and hopefully not the last book I've read by popular author and scientist Stephen Jay Gould. Those who follow famous science popularizers (and especially those who subscribe to atheism) may know that Gould's [scientific] views have been criticized by famous thinkers such as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins. But this kind of scrutiny is warranted, wanted, and a lot of the times even necessary (as Gould would concur). Most intellectuals would agree that there is greater progress in confrontations about the evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium , rather than the more widespread debates about whether evolution is true or not, despite it's appeal. The important thing is that Gould falls into the boat of intellectuals that abstain from superstition and wishful thinking. I admit some (just some) reserved skepticism before reading the text because Dawkins and Dennett people I have great reverence for. But it's important that we approach texts without prejudice (which ironically Gould emphasized throughout the book).

The book is about the history of measuring intelligence: from phrenology to IQ tests the mistake is the same; intelligence gets reified (turning something abstract and conceptual into something that's concrete and quantifiable, e.g., the intelligence factor "g") and as result human beings get ranked on a linear scale and this begets subjugation. This innatist view - that you were born with and are resultingly restricted to a certain unalterable intelligence - is called biological determinism. Biological determinism have been, and will continue to be, the main culprit and propagator of scientific racism, elitist vices, and unsavory social policies.
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