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

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Editorial Reviews 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.


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 (154 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,380 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology at Harvard University. He published over twenty books, received the National Book and National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Customer Reviews

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168 of 212 people found the following review helpful By Knuckleduster on July 17, 2006
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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31 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Eli Bendersky on April 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
Until about a century and a half ago, serious studies were published in respectable scientific journals regarding the correlation between the skull sizes of people and their intelligence. Some people went even further and inferred the mental abilities of people from the shape of their face.

A few decades later, when Darwinism entered the mainstream, many known researchers were pushing purely hereditary systems of intelligence, proposing to sterilize mentally ill, or just "funny looking" people in order to prevent them from reproducing.

Finally, in the 20th century (and probably up until today) research has been focusing on devising test that will assess intelligence in a single number, nowadays called IQ.

These are the topics discussed in great detail in this book. Prof. Gould obviously took this issue seriously, and produced an amazing scope of research on the subject of measuring human intelligence. Actually, the book is so packed with information and facts, that it almost feels like a long scientific paper, which makes some portions burdensome to read. Along with presenting the history of intelligence testing in detail, Gould focuses on two important topics which are the main theme of the book.

One is the unavoidable skew and prejudice that inevitably seeps into many scientific researches, and more often than not reflects the cultural patterns of the era in which the research was conducted. For example, in the 19th century when craniometry was the leading "tool" to try and measure intelligence, many works were skewed by racial prejudice. Researches would, knowingly and unknowingly finagle data to try and "prove" that blacks are inherently inferior to whites, French are superior to Germans, Germans are superior to French, et cetera.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amy Sterling Casil on May 20, 2015
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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