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The subtitle is "Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life." Although you would not glean as much from the vicious attacks that have been leveled against this book since it's publishing, the major thesis is that intelligence is highly correlated with success in America. This applies not only to financial success but also educational success, marital success, and happiness in general.

This is only a commonsense observation. People who can figure out how to deal with life's problems are happier. As I write this I am having a fight with Social Security to receive my pension and a fight with the bank to get a deposit credited to my account. Fighting this kind of bureaucratic battle takes intelligence. People without the ability to argue their case, write a letter, and call their Congressman lose out. This same kind of intelligence, needless to say, is valuable to employers and leads to success at work.

One of the observations is that as American society has become more mobile, like kinds of people tend to group together. There are enclaves of high income, highly intelligent people in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Washington DC. Lesser enclaves exist in the three cities area of North Carolina, Austin Texas, Madison Wisconsin and other university towns. More than that, the upper strata congregate very predictably in certain neighborhoods, comfortably separated from the minorities and other hoi polloi in their neighborhoods.

This results in what the authors call "cognitive stratification." Young, mobile and affluent people seek each other's company and marry each other. The society is naturally separating itself by intelligence. A topic that Murray in particular addresses elsewhere is that even though the cognitive elite have the wherewithal to raise families, they don't. Those that don't, do. The result is that the world is getting dumber, summed up quite well in Richard Lynn's Dysgenics: Genetic Deterioration in Modern Populations.

The discussion of race which has made this book infamous does no more than reiterate what psychometricians have consistently discovered since intelligence first started to be measured a century ago. Black Americans, on average, score one standard deviation lower on IQ tests than whites: averages of 85 versus 100. What they also find, but which does not excite controversy, is that Ashkenazi Jews average 115, Americans of Northeast Asian descent average about 107, American Indians average about 90, and Hispanic Americans about the same.

It is worth a paragraph to describe what intelligence is. Intelligence tests measure the ability to cope in a modern society. They are designed to be independent of culture. Some of them are even independent of language. They produce highly reproducible results – there are a wide range of intelligence tests available, and all of them will yield pretty much the same results for a given individual.

In practical terms, a one standard deviation difference in population averages means that only one person in six in the lower population has an intelligence at or exceeding the average of the higher group. Only one white person in six is as smart as the average Ashkenazi Jew, and only one black and six is as intelligent as the average white. The bell curve explicitly predicts that there will be extraordinarily smart, and extraordinarily dumb people in every population. This is only common sense – we see exceptional Blacks such as Paul Robison, Clarence Thomas and Thomas Sowell who far exceed almost all of their white peers. On the other hand, you run across some dumb Jews. But not very many.

Intelligence is highly correlated with success in school, income, health and happiness. This deserves a side note on statistics. A high correlation in the social sciences is not extraordinarily high. In round numbers, intelligence explains about 25% of the difference in levels of success. Other factors, such as personality, good looks, a stable family, being born rich, and so on certainly play a part. Statistically, however, none of these are as important as intelligence.

As I write this review in 2016 the question of intelligence is even more pertinent. Technology is eliminating routine jobs at an alarming pace. Typists and grocery check out clerks are becoming a thing of the past. The target now seems to be drivers, paralegals and others who do fairly routine work. It is simply easier and more accurate to have machines – often computers – do the work than to pay people. At the same time, as noted in Lynn's book above, the intelligence of nativeborn Americans is declining. The problem is compounded by the fact that America is bringing in large numbers of immigrants from the populations with lower intelligence.

Murray and Herrnstein did not offer a very optimistic conclusion or a realistic way out of this problem. There does not appear to be one. It has only gotten worse since their publication. In hindsight, the United States appears to be worse off for not having paid attention to this book when it came out, just as it did not pay attention to the Moynahan and Coleman reports in the 1960s. As things collapse as I write this, during the Clinton – Trump election campaign, it appears that the chickens are coming home to roost.
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on January 31, 2016
It is amazing that something was written so long ago is still legit today.
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on February 21, 2016
The Bell Curve is an extremely controversial book! However, if the statistics and research it uses as the basis for its conclusions is accurate, it could lead us to very different conclusions as to why there are so many seemingly unsolvable problems between differant cultures in this country.
It's just possible that understanding what the real problems are could lead to more understanding and perhaps a little more tolerance of other people and the problems they face.
I think the statistics and information contained in this book could help the reader understand other people's problems and challenges.

In short, it is worth reading!
Jimbo
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on November 6, 2013
The Bell Curve is extremely enlightening in revealing the depths to which cognitive ability affects success in a merit based society. Most of its critics focus on the small portion that reveals pertinent data on group differences, but the authors present it in the most objective manner possible given the controversial subject matter. Even the APA task force set up to evaluate its findings agreed with every stated conclusion with the exception of granting evidence towards at least a partial genetic component to group differences. The critical arguments that continue to this day are based more on emotion and ideology than actual scientific evidence. Much like religion stifled scientific progress and thought in the Middle Ages, the critics of The Bell Curve also commit the "Moralistic Fallacy" that concludes "what ought to be" is "what is." True objective science requires us to discover "what is" regardless of "what ought to be." The Bell Curve accomplishes this task in a superb manner.
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on May 15, 2017
Well conceived, well organized, and confronts the realities of today's society that must be explored. The consequences for society and social programs are both extensive and obvious.

Every politician should read this book and hopefully (if they are sufficiently intelligent) comprehend the message written between the lines and use these concepts to shape legislative programs and actions.

This work must shape future efforts in education, social programs, economics, and the structure of society. It also has a significant message in such diverse fields as child development, criminal justice, genetics, and marriage.

This is required reading for anyone interested in gaining an understanding of the reality behind our present political, social, educational, and economic environment.
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on April 16, 2014
This thick book lays out the case for measuring the general intelligence of human beings and then applying that measurement to understand what people achieve in life. The naysayers contend there is no way to usefully assess the capabilities of the human mind and advocate treating everyone the same, without regard to any standard of smart, average, dumb and dumber.

Ignoring the significance of general intellectual ability is foolish and flies in the face of easily perceived reality. Let's face it, we all know there are people who are capable of focusing their minds and solving problems too difficult for others to comprehend, let alone solve. To say that such gifted people cannot be reliably identified and that their obvious intelligence does not provide a significant advantage in life is to deny reality. Reality denial may be a useful tool for some people who desire to promote an anti-IQ social agenda, but it is useless in dealing with the issues we all face as human beings.

I recommend this book for review if you seek to understand what is general intelligence, how is it measured, and what is its affect in life.
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on September 18, 2015
Concise, technical and not bias. 4 stars for not being brave enough to tell what the number really say.

I cannot understand why so many reviews talk about opinion or about cultural approaches or about races. This book is not about what you or I think or about socio-political correctness or in-correctness. It is about how things are seen from the perspective of serious professional statistics.

It is not about what we want, but about what nature does with human nature and its most distinctive feature / evolutionary advantage. If one does not like it, one should not be reading this book in the first place and should put a complaint claim to mother nature.

Not everything that happens in this planet is about human society. Way too much human protagonism!!! What really bothers many readers and many more opinionated none-readers of this book, is the fact that nature does not care what they think, and shall never consult with them.
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on June 3, 2017
Quite a thick book, but interesting reading so far. It will take me a while to wrap my brain around this one.
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on February 10, 2013
VERY interesting book. It focuses mainly on general intelligence (measured IQ) and the consequences for those with low and high IQ. It is quite controversial in what it reports about differences in "races". It was published over 10 years ago and I just became aware of it. The research seems very well done and the conclusions seem valid even though disquieting for those with low IQ. I consider this a very important book.

Thomas Roe
Los Angeles
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on May 11, 2014
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. I'll link to some of that in the comments section of this review.

This book is a good example of something that turns out to be almost a polar opposite of what you've been told it's about. Not much of this book is about race and almost nothing on genetics is mentioned. For whatever reason this book has been portrayed as claiming blacks are "genetically inferior" even though no one gives actual quotes to prove it.

There are 22 chapters total and only two deal with race. The book is divided into four parts.

Part one talks about how smarter people have risen to the top as college became more common and the economy became more technical.

Part two shows how big a difference IQ makes in life status compared to things like socioeconomic status. If you think IQ is meaningless, these chapters will force you to rethink that assumption.

Part three has the hot water. Material on race differences in IQ is found here as well as evidence that the tests themselves aren't biased. A chapter on how adjusting for IQ closes race gaps in things like income was the real value here since it showed how important this metric actually is.

Part four is mostly a blend of policy analysis in light of the evidence for IQ's importance with suggestions on how to handle the fact that we differ so much.

This truly is one of the most important social science books ever written. If you're new to this topic, check out "Yes, IQ Matters" on the Liberal news site Slate.
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