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The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life

3.27 of 5 stars 3.27  ·  rating details  ·  1,190 ratings  ·  112 reviews
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.
Paperback, 912 pages
Published January 10th 1996 by Free Press (first published 1994)
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minor editing 3/10/10

One would hope that decisions are made based on solid evidence and a modicum of rational thought. Often that is not the case, however Sometimes rehashed data and superficial analysis, particularly in the area of social policy, appeal to society because they reflect changes in society's perceptions of reality To some extent that explains the popularity of The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. There seems to be an unconscious desire to locate society's ills
I read the book fearful that it was politically incorrect to entertain alternative viewpoints regarding intellectual equality. I finished the book remaining skeptical of some of the more controversial conclusions about distribution of IQ among different ethnicities. Evidently, there are many skeptics that have raised some legitimate questions about the authors' research. That said, The Bell Curve has persuaded me that heredity has at least some role in intelligence and that IQ is not just a resu ...more
The United States has been *officially* free of segregation, slavery, and anti-miscegenation laws for 52 of its 234 years. (Though didn't Bob Jones University only just integrate in 2000?) Apparently this is long enough to convince many that any argument bordering on racism is a revolutionary, persecuted concept. While all political ideas - no matter how old and tired and simplistic - should indeed be entertained, challenged and debated, there is something particularly perverse about American ra ...more
What can be said about this hateful tract disguised as "science" that hasn't already been said? Herrnstein was once a respected animal psychologist who obviously went off the deep end before he died and Murray is a long-time political hack whose main qualification is being able to hold sinecures at well-funded think tanks.

The book is already based on two massive theoretical flaws, the first being that there is such a thing as general intelligence (the "g factor") which can be measured by IQ test
This book was scorned when I attended college. It took ten years after I attended to read the book. First, there is one chapter on black and white differences in I.Q. It is not very controversial basically says the average white person has a higher IQ than the average black person. Of course what makes a person black or white? I could relate this to the 100m sprint, all sprinters except one that have run under 10 seconds are of West African descent. This of course is not controversial. There are ...more
4.0 stars. This is a very controversial book that holds as one of its major premises that intelligence, at least in part, is determined by genetics. Thus, according to the book, Asian people are, on average, more intelligent than caucasians and caucasians are, on average, more intelligent than African Americans. Very radical and very explosive, this certainly caused a firestorm of debate when it first came out.

Without getting into any of the merits (or lack thereof) of the above premise which I
Ian Pollock
This is the ultimate book that everybody knows is wrong, but nobody has read.

It's too bad. It's a fascinating collection of social science. We can split it up into (a) fact conclusions, (b) predictions, and (c) policy recommendations. The fact conclusions are separated from the other parts of the book and stand on their own. For me, they're the most interesting part.

The book is too expansive to summarize easily, but roughly:

(a) Fact conclusions: IQ is a neglected but extremely important variable
Andrew Charles
A controversial and misunderstood book. It has been accused, unfairly, of supporting racism, yet the authors take pains to stress that the intelligence of an individual, not the average intelligence of an ethnic group is what effects personal ability and achievement. After all, even if you agree with the authors that individual intelligence is most strongly an inherited trait, the average intelligence of any group is highly effected by socio-economic factors, including culture, religion, opportu ...more
This book created a controversy (that endures today) when it was published in the mid '90s. Many people condemned it without having read it because it presented a thesis, backed with evidence, that blatantly violated the strictures of the nascent politically correct culture that now reigns in our society. Those who find this book's ideas convincing will often be branded with the scarlet "R" (racist), by people who are offended enough by the book's very existence that they fear to pick it up, muc ...more
Gosh this book still makes me mad - appallingly bad science, manipulation of statistics, reaching conclusions that aren't warranted by the data, all in the name of "proving" that people are poor b/c they lack intelligence.
Full disclosure - I haven't read the entire book, only a few chapters that we read in a psych class senior year of college. However, out of the chapters we read, every single claim they made was flawed. Reading bullshit science pisses me off in general, but it is even worse whe
Everyone knows the controversy this book caused.

Few will want to delve into the analysis of the numerous IQ studies. So, I suggest you skip to the last few chapters where some profound questions are asked.

Namely, is our society becoming increasingly stratified based on intelligence and education? If so, are society's policy makers creating systems, rules, and regulations which are so complicated that they become incomprehensible or seemingly inconsistent and unfair to those without the education
Jonnie Enloe
It is totally politically incorrect to even read this book anymore much less give it any praise. But it is one of my favorite books. Statistics do not lie. And this book sheds light on unmentionable subjects about race that just infuriate people. I am not a racist but I still want to know the problems. If I don't know the problems to be corrected, how can I correct them or add my voice to those trying to correct them. Some people would simply rather bury this information and stick their heads in ...more
This is a fascinating book. If you could choose between being born poor and really smart or rich and really dumb (all else equal), you should choose the former for your own sake, these guys argue. This is based on a lot of assumptions that I used to reject at face value (that IQ tests and SATs aren't biased, for example, and that they are capable of testing some innate intelligence). This book ended my knee-jerk rejection of intelligence measures. The authors pick apart and defend these assumpti ...more
Jim Morrison
I thoroughly enjoyed Psychology 101 as a freshman in college and went on to study the subject beyond that. Some of the most fundamental concepts regarding individual differences, methods used by psychologists and how data is interpretative are covered in this book. This book touches on the current thinking regarding the distribution of intelligence and the Nature-Nurture problem and that is exciting. However it is much more than that because it gives us some insights on education, poverty, unemp ...more
The central thesis of The Bell Curve is that IQ is the principal determinant of an individual's level of economic and social success in post-industrial societies. The authors describe some of the factors that have served to strengthen the relationship between IQ and earnings over the past century and present numerous data demonstrating the importance of this measurement across a wide range of dimensions. In spite of the controversy that this book generated, particularly the sections dealing with ...more
Aug 20, 2007 Michael rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People that have trouble sleeping
Reads like a textbook. The basic idea being presented is that intelligence is hereditary, and its assertion has been supported with research.

This book seems to have generated a lot of fervent opposition which is why I also purchased The Mismeasure of Man, a direct rebuttal to Bell Curve by Stephen Jay Gould.

I haven't gotten far enough into this book to be decided on whether or not the book represents a fully valid argument, but based on what I have read so far criticisms that this book is racis
Christopher Maricle
Yep, I actually read the whole thing. It can be technical at times, but the findings were very illuminating. Be careful about who you talk to about this book - some found it highly offensive. The authors conclusions and recommendations are sound: we need to find a place for everyone by creating public policy that addresses the varying abilities of all people.
this book is the worst. seriously. bad science, written in bad faith, by bad people. a stupid, stupid book, ironically enough. read steven jay gould's "the mismeasure of man" for an in-depth takedown by an actual biologist.
Junk science with lots of numbers to defend the age-old assertion that our society is totally fair and people who are poor have only themselves to blame. Classic eugenics attempt to confuse correlation with causation.
Brian Reagan
The lessons are there and the facts indisputible....but alas social policy is not driven by research, fact, or legitimate science
Scott Rhee
May 08, 2014 Scott Rhee is currently reading it
The following is not a review of the 1994 book "The Bell Curve" by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, as I am only currently on p. 119. I have had to put it aside for several reasons, one of which is that it is dense with information, statistics, data, line graphs, charts, and technical jargon only some of which, I admit, I actually understand, as I am not a scientist, social or otherwise. There is, of course, the main reason I have put it aside, which is that, based on the information and d ...more
I finally read this 20 years late and 20 years after last reading a book by Charles Murray. Just like when I read Losing Ground (and responses to it) in the 1990s, my central reaction to the book is the enormous gap between what it is that Charles Murray actually says and what it is that other people seem to think that Charles Murray has said.

The Bell Curve is a book-length argument that there are real differences between individuals' gifts that impact their lives in countless ways. It draws att
I am more than halfway through this book. I'll republish after I've finally finished it. Thus far, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard J. Hernstein and Charles Murray is a very thorough meta-examination of many of the scholarly studies regarding intelligence conducted by various agencies throughout the 20th century.

Findings are clearly explained and statistical terms and methodologies are explained in text boxes in the middle of the text, but have lengthi
Bill Leach
1 - Cognitive Class and Education
- proportion of people getting college degrees increased 15 x from 1900 to 1990
- the students going to college are being selected more efficiently for their IQ
- Harvard changed dramatically from 1950 when the ability of students was similar to the general population to 1960 when the SAT scores averaged almost 100 points higher
- the % of high school grads in the top IQ quartile going to college rose from 55% in 1950 to 75% in 1965
- the IQ of college grads is a sta
This book had so much controversy when it came out, I decided that I should read it. Well I finally did and as I had expected, it made me incredibly mad. I think this book was well-written by people who demonstrate why statistics can be dangerous. Further, statistics are even more dangerous when reasonably intelligent people are able to manipulate data to tell a story that they deem worth telling in order to prove a ridiculous point. This book would seem to have a fair amount of authority given ...more
The Goodreads' rating "Liked it" doesn't nearly embrace my reaction to this book. It all started when I took an IQ test on-line. I was very surprised to get the same score (+/-2 points) as the Stanford-Binet test in high school and that annoying Mensa test in the 80's. I sought the book because it had detailed statistical data on IQ in the US for the past 100 years or so.

The book's data demonstrates that IQ is very stable over a person's lifespan- check! This controversial book also demonstrate
i try to keep an open mind and read varying points of view other than my own, but this book is a scientific nightmare. based on raw data, the author tries to build a case for asians being smarter than whites who are smarter than hispanics, and everybody is smarter than black people. tell that to MLK, Ben Carson, etc. the problem with the argument is that it leaves out social, economic, and educational factors. the book is not worth reading and is dangerous in that it may provide an excuse for ra ...more
Michael Dow
As others have pointed out, this book is racist nonsense, and a sterling example of white privilege. 'Hmmm, people of color are disproportionately poor and criminalized. Instead of accepting that our ancestors created, and that we perpetuate, a racist society that disenfranchises "blacks" and over-enfranchises "whites", let's find a way to blame it all on the inherent inferiority of "blacks".' (Stephen J. Gould's Mismeasure Of A Man elegantly explains why the underlying science is without merit. ...more
“The Bell Curve” offers two main theses:

1.Changes in the economy over the course of the 20th century have made brains more valuable in the job market

2.From the 1950s onward, colleges had become much more efficient in finding cognitive talent

I was fascinated by the study for I had never really thought about the malleability of intelligence. My biggest issue with the book was that all of the date is over twenty years old. The AEI Ideas blog recently released an interview with Charles Murray (‘The
This book was somewhat controversial when it was published and now I know why. It seems scientific at first but gradually it becomes a prolonged argument for a conservative political view.

In Part I, the authors present data analysis showing that persons scoring high on SAT and IQ tests (the cognitive elite) are going to good universities, getting advanced degrees and high-paying, influential jobs. The data seems to be sound although limited. They argue that the brightest children are all going t
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