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08.17.03 Herrnstein, Richard J. and Murray, Charles, The Bell Curve, Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, published in 1994.

Notes Concerning the Authors

Richard J. Herrnstein received his Ph. D. in psychology at Harvard where he has taught since 1958 and now holds the Edgar Pierce Chair in Psychology.  Charles Murray, a graduate of Harvard who received his Ph. D. in Political Science from M. I. T., is the author of Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980.  He is currently a Bradley Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.  Both men are concerned about the decline in American Education following World War II and seek fundamental insight into the reasons why, generally going back beyond 1940 into America’s history and culture.


This is a well researched and thoughtful analysis of American education from the vantage point of the early 1990’s.  Herrnstein and Murray are not politically correct.  And their objective view of our serious societal problem requires such objectivity, for the causes and answers to our education dilemma go back a long, long way and solutions require a fundamental change from the policies that Americans living today have come to understand to be sacred stuff.

The Bell Curve is full of facts and tables, especially facts concerning intelligence testing results, and analysis by racial background.  The “cognitive ability” of African Americans, whose ancestry varies from almost pure sub-Sahara Africa to almost pure European (white), is characterized by a skewed “Bell Curve” with extended tails to the highly intelligent and extended tails to the lowest of intelligence.  In this regard, Herrnstein and Murray recognize that African Americans are not a race, but a blend of two races.  They make comparisons to Native Americans, to Asians and to Jewish people, thereby giving us a good overall picture of humankind.  

Corresponding comparisons regarding Strength of Character,  Musical Ability and Poverty are examined.  The ability of teachers of various racial backgrounds is compared.  We all know about the superior athletic ability of the most capable athletes who possess some or considerable African ancestry, so that is not examined by Herrnstein and Murray.  But about everything else is.

You will read criticism in many places that the work in The Bell Curve should be disregarded, that the work is wrong.  But you will be hard-pressed to find evidence that mitigates the results as presented and the conclusions thereby drawn.

Herrnstein and Murray state “The major purpose of The Bell Curve is to reveal the dramatic transformation that is currently in process in American Society — a process that has created a new kind of class structure led by a ‘cognitive elite,’ itself a result of concentration and self-selection in those social pools well endowed with cognitive abilities.  This transformation, sadly, has its opposite: the perpetuation of a class of people deficient in these endowments and abilities, and increasingly doomed to labor, if they find work at all, outside of the information economy.”  

The editor states, “In a book that is certain to ignite an explosive controversy, Herrnstein and Murray break new ground in exploring the ways that low intelligence, independent of social, economic, or ethnic background, lies at the root of many of our social problems.”

Knowledge of the facts presented in this book is essential for an understanding of the culture and history of the people of the South.  We of the South are a mixture of two major races and understanding the characteristics of those races is key to understanding our society, whether as it existed 200 years ago or as it existed in the 1930’s.

Availability of this Book

We suggest Amazon for a used copy.  You should get a print copy to facility study and underlining.