Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950

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Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 is a book published in 2003 by Charles Murray, most widely known as the co-author of The Bell Curve. It surveyed outstanding contributions to the arts and sciences from ancient times to the mid-twentieth century. The book attempts to quantify and explain human accomplishment worldwide in the fields of arts and sciences by calculating the amount of space allocated to them in reference works, an area of research sometimes referred to as historiometry. The book stated that "Whether measured in people or events, 97 percent of accomplishment in the scientific inventories occurred in Europe and North America".[1]


Index scores

Murray ranks the leading 4,000 innovators in several fields of human accomplishment from 800 BC to 1950. In each field Murray identifies a number of sources (leading encyclopedias, histories and surveys) providing information about the leading figures in the field. The rankings are made from information in these sources. A raw score is determined based on how many sources mention and on how much space in each source is devoted to a person. Then these raw scores are normalized so that the lowest score is 1 and the highest score is 100. The resulting scores are called "Index Scores".

The categories of human accomplishment where significant figures are ranked in the book are as follows: Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Physics, Mathematics, Medicine, Technology, Combined Sciences, Chinese Philosophy, Indian Philosophy, Western Philosophy, Western Music, Chinese Painting, Japanese Art, Western Art, Arabic Literature, Chinese Literature, Indian Literature, Japanese Literature, and Western Literature. The omission of several relative categories, including a broader Chinese art category or an Indian art category, are due to a lack of identifiable figures as most of the work is anonymous.

The following are some examples of the rankings found for some individual categories.

Top Figures by Field

Combined Sciences

Figure Index score
Isaac Newton 100
Galileo Galilei 89
Aristotle 78
Johannes Kepler 53
Antoine Lavoisier 51
René Descartes 51
Christiaan Huygens 49
Pierre-Simon Laplace 48
Albert Einstein 48
Michael Faraday 46
Louis Pasteur 46
Ptolemy 43
Robert Hooke 41
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz 40
Ernest Rutherford 40
Leonhard Euler 39
Charles Darwin 37
Jöns Jacob Berzelius 36
Euclid 36
James Clerk Maxwell 35


Figure Index score
Galileo Galilei 100
Johannes Kepler 93
William Herschel 88
Pierre-Simon Laplace 79
Nicolaus Copernicus 75
Ptolemy 73
Tycho Brahe 68
Edmond Halley 57
Giovanni Domenico Cassini 53
Hipparchus 49
Walter Baade 47
Edwin Hubble 45
Friedrich Bessel 39
William Huggins 38
George Ellery Hale 37
Arthur Eddington 37
Ejnar Hertzsprung 35
Heinrich Wilhelm Matthias Olbers 33
Gerard Kuiper 32
Johannes Hevelius 30


Figure Index score
Charles Darwin 100
Aristotle 94
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck 88
Georges Cuvier 83
Thomas Hunt Morgan 75
Carl Linnaeus 59
William Harvey 51
Theodor Schwann 48
Stephen Hales 48
Jan Swammerdam 47
Marcello Malpighi 45
Claude Bernard 45
Hugo de Vries 44
Karl Ernst von Baer 43
John Ray 42
Ernst Haeckel 41
Lazzaro Spallanzani 38
Gregor Mendel 38
Pliny the Elder 37
Albrecht von Haller 37


Figure Index score
Antoine Lavoisier 100
Jöns Jacob Berzelius 67
Carl Wilhelm Scheele 53
Joseph Priestley 49
Humphry Davy 46
Robert Boyle 42
John Dalton 38
Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac 37
Joseph Black 33
William Ramsay 31
Justus Liebig 31
William Crookes 30
Claude Louis Berthollet 29
Linus Pauling 27
August Kekulé 27
Dmitry Mendeleyev 25
Jan Baptist van Helmont 25
Frederick Soddy 25
Martin Heinrich Klaproth 23
Robert Bunsen 22

Earth Sciences

Figure Index score
Charles Lyell 100
James Hutton 77
William Smith 55
Georgius Agricola 51
Abraham Gottlob Werner 46
Roderick Murchison 40
Matthew Fontaine Maury 40
Louis Agassiz 37
Jean-Étienne Guettard 37
Carl Gustaf Mosander 37
Horace-Bénédict de Saussure 35
Nicolas Desmarest 33
Alfred Wegener 33
Alexandre Brongniart 31
Adam Sedgwick 31
Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin 29
Vilhelm Bjerknes 29
Eilhard Mitscherlich 29
Per Teodor Cleve 29
Maurice Ewing 26


Figure Index score
Isaac Newton 100
Albert Einstein 100
Ernest Rutherford 88
Michael Faraday 86
Galileo Galilei 83
Henry Cavendish 57
Niels Bohr 52
J. J. Thomson 50
James Clerk Maxwell 50
Pierre Curie 47
Gustav Kirchhoff 43
Enrico Fermi 42
Werner Heisenberg 41
Marie Curie 41
Paul Dirac 40
James Prescott Joule 40
Christiaan Huygens 39
William Gilbert 37
Thomas Young 37
Robert Hooke 36


Figure Index score
Leonhard Euler 100
Isaac Newton 89
Euclid 83
Carl Friedrich Gauss 81
Pierre de Fermat 72
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz 72
René Descartes 54
Georg Cantor 50
Blaise Pascal 47
Bernhard Riemann 47
David Hilbert 40
Jakob Bernoulli 40
Diophantus 39
Gerolamo Cardano 37
François Viète 36
Adrien-Marie Legendre 36
John Wallis 36
Augustin-Louis Cauchy 35
Fibonacci 34
Archimedes 33


Figure Index score
Louis Pasteur 100
Hippocrates 93
Robert Koch 90
Galen 74
Paracelsus 68
Paul Ehrlich 59
René Laennec 54
Elmer McCollum 49
Alexander Fleming 47
Ambroise Paré 46
Emil Adolf von Behring 44
Joseph Lister 43
Kitasato Shibasaburō 42
Thomas Sydenham 40
Andreas Vesalius 38
Gerhard Domagk 36
Alexis Carrel 36
Sigmund Freud 34
John Hunter 34
Ignaz Semmelweis 34


Figure Index score
James Watt 100
Thomas Edison 100
Leonardo da Vinci 60
Christiaan Huygens 51
Archimedes 51
Guglielmo Marconi 50
Vitruvius 43
John Smeaton 37
Henry Bessemer 34
Thomas Newcomen 33
Charles Babbage 33
Carl Wilhelm Siemens 32
John Wilkinson 32
Benjamin Franklin 32
Charles Wheatstone 32
Alfred Nobel 32
Michael Faraday 31
Denis Papin 31
George Stephenson 30
Samuel Morse 30

Western Philosophy

Figure Index score
Aristotle 100
Plato 87
Immanuel Kant 74
René Descartes 51
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel 46
Thomas Aquinas 39
John Locke 37
David Hume 36
Augustine 30
Baruch Spinoza 27
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz 27
Socrates 26
Arthur Schopenhauer 24
George Berkeley 21
Friedrich Nietzsche 20
Thomas Hobbes 19
Bertrand Russell 18
Jean-Jacques Rousseau 17
Plotinus 17
Johann Gottlieb Fichte 17

Western Music

Figure Index score
Ludwig van Beethoven 100
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 100
Johann Sebastian Bach 87
Richard Wagner 80
Joseph Haydn 56
Georg Friedrich Händel 46
Igor Stravinsky 45
Claude Debussy 45
Franz Liszt 45
Franz Schubert 44
Robert Schumann 42
Hector Berlioz 41
Arnold Schoenberg 39
Johannes Brahms 35
Frédéric Chopin 32
Claudio Monteverdi 31
Giuseppe Verdi 30
Felix Mendelssohn 30
Carl Maria von Weber 27
Christoph Willibald Gluck 26

Western Art

Figure Index score
Michelangelo 100
Pablo Picasso 77
Raphael 73
Leonardo da Vinci 61
Titian 60
Albrecht Dürer 56
Rembrandt 56
Giotto 54
Gian Lorenzo Bernini 53
Paul Cézanne 50
Peter Paul Rubens 49
Caravaggio 43
Diego Velázquez 43
Donatello 42
Jan van Eyck 42
Francisco Goya 41
Claude Monet 41
Masaccio 41
Vincent van Gogh 40
Paul Gauguin 38

Western Literature

Figure Index score
William Shakespeare 100
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 81
Dante Alighieri 62
Virgil 55
Homer 54
Jean-Jacques Rousseau 48
Voltaire 47
Molière 43
Lord Byron 42
Leo Tolstoy 42
Fyodor Dostoyevsky 41
Petrarch 40
Victor Hugo 40
Friedrich Schiller 38
Giovanni Boccaccio 35
Horace 35
Euripides 35
Jean Racine 34
Walter Scott 33
Henrik Ibsen 32


Murray collected many data for each innovator and did a statistical analysis. One result was that accomplishment has not been uniformly distributed. For example, in Italian Renaissance, accomplishment was concentrated in Florence and Venice. In the British Isles, around London, the industrial north, and lowland Scotland. He argued that most innovation has been accomplished by men, not women, and Europeans, not other ethnic and cultural groups.

The book stated that "Whether measured in people or events, 97 percent of accomplishment in the scientific inventories occurred in Europe and North America".

Murray argued that one important explanations for the racial differences are race and intelligence differences. Women are affected by the requirements of motherhood which are both physical and emotional. Another explanation is that men's IQ are more variable than women meaning that there are more high IQ men than women. Men are also relatively better at mathematical and visual-spatial skills which may be particularly important for science while women are relatively better at verbal skills. Men also have on average somewhat larger brain size than women

There is a relationship between closeness to elite universities and human accomplishment (but not between non-elite universities and accomplishment). Furthermore, innovation is self–reinforcing: Where there has been innovation, likely more will occur.

The book argued that "Streams of accomplishment are fostered by political regimes that give de facto freedom of action to their potential artists and scholars". This means freedom of expression and innovation. It does not necessarily mean democracy although totalitarianism suppressed innovation. War and civil unrest did not affect innovation.

Murray writes that Jews had "sparse representation in European arts and sciences through the beginning of the 19C", but within a century Jews were disproportionately represented (except in astronomy). This coincided with the access to universities and public offices for Jews.

The highest scoring woman in a category was Murasaki Shikibu among Japanese literature. The highest in western literature was Virginia Woolf. The highest in science was Marie Curie.


Murray argued that the world's per capita progress in the sciences and especially the arts have declined, usually starting sometimes in the nineteenth century. In part this is due to diminishing returns. In the final chapters he abandons empirical analysis, writing "I cannot supply quantitative measures", and the analysis is "less quantitative, more speculative, and definitely more opinionated." He argued, based on Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, that innovation is increased by beliefs that life has a purpose and that the function of life is to fulfill that purpose; by beliefs about transcendental goods and a sense of goodness, truth and beauty; and by beliefs that individuals can act efficaciously as individuals, and a culture that enables them to do so. The conservative Murray argued that there is an absence of this in the current secularist and nihilist society which has caused the decline.

He also argued that one reason for the prominence of the West is that Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274) influentially argued that human intelligence is a gift from God and using it to understand the world is pleasing to God.


Steve Sailer in an interview asked who was the most accomplished person who ever lived. Murray replied that this would be his subjective opinion since the quantitative methodology used did not allow such comparisons across different domains. In his personal opinion it was Aristotle who more or less invented logic which was of fundamental importance for later science. No other civilization ever came up with it independently. He also made huge contributions to ethics, political theory, methods of classification, and scientific observation. Murray also argued that the methods used have high reliability. There was also high validity in the sense that the results of his objective method largely corresponded to common-sense expectations. He was surprised that Asian accomplishment was not higher. He argued, and had discussed thin extensively in the book, that the methods used was not biased against non-Western accomplishment.[2]


The Tech Law journal in a review criticized the claim that there has been a decline. "In short, Murray's statistical methods are thorough and objective up to the point where he argues that innovation is on the decline. Then, he manipulates his data."[3]


  1. Murray, Charles (2003). Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-019247-X. 
  2. Q&A with Charles Murray on Human Accomplishment, by Steve Sailer UPI, October 16, 2003.
  3. Book Review: Human Accomplishment, by Charles Murray

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