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Human Accomplishment is a new classic for history lovers, a priceless reference for writers and a fascinating read for everyone.
The listing of significant events and people who matter is almost overwhelming in scope. Some of the listed "people" categories are Astronomy, Technology, Western Philosophy, and Japanese Literature. These people are ranked on a scale of up to one hundred and listed in descending order. Some perfect scores are no surprise (Michelangelo and Aristotle, for instance) while Pasteur edging out Hippocrates is definitely debatable.
Central events are broken down into categories ranging from Astronomy to Biology and Physics. Also discussed are “meta-inventions”, which are defined as “…new cognitive [tools] for dealing with the world around us.” The chapter “dead white males” provokes lively debate, delving into the questions of why so few women are contributors to the Arts and Sciences as well as why so many Jewish people are contributors. The data is interesting and deserves some thought on the reader’s part.
On pages 301-303, the origins of significant figures are given for Art, Literature, Music and Science for the time spans of 1400-1600, 1600-1800 and 1800-1950. It is interesting to see the evolution of the patterns throughout the time frames.
Despite the mammoth scope of the book and the complex nature of the mountainous research that must have been involved, Human Accomplishment is a pleasant read. It is also a great book to keep handy for those annoying questions that you vaguely remember the answers to, but not definitively enough to stop them nagging at you.
It would have been easy for Charles Murray to allow all the facts and figures presented here to become as dry as most compendia of this kind. He manages, however, to make the book accessible to most readers. Some people would probably prefer to have it handy to look up questions rather than to read through in one sitting.
In creating a valuable research tool, Murray has done a great service for those who wish to know a bit about everything. Human Accomplishment may be the curious reader’s new best friend.