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“How can a human being have done that?”

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Charles Murray’s test for genius. Gary Rosen writes about Murray’s new book, “Human Accomplishment,” in today‘s Wall St. Journal. More from the article: “There have been 4,002 ‘people who matter’ in the period 800 B.C. to 1950.” By my math, that’s about one every eight months. Interesting.

Murray considers Aristotle the most accomplished person who has ever lived. He ranks Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach (in that order) as the three greatest Western musicians.

He finds that levels of accomplishment tended to decline from 1850 to 1950. Asked to speculate on post-1950 trends, he said, “I think the number of novels, songs, and paintings done since 1950 that anyone will still care about 200 years from now is somewhere in the vicinity of zero. Not exactly zero, but close. I find a good way to make this point is to ask anyone who disagrees with me to name a work that will survive – and then ask, ‘Seriously?’ Very few works indeed can defend themselves against the ‘Seriously?’ question.”

By contrast, anyone fortunate enough to be in the presence of Michelangelo’s “David” knows that this work will remain beyond comprehension long after we are dust.

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