Does America Still Have What It Takes?

Mosaic, April 2014.


Some years ago, I conducted an ambitious research project to document and explain patterns of human accomplishment across time and cultures. My research took me from 800 BCE, when Homo sapiens’ first great surviving works of thought appeared, to 1950, my cut-off date for assessing lasting influence. I assembled world-wide inventories of achievements in physics, biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and technology, plus separate inventories of Western, Chinese, and Indian philosophy; Western, Chinese, and Japanese art; Western, Arabic, Chinese, Indian, and Japanese literature; and Western music. These inventories were analyzed using quantitative techniques alongside standard qualitative historical analysis. The result was Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences (2003).