We spoke with Charles Murray, author of the new book, “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life,” and most famously the still–controversial “The Bell Curve,” on a variety of topics from why Professor Murray has increasingly given up on policy solutions to America’s problems altogether, to grammar, the importance of Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day,” and religion.
We conducted our interview via e-mail, reproduced below with minimal edits and modified to include links.
And in case you missed it, be sure to check out our full review of Murray’s book as well.
Make the pitch to readers young and old for why they should pick up a self-identified curmudgeon’s guide to self-improvement? Did you intend for your book to appeal to an audience beyond ambitious young adults and their parents?
Murray: You have to understand that this book wasn’t planned. It just happened. I started writing tips to [American Enterprise Institute’s] AEI’s young staff, getting some pet peeves off my chest (for example, tip #2, “Don’t use first names with people considerably older than you until asked, and sometimes not even then”) and it grew from there. A lot of the readers told me this was useful stuff and that they were emailing my tips to their friends. So why not make a book out of it? In answer to your question, the book is pretty specific in its target audience: Smart, ambitious 20-somethings, usually with a college degree.
Having read (and thoroughly enjoyed) “Coming Apart,” towards the end you note that those living in super-bubbles should and in a sense have a duty to reassert their values in order to fix the cultural divide. Given the advice in “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead,” is there meant to be any continuity between the two works?
Murray: I didn’t plan it that way, but many of the tips draw directly from my earlier work, and not just “Coming Apart.” The discussion of judgmentalism, using the example of Titian’s “Venus of Urbino,” draws directly from a similar discussion in “Human Accomplishment.” The tip that talks about the cardinal virtues draws directly from a passage in “Real Education.” The discussion of the sources of human happiness draws from “In Pursuit.” Many of the things that in earlier books I discussed in the abstract have found concrete applications in “Curmudgeon’s Guide.”