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The Mismeasure of Minds

Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and The Bell Curve

By Michael E. Staub

232 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones, 1 graph, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4359-5
    Published: November 2018
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-4360-1
    Published: September 2018

Studies in Social Medicine

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Awards & distinctions

Finalist, 2019 PROSE Award in Psychology, Association of American Publishers

The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision required desegregation of America’s schools, but it also set in motion an agonizing multidecade debate over race, class, and IQ. In this innovative book, Michael E. Staub investigates neuropsychological studies published between Brown and the controversial 1994 book The Bell Curve. In doing so, he illuminates how we came to view race and intelligence today.

In tracing how research and experiments around such concepts as learned helplessness, deferred gratification, hyperactivity, and emotional intelligence migrated into popular culture and government policy, Staub reveals long-standing and widespread dissatisfaction—not least among middle-class whites—with the metric of IQ. He also documents the devastating consequences—above all for disadvantaged children of color—as efforts to undo discrimination and create enriched learning environments were recurrently repudiated and defunded. By connecting psychology, race, and public policy in a single narrative, Staub charts the paradoxes that have emerged and that continue to structure investigations of racism even into the era of contemporary neuroscientific research.

About the Author

Michael E. Staub is professor of English and American Studies at Baruch College, City University of New York and author of Madness Is Civilization: When the Diagnosis Was Social, 1948-1980.
For more information about Michael E. Staub, visit the Author Page.


“In this beautifully written and thoroughly researched book, Michael E. Staub takes a fresh and critical look at some of the most familiar, iconic, and vaunted psychological and neuroscientific experiments of the last several decades. He argues compellingly that race and class are the unacknowledged and implicit subtexts in these experiments. This is a book that psychologists, neuroscientists, historians, and the public alike need to read.”—Nadine Weidman, Harvard University

“Michael Staub has written a sophisticated, nuanced history that makes clear the connections between the study of the brain and how we process race in America. This is history of science and of society at its best.” —David Roediger, University of Kansas

“In this meticulously researched and beautifully written book, Michael Staub deftly walks the reader through psychological experiments and data (or lack thereof) and their subsequent interpretation. Staub sheds new light on how race and intelligence testing connect. A book we didn’t know we needed.”—Mical Raz, University of Rochester

“In chronicling the surprising continuities between civil rights–era legislation and Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s notorious The Bell CurveThe Mismeasure of Minds sounds a crucial warning about racial liberalism’s recourse to the claims of psychology and authority of science. This is a groundbreaking and stunning book.”—Britt Rusert, University of Massachusetts Amherst