The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World

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Simon and Schuster, Jul 13, 2021 - Political Science - 464 pages
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The Times (UK) book of the year! Meritocracy: the idea that people should be advanced according to their talents rather than their birth. While this initially seemed like a novel concept, by the end of the twentieth century it had become the world's ruling ideology. How did this happen, and why is meritocracy now under attack from both right and left?

In The Aristocracy of Talent, esteemed journalist and historian Adrian Wooldridge traces the history of meritocracy forged by the politicians and officials who introduced the revolutionary principle of open competition, the psychologists who devised methods for measuring natural mental abilities, and the educationalists who built ladders of educational opportunity. He looks outside western cultures and shows what transformative effects it has had everywhere it has been adopted, especially once women were brought into the meritocratic system.

Wooldridge also shows how meritocracy has now become corrupted and argues that the recent stalling of social mobility is the result of failure to complete the meritocratic revolution. Rather than abandoning meritocracy, he says, we should call for its renewal.

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User Review  - thcson - LibraryThing

This book demonstrates how selection by merit stands opposed to selection by family ties, status and wealth on many fronts. I particularly liked the first historical chapters where the author explains ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Tom.Wilson - LibraryThing

A beautifully written history of the modern world of the last five hundred years as filtered through the lens of meritocracy as a way of organising society. Wooldridge writes with much more joie de ... Read full review


A Revolutionary Idea
Homo hierarchicus
Family Power
Nepotism Patronage Venality
Plato and the Philosopher Kings
China and the Examination State
The Chosen People
The Golden Ladder
Europe and the Career Open to Talent
Britain and the Intellectual Aristocracy
The United States and the Republic of Merit
The Measurement of Merit
The Meritocratic Revolution
Girly Swots

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About the author (2021)

Adrian Wooldridge is the political editor and a columnist at the Economist. He earned a doctorate in history from Oxford University, where he was a Fellow of All Souls College. He is the author of ten previous books, including Capitalism in America co-written with Alan Greenspan and seven co-written with John Micklethwait: The Wake-Up Call, The Witch Doctors, A Future Perfect, The Company, The Right Nation, God is Back, and The Fourth Revolution.

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