How The Bell Curve Turned Charles Murray Into A Wine Collector
I don’t know if this qualifies as wine minutiae, scholarly minutiae, or some combination thereof. I do know that it is a tiny footnote to a controversial book and that I only discovered it because I am very adept at trivial pursuits, particularly when I’m looking to procrastinate. Anyway, given the fabulously erudite crowd that we have here, I thought some of you might find this interesting or at least amusing.
The famed political scientist Charles Murray is all over the news these days. He has a new book called Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010, which examines the economic, social, and moral decay of the white working class and how completely detached upper middle class Americans have become from this increasingly lumpen proletariat. Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, is best-known for a book that he published in 1994 with the late Richard Herrnstein entitled The Bell Curve, which looked at issues of class, race, and I.Q. and which many critics claimed amounted to an argument that blacks were innately less intelligent than whites.
I saw Murray being interviewed by Brian Williams the other night and was instantly reminded of something that had been a source of curiosity to me. Years ago, when I first started frequenting wine boards, I would often visit Robin Garr’s site, Wine Lovers’ Discussion Group, and I noticed that a person named Charles Murray seemed to be a regular there. At some point, it occurred to me—and I don’t recall exactly why—that this was very likely the Charles Murray of Bell Curve fame. However, I never confirmed that, and when I came across Murray while channel-surfing the other evening, my curiosity was reignited.
With a few clicks of the mouse, I found a bio that Charles Murray had posted on Garr’s site (the link doesn’t work, but if you Google “Wine Lovers Discussion Group biographies” and scroll through the names, you’ll come to Murray’s bio). In addition to confirming that it was indeed the same guy, the bio included some interesting details. Although Murray didn’t mention The Bell Curve, he indicated that the controversy surrounding the best-selling book (plus the money he had earned from it) had led him to take up wine collecting. “I had always enjoyed wine,” Murray wrote, “but about six years ago (this is written in 2000) I found myself with some discretionary income and the need to distract myself from some unpleasant things going on in my life (I had coauthored a book which people were saying extremely weird things about) and started a cellar.” There are lots of different paths to wine geekdom, but this was surely one of the more unusual ones. Murray went on to say that he had amassed a collection of around 2000 bottles. He had initially loaded up on California and Bordeaux but had since diversified to the Rhone, Germany, and Italy, and was now especially smitten with Burgundy (there may be different paths to wine geekdom, but they ultimately all converge in the same place—Place Carnot).
I haven’t read Coming Apart, so I don’t know if it includes anything about wine. It does, however, mention beer. The book includes a quiz called “How Thick is your Bubble?”, which is meant to test how attuned or out of touch members of the upper middle class are with working-class culture. One of the 20 questions is as follows: During the past year, have you stocked your own fridge with domestic mass-market beer? My answer was no (the beer question, incidentally, has generated some pushback). I took the entire quiz, and this was the result:
“On a scale from 0 to 20 points, where 20 signifies full engagement with mainstream American culture and 0 signifies deep cultural isolation within the new upper class bubble, you scored between 0 and 4.
In other words, your bubble is so thick you may not even know you’re in one.”
Well, at least my bubble is stocked with decent wines (and, yes, most of them are French, as if that even needs to be said). I’d love to know if Murray keeps any Budweiser or Coors in his fridge and if he actually drinks the stuff, and what the status of his wine cellar is these days. Maybe he’ll stop by to answer those questions and to talk wine; my bubble may be thick, but I can assure him that it is a very welcoming place.