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  • Published: 14 September 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241391495
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $55.00

The Aristocracy of Talent

How Meritocracy Made the Modern World




The surprising history of an inspiring and sometimes dangerous idea

Meritocracy: the idea that people should be advanced according to their talents rather than their status at birth. For much of history this was a revolutionary thought, but 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?

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 meritocractic 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.

  • Published: 14 September 2021
  • ISBN: 9780241391495
  • Imprint: Allen Lane
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $55.00

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Praise for The Aristocracy of Talent

superb ... Wooldridge, the political editor of The Economist, quite brilliantly evokes the values and manners of the pluto-meritocrats at the top of society ... They would do well to read Wooldridge's erudite, thoughtful and magnificently entertaining book. They will find many uncomfortable truths in it.

James Marriott, The Times

The Aristocracy of Talent is finely constructed: fluent insights include the importance of Plato's distrust of democracy, on the grounds that it tended to lead to tyranny, and his insistence on the need for a leadership of experts.

John Lloyd, Financial Times

hugely stimulating ... a spirited defence ... of meritocracy itself, made with cogent arguments ... a valuable, thought-provoking book

Noel Malcolm, Daily Telegraph

This masterly book offers a robust defence of meritocracy.

Lord Willetts, Economist

a timely book that is a reminder that meritocracy, for all its flaws, may well be, like the democracy it has sometimes served, better than the alternatives ... told with a wealth of erudition in brisk and readable prose

Darrin M McMahon, Literary Review

The Aristocracy of Talent is both an exhaustively researched history of an idea and a many-sided examination of the impacts of its imperfect execution.

Mike Jakeman, Strategy + Business

There are few terms whose origins are more misunderstood than "meritocracy". So Adrian Wooldridge has performed a public service with his latest book, The Aristocracy of Talent.

Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times

kudos to Adrian Wooldridge... for producing a full-throated defence of the principle

Toby Young, Spectator

an omniscient and impassioned polemic ... Some of us have been waiting a long time for someone to do what Wooldridge has done: nail the lie that there is something shameful about success honestly earned

Daniel Johnson, The Critic

Adrian Wooldridge relabels the system "pluto-meritocracy" to expose its sham ideology

Philip Aldrick, The Times

Every page, there's an intriguing nugget of information.

Robbie Millen

readable and wide-ranging...Wooldridge maintains that meritocracy is revolutionary and egalitarian

Peter Mandler, BBC History Magazine

with its remorseless erudition ... in his new book, Adrian Wooldridge tries to salvage meritocracy from the ossified over-class that Aldous Huxley foresaw.

Janan Ganesh, Financial Times

Adrian Wooldridge sees meritocracy as a revolutionary idea worth improving, not abandoning. He ranges across two and a half thousand years of history, surveying many societies and cultures, to remind us that until relatively recently the talented were almost always a matter of no interest to the rulers - not only unrewarded but undiscovered ... [a] rich stew of a book. Alongside the philosophers are innumerable politicians, theologians, scientists, academics, authors and campaigners. He has dug up a priceless array of quotes from all perspectives on how to define the best people, how to seek them out, how to educate them, how to test them, how to give them power, even how they should behave.

Mark Damazer, New Statesman

Adrian Wooldridge's extraordinary and irresistible history of meritocracy, The Aristocracy of Talent, describes the repeated efforts over the centuries to persuade peoples all over the world to accept the principle and compel society to organize itself on lines where merit alone, not bloodlines or bank balances, decides who rules and gets top dollar. ... Throughout, Wooldridge never loses faith in the principle of meritocracy as the key driver of modernity ... The Aristocracy of Talent is a serious treat from first to last. Not the least of its pleasures are the possibilities of disagreement that it provokes.

Ferdinand Mount, Times Literary Supplement

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