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Russians and Westerners (Mostly) Agree on the Most Influential Russian Writers
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Non-West European nationalists don’t tend to like Charles Murray’s Human Accomplishment (HA) database.

For instance, as relates to Russia: Why is Marconi propped over Popov? Where is Lodygin? Where is Bulgakov!?

Let’s answer that very last question.

It would certainly be very useful to see Murray’s assessments of the most eminent Russians correlates with Russian assessments. If the correlations are low, then perhaps the critics are correct about his alleged Western Eurocentrism. If, however, the correlations are high, though, then he should probably be taken seriously. Especially if these correlations are attained in more “subjective” fields such as literature, which are separated by a language barrier (e.g. Pushkin is far harder to translate well into English than Dostoevsky) and 70 years of fraught international relations.

Fortunately, I came across a list of the most influential Russian writers as tallied by the Russian Book Chamber (RBC), the national bibliographic agency.

This allows us to compare Murray’s list to one compiled by a major institutional authority.

A few years ago, the RBC tallied the relative shares of publications accruing to literary authors from 1917-2012. Here is the correlation with the HA:


And yet despite all these problems, there is a remarkable r=0.79 agreement between the two lists. Including on Bulgakov’s absence from both!

Yes, there are many things that I myself find strange about both lists. The absence of Kuprin and Esenin from HA is somewhat unexpected. The absence of figures such as Nabokov, Sholokhov, Babel, Ehrenberg, and Zamyatin from the RBC list is even weirder, as is, for that matter, Nabokov’s very low rating on HA. (The absence of Derzhavin and Lomonosov from the RBC list would be strange, but RBC does state that it only only covers 19th-early 20th century writers). And the absence of Bulgakov from both lists is genuinely absurd.

Even so, the numbers are what they are, and so far as I’m concerned, it confirms the legitimacy of Murray’s assessments with respect to Russian accomplishment.


HA & RBC Lists Compared

Author RBC HA
A.S. Pushkin 10.29% 30.05
L.N. Tolstoy 7.93% 40.53
M. Gorky 7.05% 18.82
A.P. Chekhov 5.48% 24.01
A.N. Tolstoy 4.15% 7.30
N.V. Gogol 4.08% 26.03
I.S. Turgenev 4.00% 24.30
M.Y. Lermontov 3.58% 12.48
F.M. Dostoevsky 3.10% 40.20
N.A. Nekrasov 2.34% 5.84
I.A. Bunin 2.29% 5.01
V.V. Mayakovsky 2.23% 16.29
V.G. Korolenko 1.64% 3.15
A.A. Blok 1.57% 11.31
N.S. Leskov 1.49% 7.30
A.N. Ostrovsky 1.42% 5.34
V.Y. Bryusov 1.40% 4.93
B.L. Pasternak 1.39% 11.76
K.D. Balmont 1.18% 2.48
F.I. Tyutchev 1.15% 3.38
A.A. Fet 1.11% 2.71
I.A. Goncharov 1.11% 7.95
A.A. Akhmatova 1.07% 4.73
A. Bely (Bugayev) 1.00% 7.70
L.N. Andreev 0.86% 5.42
F.K. Sologub 0.86% 3.15
V.M. Garshin 0.83% 2.01
A.K. Tolstoy 0.83% 2.38
A.S. Griboedov 0.80% 4.82
E.A. Baratynskyi 0.66% 1.93
O.E. Mandelstam 0.65% 2.29
A.I. Herzen 0.65% 5.46
N.G. Chernyshevsky 0.58% 4.43
M.E. Saltykov-Shchedrin 0.44% 6.12
D.S. Merezhkovsky 0.43% 6.15
A.V. Koltsov 0.41% 2.49
A.F. Pisemsky 0.13% 2.28

Appear Only in HA

Author HA
Karamzin, Nikolai 6.52
Ehrenberg, Ilya 5.00
Babel, Isaak 4.33
Derzhavin, Gavril 4.25
Lomonosov, Mikhail 4.19
Zoshchenko, Mikhail 4.11
Lenz, Jakob 4.07
Sholokhov, Mikhail 4.04
Krylov, Ivan 3.94
Fedin, Konstantine 3.77
Zamyatin, Yevgeny 3.51
Fonvizin, Denis 3.09
Aksakov, Sergey 2.91
Nabokov, Vladimir 2.68
Radishchev, Alexander 2.42
Katayev, Valentin 2.31
Olesha, Yuri 1.52

Appear Only in RBC

Author RBC
A.I. Kuprin 2.42%
D.N. Mamin-Sibiryak 2.01%
S.A. Esenin 1.24%
V.A. Zhukovsky 1.00%
I.F. Annensky 0.88%
N.S. Gumilev 0.88%
P.P. Ershov 0.87%
M.I. Tsvetaeva 0.81%
V.F. Odoevsky 0.79%
I.S. Shmelev 0.71%
Z.N. Gippius 0.66%
V.I. Ivanov 0.64%
D.I. Harms 0.62%
M.A. Kuzmin 0.60%
M.A. Voloshin 0.52%
A.A. Pogorelsky 0.47%
N.G. Garin-Mikhailovsky 0.44%
V.F. Khodasevich 0.38%
A.M. Remizov 0.35%
G.I. Uspensky 0.35%
D.V. Grigorovich 0.35%
P.A. Vyazemsky 0.28%
K.N. Batiushkov 0.28%
A.I. Vvedensky 0.28%
G.V. Ivanov 0.27%
I. Severyanin 0.27%
O.N. Klyuyev 0.24%
B.K. Zaitsev 0.20%
V. Khlebnikov 0.20%
A.V. Druzhinin 0.17%
A.B. Mariengof 0.14%
R. Ivnev 0.13%
N.G. Pomyalovsky 0.12%


• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Human Achievement, Literature, Russia 
  1. syonredux says:

    Posted this on the previous post, but it seems equally applicable here.Murray’s sources for the Western lit category:

    In the following lists, sources used to identify significant figures have a Q (for qualifying source) after their entry. Sources used to compute index scores have an I (for index source) after their entry.

    Literature sources specific to the West W. R. Benét, ed. The Reader’s Encyclopedia. 2nd edition. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. (I) H. Bloom. 1994. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company. (Q) A. Burgio. 1963. Storia della Litteratura. 2 vols. Milan: Vallerdi. (QI) O. M. Carpeaux. 1982. História da Literatura Ocidental. 8 vols. Rio de Janeiro: Ediçöes o Cruzeiro. (QI) G. Díaz-Plaja. 1965. La Litteratura Universal. Barcelona: Editiones Danae. (I) A. Eggebrecht. 1964. Epochen der Weltliteratur. Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann Verlag. (Q) E. Laaths. 1953. Geschichte der Weltliteratur: Deutscher Bucherbund. (QI) J. Paxton and S. Fairfield. 1980. Calendar of Creative Man. New York: Facts on File. (Q) G. Wilpert. 1963. Lexikon der Weltliteratur. 2 vols. Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner Verlag.(QI)

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  2. Cicero says:

    Something about the methodology on both of these list is off. Not catastrophically off, but bizarre nonetheless.

    Mikhail Sholokhov, would be one of those authors that many Russians have read at some point or another. And Quiet Flows the Don is one of those novels that always come up when you discuss Soviet literature. I would love to know how the RBC formulated its results, because Sholokhov not having any presence on it is borderline fantastical. At least in the case of Bulgakov, it could be explained that his most famous works were censored until the 1980′s, but Sholokhov’s writings were practically shoved into people’s faces.

    Nabokov… I can see it. He’s as much a part of the Pantheon of English literature as he is Russian, and that may generate some bias aginst his works back in his homeland. I see similarities to Joseph Conrad in that regard.

    It is a shame that Fonvizin is omitted from the RBC due to its scope. He was one of the few 18th Russian writers consistently cited in my college courses. Not a prolific writer but very influential none the less. Fun fact: The Fonvizins were one of the few German-Russian families that could claim to have a notable impact on Russia from the time of Ivan the Terrible right into the Soviet period. They outlasted many full-blooded Russian noble families in that regard.

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  3. melanf says:

    “Relative shares of publications” is not a reliable indicator. Huge circulations have books from the school curriculum that students need to read because of the threat of punishment.
    A more reliable indicator – fan groups in Vkontakte, forums where people discuss the heroes of the books, etc.. It is Easy to prove that in Russia success have “Game of thrones” and Harry Potter, but interest to the works of Leo Tolstoy – null.

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  4. Cyrano says:

    Stop pretending that you are some kind of intellectuals y’ all, when none of you have even read anything from Tolstoyevsky – like his masterpiece “War and punishment” or “Crime and peace”.

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  5. Even after this evidence presented by Mr. Karlin, I would insist that “Lost in translation” is a real phenomenon when it comes to a field like literature that depends on the language and cultural background. Maybe Russian literature is just not the best possible example. There is, after all, a strong, old and established tradition of Western translation of Russian literature. This was helped by the influx of educated Russians after the revolution. Therefore, it is possible that great classics of Russian literature are, mostly, recognized as such by both the Westerners and the Russians themselves.

    Situation is markedly different when it comes to the smaller literatures without such well-established tradition of translation. Finnish and Estonian are examples that come to mind. Swedes have their august academy with Nobel-prize granting superpowers to propagate their literature

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