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For some reason, I have been asked repeatedly to estimate the IQ of Vladimir Nabokov.  This is difficult because I usually only estimate the IQs of people I know a lot about and so I would need to do more research to do a quality job.

Still, I figured I could at least provide a very rough preliminary estimate and perhaps revisit the topic later if I learn more relevant details.

According to a list of the ten greatest books of the 20th century, as voted by 125 famous authors, number one and number 10 are both by Nabokov.  To have written two of the ten best novels of the 20th century (as voted by his peers), one of them number one, and to be a distinguished writer in more than one language, is strong evidence that Nabokov is the most accomplished writer of the 20th century.

Roughly 8.7 billion people lived some time during the 20th century.  Assuming roughly 14% of them were whites, then Nabokov was the most accomplished writer out of 1.22 billion whites.  Thus, when it comes to writing accomplishment, Nabokov had a normalized Z score of +6.  Popular commenter Misdreavus objected to me assuming accomplishments are normally distributed since they’re clearly not, but I never assume they are normally distributed, I am normalize them, as suggested to me by an incredibly brilliant member of an ultra-high IQ society; and it seems to give reasonable results.

Assuming the correlation between IQ and writing accomplishment is 0.49, and assuming a bivariate normal distribution for the full range of normalized writing accomplishments and IQ, then Nabokov’s expected IQ Z score would be +6(0.49) = +2.94.  To convert this to the IQ scale, we simply multiply by 15 and add 100, giving Nabokov an expected IQ of 144 (U.S. white norms), making him likely brighter than 99.8% of white Americans of his generation.  To put this figure in perspective, the average white American by definition has an IQ of 100 on white norms.  The average doctor, lawyer, PhD and Ivy League undergrad has an IQ in the 120s.

This is a very rough estimate of course, since it’s based on nothing but his writing accomplishments.  In other words, if it were possible to have a large sample of people of one in a billion writing accomplishment, 144 would be their average IQ (given the above assumptions).

All I can say with 95% certainty that Nabokov’s IQ was between 118 and 170 with 144 being the single best guess.

I have also been asked to estimate the IQs of a few other writers such as Clark Ashton Smith and James Joyce.  My estimate for Joyce would be virtually identical to Nabokov’s since Joyce is probably the second most accomplished writer of the 20th century.  Clark Ashton Smith is a more complicated case which I will pursue later.