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Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong

by David Shenk

Pub Date: March 9th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-385-52365-3
Publisher: Doubleday

An empowering view of our possibilities for achievement, and a myth-busting approach to common ideas about the inheritance of brains and talent.

Journalist Shenk (The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, 2006, etc.), who has a flair for explaining scientific subjects in everyday language, challenges the simple notion that genes determine whether or not a person is gifted. He divides the book into three parts, the first of which tackles the questions of how and why. Genes, writes the author, may influence but they do not determine. They are involved in a complex interaction with environment, a dynamic that Shenk expresses as GxE (genes multiplied by environment). In this equation, environment includes internal and external stimuli, including other genes, hormones, nutrition, physical and intellectual activity, family, society. Shenk begins by critiquing IQ tests and research on identical twins, two areas that have led to popular misconceptions about genetic determination. He then turns to ultra-achievers, from Mozart to Michael Jordan, to show the role played by such factors as motivation and intense practice, and to sports clusters such as Kenyan runners to reveal the role played by climate, training, politics, economics, the media and other factors. In the second part, Shenk provides guiding principles for individuals who want to develop their maximum potential and for parents who want to encourage their children to become achievers, plus a consideration of how societies can foster the values that motivate achievement. The third—and largest—section of the book is an appendix titled “The Evidence,” in which the author discusses the book’s origins, lists his initial sources and provides extensive chapter-by-chapter notes that quote from his sources and expand on issues raised in each chapter. By putting this background material in an appendix, Shenk simplifies the text, keeping the narrative highly readable.

Upbeat and entertaining.