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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2011
Disappointed sums it up. I made the mistake of purchasing the book after reading the back cover while roaming through a bookstore. It was on the "buy 2 get one free" table. I should have "peeked" inside before parting with my money. The back half of the book is bibliography and notes. Only half the book is "real" text, and what it contains is similar to the opinings of other writers who like to quote this or that study and then extrapolate it into a new idea. I didn't find the book enlightening or significantly engaging. But I admit there were morsels worth reading - so I gave it two stars. Maybe he'll follow up with a longer book, and include in depth interviews with the professionals who conducted the studies he notes along the way.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2013
Review courtesy of www.subtleillumination.com

"The genius in all of us is our built-in ability to improve ourselves and our world."

David Shenk thinks you misunderstand genetics. It's not personal - he thinks pretty much everyone does. He argues in The Genius in All of Us that in trying to distinguish nature vs. nurture, we have missed the fact that who we are is determined by their interaction. Genes are turned on and off by the environment in which we live, and in the vast majority of activities for which we never reach our genetic limitations, it is practice and context that will determine just how talented we are. All of us have the potential to be a genius.

He points to Cooper and Zubek's experiments with maze-bright and maze-dull rats, chosen as such because they descend from generations of rats who have been relatively good or poor at solving mazes. In normal conditions, the bright rats impressively outperform the dull ones. In enriched or restricted environments, however, both types of rats performed almost the same, whether as geniuses or dullards. Genetics do make a difference, but that difference can be overwhelmed by the influence of context and environment, despite what humans usually assume.

Shenk makes an important point, that we often neglect or underrate the importance of environment and its interaction with genes. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the shortness of the book (136 pages of argument, plus 200 of endnotes and citations), it can often feel like he hasn't explored the ideas, but rather just rushed through them without examining their implications. He focuses, for example, on the idea that we can all be geniuses with a supportive environment: equally meaningful, however, is the implication that no one can be a genius without hard work and environment, and I am suspicious his choice of one perspective over the other is intended to sell books, not provide insight. He also sometimes seems to get carried away by his own arguments, so much so that he leaves his focus on interactions and seems to imply that environment is actually dominant over genetics, a suggestion he rightfully criticizes in the inverse.

The nature of heritability is always a controversial one, and the debate is often unfortunately ideologically, not factually, based. In that respect, Shenk has done a good job attempting to stick to the science, referring to many studies and explicitly citing his research. Nevertheless, a more thorough examination of the issues would likely be more compelling, and less likely to leave the reader feeling unsatisfied.
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7 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2010
The study of expert performance has been popularized by (among others) a number of articles in the NY Times and in Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point", and this book seems like an attempt to ride the wave in book form. Unfortunately you'll find three seemingly mutually exclusive claims in this book (1)"Heritability is a population average, meaningless for any single person" on pg. 65 (2) genes interact with nature to produce what we observe (3) "single-gene diseases do exist" pg 21

So in other words genes can be completely deterministic, they interact with the environment to produce outcomes, and they are irrelevant. At various points this book will tell you all 3 are true!
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3 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2012
This book is pure polemics and, as several other reviewers have noted, it's a Gladwellian rehash. Malcolm Gladwell (a bright half black / half white writer) has a bee in his bonnet, trying to prove that everyone can be a genius if he/she only works hard enough (10,000 hours minimum.) Perhaps it is a refutation of the Bell Curve, showing differences in average IQs of different ethnic groups. Or perhaps, like this book, it is merely a defense of a world view, irrespective of data.
However, the idea that we can all reach higher IQ is of course nonsense. Pygmies cannot become Masais by stretching themselves. Pygmies are shorter, period. This has nothing to say about their human worth-- they are equally valuable members of the human race--but they are really shorter. Similarly, some human groups are really smarter, other groups are (on the average) really dumber. If they are offended byy this, don't blame those who measure IQ. Blame Nature.
Take Chess, for example. There are 1,312 chess grandmasters worldwide (ELO 2,500 pts and above, approx.), but only 13 women of that level. How come? Well, there are also fewer severely retarded women than severely retarded men. Men's IQ distribution is wider; women's, narrower. Can you teach women chess? Of course you can. Can you tech them to become chess geniuses? You can teach some. But not many.
Ditto re IQ in other domains, e.g.: physics, math,. music composition, etc.
IQ is innate, and can be measured quite easily-- it can be approximated by speed of neural response, even for those who cannot read and write. No need for cultural biases and other apologies. Just measure the neural response, and you get "g" within a few %. Many have done this, and it works. Nothing about this in this book, though.
This book is not a book of science. It is pure polemics, a la Gladwell. Ignore it.
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