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The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong Hardcover – March 9, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385523653
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385523653
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Louann Brizendine Reviews The Genius In All of Us

Louann Brizendine, M.D.,author of The Female Brain and The Male Brain, is a diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the National Board of Medical Examiners, and is clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF. She is founder and director of the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic and the Teen Girl Mood and Hormone Clinic. After receiving her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, she completed an internship in medicine and neurology at Harvard Medical School's Brigham and Women's Hospital, and a residency in psychiatry at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center of Harvard Medical School. She sits on the boards of many prestigious peer reviewed journals and is the recipient of numerous honors and awards. Read Brizendine's guest review of The Genius In All of Us:

In The Genius in All of Us Shenk beautifully explains why the nature-nurture debate is dead. It is not just the genes we are born with, but how we are raised and what opportunities are open to us that determine how smart we will become. Nurture and experience reshape our genes, and thus our brain. Shenk argues that the idea we are either born with genius or talent, or we aren’t, is simply untrue. The notion that relentless, deliberate practice changes the brain and thus our abilities has been undervalued over the past 30 years in favor of the concept of “innate giftedness.” Practice, practice, practice (some say 10,000 hours or more) is what it takes. Shenk argues that it is just some fantasy that effortless, gifted genius is born and not made. He marshals evidence to show that genetic factors do not trump environmental factors but rather work in concert with them. Shenk notes that by the sweat of our brow we can train ourselves to be successful--even if we are born with only average genetic talent. Scientists know that how we are raised and how we are trained affects the expression of our genes. If you think you’ve reached your talent limit, think again, Shenk says. It’s not just in your genes, he says, but in the intensity of your motivation. Ambition, persistence, and self-discipline are not just products of genes, but can be shaped by nurture and environment. Certainly it is important to have good genes, but that determines at most only 50 percent of your talent. He underscores the point that intelligence is made up of the skills that a person has developed--with an emphasis on “developed”--through hard work. Encouraging ourselves and our children to work hard requires being surrounded by others also wanting to achieve striving for excellence. Moreover, Shenk gives the hopeful message not just for kids, but also for adults. Happily for us, the human brain remains plastic, changeable and trainable well into old age. So no matter how old you are, if you’d like to be smarter--get to work! --Louann Brizendine


A Q&A with David Shenk

Question: Your book is called The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong. That’s a big claim. Everything and how so?

David Shenk: It is a bold statement, and it reflects how poorly the public has been served when it comes to understanding the relationship between biology and ability. The clichés we’ve been taught about genetic blueprints, IQ, and "giftedness" all come out of crude, early-20th century guesswork. The reality is so much more interesting and complex. Genes do have a powerful influence on everything we do, but they respond to their environments in all sorts of interesting ways. We’ve now learned a lot more about the developmental mechanisms that enable people to get really good at stuff. Intelligence and talent turn out to be about process, not about whether you were born with certain "gifts."

Question: In The Genius in All of Us you state that the concept of nature versus nurture is over. Scientists, cognitive psychologists, and geneticists are moving towards an idea of ‘interactionism.' What does this mean? If the battle of genes versus environment is over, who has won? Which is more important?

David Shenk: They both won, because they're both vitally important. But the new science shows us that they do not act separately. Declaring that a person gets X-percent of his/her intelligence from genes and Y-percent from the environment is like saying that X-percent of Shakespeare's greatness can be found in his verbs, and Y-percent in his adjectives. There is no nature vs. nurture, or nature plus nurture; instead, it's nature interacting with nurture, which is often expressed by scientists as "GxE" (genes times intelligence). This is what "interactionism" refers to. A vanguard of geneticists, neuroscientists, and psychologists have stepped forward in recent years to articulate the importance of the dynamic interaction between genes and the environment.

Question: You describe genes and environment as a sound board. How so?

David Shenk: In the past, we’ve been taught that each distinct gene contains a certain dossier of information, which in turn determines a certain trait; if you have the blue-eyed gene, you get blue eyes. Period.

It turns out, though, that the information contained inside genes is only part of the story; another critical part is how often genes get "expressed," or turned on, by other genes and by outside forces. It’s therefore helpful to think of your genome as a giant mixing board with thousands of knobs and switches. Genes are always getting turned on/off/up/down by hormones, nutrients, etc. People actually affect their own genome’s behavior with their actions.

Question: How do these new findings affect the concept of the "The Bell Curve"--that we live in an increasingly stratified world where the "cognitive elite," those with the best genes, are more and more isolated from the cognitive/genetic underclass? Is that idea now completely obsolete?

David Shenk: Yes, it is obsolete. The idea that there is a genetic super-class that has a corner on high-IQ genes is nonsense. This comes out of a profound misunderstanding of how genes work and how intelligence works, and also from a misreading of so-called "heritability" studies. I am not saying that genes don’t affect intelligence. Genes affect everything. But by and large I think the evidence shows that people with low intelligence are missing out on key developmental advantages.

Question: Lewis Terman invented the IQ test at Stanford University in 1916. He declared it the ideal tool to determine a person’s native intelligence. Are IQ tests accurate? What are the benefits and fallout of the IQ test?

David Shenk: IQ tests accurately rank academic achievement. That’s quite different from identifying innate intelligence, which doesn’t really exist. Tufts intelligence expert Robert Sternberg explains that "intelligence represents a set of competencies in development." In other words, intelligence isn’t fixed. Intelligence isn’t general. Intelligence is not a thing. Instead, intelligence is a dynamic, diffuse, and ongoing process.

The IQ test has valid uses. It can help teachers and principals understand how well students are doing and what they’re missing. But the widespread belief that it defines what each of us are capable of (and limited to) is disabling for individuals and society. People simply cannot reach their full potential if they honestly believe that they are so severely restricted.

Question: How do we go about finding the genius in all of us? What steps we can take to unlock latent talent?

David Shenk: Find the thing you love to do, and work and work and work at it. Don't be discouraged by failure; realize that high achievers thrive on failure as a motivating mechanism and as instruction guide on how to get better.

(Photo © Alexandra Beers)


From Booklist

*Starred Review* Intent on burying the concept of inborn genius, Shenk uses the 128 pages of “The Argument” to drive home how mistaken the notion of being genetically destined at birth to be a Mozart or a Michael Jordan is. For genes aren’t the inalterable essences that environmental effects merely help out; rather, genes and environment interact to realize a person’s potential in a constant and complicated process that Shenk attractively exemplifies through the athletic life of Ted Williams, who began hitting practice at age six and, equally important, never gave it up; also, considered to have magically sharp sight, he tested only high normal upon entering naval aviation—the thing was, he developed himself to, as Ty Cobb said, “see more of the ball than any man alive.” En route to the startling revelation that Lamarckism (variation by inheritance, not Darwinian natural selection) has truth in it, after all, Shenk corrects common knowledge about what twin studies and IQ tests really show; clarifies the arguably most misunderstood genetics term, heritable; and scientifically revives faith in not just practice and determination but also parenting and lifestyle as crucial factors, along with genes, in the realization of talents. Since this flies in the face of a century of genetic determinism, Shenk employs the equally engrossing 141 pages of “The Evidence” to cite, quote, paraphrase, and comment upon the sources for virtually every assertion in “The Argument.” --Ray Olson

More About the Author

David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including THE FORGETTING ("remarkable" - Los Angeles Times), DATA SMOG ("indispensable" - New York Times), and THE IMMORTAL GAME ("superb" - Wall Street Journal). He is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS. His new book, THE GENIUS IN ALL OF US, has been called "engrossing" by Booklist (starred review) and "empowering...myth-busting" by Kirkus.

Shenk's work inspired the Emmy-award winning PBS documentary "The Forgetting," and was featured in the Oscar-nominated feature "Away From Her." He has advised the President's Council on Bioethics, and is a popular speaker. His original term "data smog" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004.

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Customer Reviews

Shenk makes no such attempt.
Jack
This book is fascinating, full of excellent research, and written in a lively and engaging manner.
S. Matthias
Read this book and you will get your answers.
Eric

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 90 people found the following review helpful By Marcus Anthony on April 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"This book is not a dispassionate presentation of all scientific points of view. Instead it embraces the arguments of the Interactionists, whose views I came to trust most after much reading, conversation and consideration."(p. 148)

So writes David Shenk in The Genius in All of Us, and true to his word he is. Shenk's book is not a strictly scientific investigation of intelligence or giftedness, but a personal presentation for the case that intelligence is highly malleable, and that it emerges from the interaction of genes and environment. His case differs from many mainstream representations of intelligence in that he finds environment plays a far greater role than many intelligence theorists acknowledge. Intelligence, states Shenk, is a process, more so than a discrete entity which sits in the physical structure of the brain. He writes:

"...intelligence isn't fixed. Intelligence isn't general. Intelligence is not a thing. Intelligence is a dynamic, diffuse and ongoing process." (p.42)

So, David Shenk does not even attempt to be even-handed, and barely addresses the criticisms to the interactionist position. Some readers won't like the book for that reason.

I had no problem with reading the book. There is no law which says that a non-fiction book has to take a critical approach to its own thesis. If you are looking for a look at the arguments from multiple perspectives, this is not the book for you. You might instead try Howard Gardner's Intelligence: Multiple Perspectives, or Ken Richardson's brilliant little book, The Making of Intelligence (though both books largely comply with Shenk's position). These are very readable and concise volumes.
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45 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Jack on October 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"Sophisticated people sneer at feel-good comedies and saccharine romances in which all loose ends are tied and everyone lives happily ever after. Life is nothing like that, we note, and we look to the arts for edification about the painful dilemmas of the human condition. Yet when it comes to the science of human beings, this same audience says: Give us schmaltz!"-Steven Pinker

1. MISUNDERSTANDING HERITABILITY

In the first chapter of The Genius in All of Us David Shenk writes that Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein (henceforth, M&H), the authors of The Bell Curve, "fundamentally misinterpreted a number of studies, becoming convinced that roughly 60 percent of each person's intelligence comes directly from his or her genes." For at least two reasons, this claim is not a very auspicious start for a book that purports to challenge the vast research literature showing that genetic differences are important determinants of success. Firstly, no such claim is made anywhere in The Bell Curve. On the contrary, M&H write (p. 106) that "heritability describes something about a population of people, not an individual. It makes no more sense to talk about the heritability of an individual's IQ than it does to talk about his birthrate." Secondly, the fact that Shenk nevertheless thinks that M&H's thesis is that "60 percent of each person's intelligence comes directly from genes" indicates that Shenk does not understand what it means to say, as M&H do, that the HERITABILITY of a trait is such and such.

Heritability is a measure of the extent that DIFFERENCES among individuals have genetic causes, not a measure of the extent that genes have contributed to any individual's ontogenic development.
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113 of 147 people found the following review helpful By Skeptical Reader on March 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Worth reading for a perspective on the debate BUT I call this the Gladwell effect (as in Malcolm). Choose an alluring thesis and ram it home with historical anecdote and a study or two. It makes for an entertaining reading but I couldn't help feel manipulated and skeptical about the writer's fervor. Back in the day, writers felt compelled to present all sides. NOw everything feels so one sided in the service of entertainment.
Plus, the book was very short. More like an magazine piece. Also, if he's going to cite a few scientists over and over, couldn't he have gone to interview them in person? I want to know where they live, who they are, what they look like, how they came to think the way they do....
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206 of 271 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Smith on March 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sometimes journalists can make sense of complex scientific topics and sometimes they can't. Unfortunately, in this book, David Shenk falls into the latter category. "The Genius in All of Us" is another example of the romantic fantasy that is gripping some realms of popular psychology and all of public education at the moment (think No Child Left Behind). Yes, human nature is plastic, but it is not as yielding as Shenk would like us to believe. In the real world, our genomes impose tighter constraints. For instance, I doubt that David Shenk has an IQ of 85 which he has re-worked through 10,000 hours of writing practice culminating in the publication of a book.

To be sure, every person can learn and as a result become "smarter." And this process can be optimized through some of the environmental methods Shenk promotes. But the impact of environmental interventions are not nearly as powerful as he implies. The creation of unrealisitcally high expectations can be just as damaging as low expectations to the extent that they result in a mis-match between the individual and the learning strategies that yield the best long-term results. One size does not fit all in the pursuit of maximum potential.

Mr. Shenk's attempt to link epigenetic proccesses to learning capacity is weak, as even he seems to admit. "No one can yet measure the precise implications of these (epigenetic) discoveries, because so little is known (p.129)." Yet, he seems content to generalize like crazy as if the epigenetics knowledge base was robust. He tries to connect the biological dots in his story line with very long, faint, serpentine, dashed lines.

For those of you who read and agree with the general tenor of this book, I urge you to also read Steven Pinker's book on the same topic, "The Blank Slate.
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