- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Knopf (January 9, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1101947292
- ISBN-13: 978-1101947296
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 9, 2018
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Praise for Off the Charts
"Engaging and insightful . . . Ms. Hulbert approaches her dozen or so subjects not as a social scientist but as biographer and essayist, where her skills are superlative." —John Donvan, The Wall Street Journal
“Hulbert’s book is smart—as all her books have been . . . Rather than ordinary kids with ordinary parents, these are the outliers. . . . What can we learn, in a society dedicated to high-achieving children, from children who seem ‘naturally’ off the charts in their achievements? . . . [Hulbert] does the good work, throughout, of resisting morals or too neat generalizations.” —Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
“Part ode to young genius, part indictment of helicopter parenting, Hulbert’s crisply written account of überachieving kids probes our own complicated obsessions with talent and the need to stand out.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Compelling . . . Wide-ranging . . . The major theme is childhood brilliance, of course, but equally compelling are the minor ones: alienation, wonder, preternatural focus and discipline, misunderstandings, rebellions, often-tragic adulthoods, and inevitably, the minefield of parenting. . . . Child prodigies have always been fascinating [and] today their lives resonate with special force.” —Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, The Washington Post
“A fascinating if at times disturbing chronicle of how 15 prodigies came to the world’s attention—and at what cost. Hulbert disabuses readers of the romantic notion that prodigies are born and not made, introducing us to the cast of supporting characters that push the child’s star . . . [She] makes clear, in this nuanced and meticulous book, that when it comes to the prodigy’s gift, the peril is indivisible from the glory” —Nancy Rommelmann, Newsday
“The richness of the book, and the pleasure of it, is in the human stories. . . . Hulbert has chosen her wunderkinds carefully, recognizing them not only for their individual brilliance but also as pint-sized portraits of their eras.” —Rachel Sugar, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“In Off the Charts Hulbert attempts to capture the complicated lives of child prodigies without descending into voyeurism or caricature. She has tried to ‘listen hard for the prodigies’ side of the story,’ to her great credit.” —Amanda Ripley, The New York Times Book Review
“A profound, sensitive look at what it takes to make a child prodigy, and the unexpected ways that brilliance can play out in the long run.” —The Saturday Evening Post
"In her new book, Off the Charts, Ann Hulbert shares the intriguing but cautionary tales of 15 exceptionally gifted children." —Priscilla Gilman, The Boston Globe
"Fascinating . . . " —People Magazine
"A sophisticated, well-researched, and thought-provoking book . . . [Hulbert] shows the prodigies' own perspective of their experience, revealing the pressure that accompanies being labeled exceptional at an early age." —Charlie Gofen, The National Book Review
“Intriguing . . . Hulbert's book takes an unusual path to the roots of parental influence and its core conflicts . . . Some of the characters are well-known, although presented here in a fresh context . . . Closer to the present, we encounter some of the youthful minds that sparked the technological revolution in Silicon Valley, as well as 'tiger mothers' like Amy Chua and their complicated relationships with their talented children. There are surprises in almost every one of these case studies.” —Gary Drevitch, Psychology Today
“In this beautifully written, thoroughly reported look at young ‘geniuses,’ Hulbert poses fascinating questions about the roles of both genetics and pushy parents.” —Karen Springen, Booklist (starred review)
“[Combines] lively biographical sketches with serious analysis.” —Keith Herrell, BookPage
“Sympathetic, sharply drawn . . . [Hulbert] vividly portrays the positive and negative impacts of being a child prodigy.” —Kirkus Reviews
“In this beautifully crafted book, Ann Hulbert exposes the unique profile of each prodigy she highlights and the often shocking unpredictability of their development. She digs deep into the cultural signals that shape our attitudes towards these anomalous children.” —Ellen Winner, author of Gifted Children
“Off the Charts is impeccably researched, gracefully written, and wide in its scope of modern prodigies, ranging from 1920s preadolescent poets to teenage computer programmers and covering both boldface names like Shirley Temple and Bobby Fischer and the all but forgotten. It is a rarity among studies of exceptional children in favoring measured analysis over sensationalism, biographically narrating not only the numerous stories of burnout, but of those whose flames continued to burn brightly past childhood.” —Teddy Wayne, author of Loner
About the Author
ANN HULBERT is the author of Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children and The Interior Castle: The Life and Art of Jean Stafford. Her articles and reviews have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and The Atlantic, where she is the literary editor. She is a graduate of Harvard and spent a year at Cambridge University. She lives with her husband in Washington D.C.
Top customer reviews
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As in Hulbert's earlier superb book about the history of parenting, ideas that once seemed to be based on the latest scientific research or obvious common sense, in retrospect, are often revealed to be reflections of cultural values and societal preoccupations of the era at hand (as Hulbert suggests our own notions will surely be seen someday in the future). In the process, we learn how our conceptions of genius and how to measure it and nurture it best have evolved and differ from field to field--whether this talent is seen as a wild force to be given free rein or the product of a useful rebelliousness or the result of grit and 10,000 hours of dedicated practice or the product of a rightful meritocracy.
Part of what makes the book unusual and exceptional is its longterm perspective. The book opens with the author meeting piano prodigy Yu at age six, at just the moment when his life, talents and future likely seemed brightest and least complicated (in part because he is still not much older than a toddler on whom any adult can project ideas or aspirations). It's easy to imagine another author following his life for a few of these event-packed years and resulting in premature conclusions, missing the twists and turns and complications that inevitably follow with age and make the book so fascinating. Hulbert, by contrast, follows Yu through early adulthood. We meet his single mom who is no villain but someone who feels deep responsibility toward her son's talents and often at a loss, on limited financial means, about how to support his needs. Her view of her son's talents and obligations, though, alter poignantly over time. And by book's end, Marc himself is a young adult, able to look back on his own experiences and offer the interior perspective of the prodigy himself so seldom seem in these kinds of portraits. For me, these were some of the most interesting, moving and unexpected passages of the book because I'd watched him grow up; his conclusions are not obvious or pat.
In sum, by reading about these extraordinary lives, we end up learning about our own. As I read, I couldn't help thinking about the assumptions behind my own upbringing and those behind how I'm raising my own child. A great, thought-provoking read.
Since, at least at the time I write this, there is no “look inside” feature available, here’s the table of contents:
Part 1: Nurture Vs. Nature
1: The Wonder Boys of Harvard
2: “A Very Free Child”
Part 2: Daughters and Dreams
3: “A Renaissance of Creative Genius in Girlhood”
4: Performance Pressures
Part 3: Rebels with Causes
5: Bobby Fisher’s Battles
6: The Programmers
Part 4: Miracles and Strivers
7: The Mystery of Savant Syndrome
8: Tiger Parents, Super Children
It's important to understand when reading this book that it is not about the normal run of gifted children who populate AP and Honors courses in high school. By and large the higher ability levels of those students enables them to do very well in school and college and to lead fulfilled lives in adulthood. The children Ann Hulbert chronicles, while undeniably highly intelligent, have more troubled lives. Beginning in the early twentieth century with the Harvard Wonder Boys (teenagers admitted to prestigious institutions) and continuing with Lewis Terman's work refining I.Q. measurement, Hulbert tells some stories of great achievement but many others of lost potential. She goes on with tales of young men and women who became great mathematicians, scientists, programmers, actors, authors, musicians, and artists, as well as others who bloomed then faded rapidly and disappeared (in at least one case, literally so.) There is a lengthy segment dealing with Savant Syndrome and the accompanying enigma of autism, and at the end a chapter dealing with the Tiger Mom phenomenon reminds us that many of the same assumptions that led to Wonder Boys and Termites are still very much with us.
Among the biographies Hulbert presents are some well known figures like Henry Cowell, Shirley Temple, Bobby Fischer, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, but there are also many who are now more obscure, such as Philippa Schuyler, Nathalia Crane, or Norbert Wiener. Overall this is a well written and interesting book which probably touches on some topics which deserve deeper analysis, such as the reasons why females were considered less likely to be good mathematicians, or the role social and economic status play in I.Q. scoring.