About the Author
DAVID SHENK is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including The Forgetting, Data Smog, and most recently, The Immortal Game. 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.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Kid
Part One: The Myth of Gifts
Genes 2.0—How Genes Really Work
Contrary to what we’ve been taught, genes do not determine physical and character traits on their own. Rather, they interact with the environment in a dynamic, ongoing process that produces and continually refines an individual.
Intelligence Is a Process, Not a Thing
Intelligence is not an innate aptitude, hardwired at conception or in the womb, but a collection of developing skills driven by the interaction between genes and environment. No one is born with a predetermined amount of intelligence. Intelligence (and IQ scores) can be improved. Few adults come close to their true intellectual potential.
The End of “Giftedness” (and the True Source of Talent)
Like intelligence, talents are not innate gifts, but the result of a slow, invisible accretion of skills developed from the moment of conception. Everyone is born with differences, and some with unique advantages for certain tasks. But no one is genetically designed into greatness and few are biologically restricted from attaining it.
The Similarities and Dissimilarities of Twins
Identical twins often do have striking similarities, but for reasons far beyond their genetic profiles. They can also have surprising (and often overlooked) differences. Twins are fascinating products of the interaction between genes and environment; this has been missed as “heritability” studies have been wildly misinterpreted. In reality, twin studies do not reveal any percentage of direct genetic influence and tell us absolutely nothing about individual potential.
Prodigies and Late Bloomers
Child prodigies and superlative adult achievers are often not the same people. Understanding what makes remarkable abilities appear at different phases of a person’s life provides an important insight into what talent really is.
Can White Men Jump? Ethnicity, Genes, Culture, and Success
Clusters of ethnic and geographical athletic success prompt suspicions of hidden genetic advantages. The real advantages are far more nuanced—and less hidden.
Part Two: Cultivating Greatness
How to Be a Genius (or Merely Great)
The old nature/nurture paradigm suggests that control over our lives is divided between genes (nature) and our own decisions (nurture). In fact, we have far more control over our genes—and far less control over our environment—than we think.
How to Ruin (or Inspire) a Kid
Parenting does matter. There is much parents can do to encourage their kids to become achievers, and there are some important mistakes to avoid.
How to Foster a Culture of Excellence
It must not be left to genes and parents to foster greatness; spurring individual achievement is also the dud of society. Every culture must strive to foster values that bring out the best in its people.
Genes 2.1—How to Improve Your Genes
We have long understood that lifestyle cannot alter heredity. But it turns out that it can . . .
Epilogue: Ted Williams Field
Sources and Notes, Clarifications and Amplifications