Pop culture has long used the phrase “nature vs nurture” to ask whether genetic or environmental factors are more important. As science has discovered, the truth is far more nuanced. David Epstein explores this fascinating topic in the context of extreme athletic performance. The question he addresses include whether there are people who are just naturals and whether or not everyone could be equally good at sports with the same amount of practice. He also addresses more sensitive topics, such as the influence of race and gender on athletic prowess.
When I heard about this book from @writerrhiannon, I was certain it was going to be just another pop science book perpetuating the fallacy that a single gene can control a complex trait like athleticism. Fortunately, I was very, very wrong! One of this book’s greatest strengths was its nuanced look at the specific components of athleticism that can be attributed to genes or the environment. I found many of these results surprising and couldn’t stop writing down fun facts as I read.
As with many great science books, there was a good mix of science experiments, great explanatory analogies, and personal stories. I was also blown away by the author’s handling of sensitive topics such as race and gender. Although he does acknowledge differences (women throw less far than men, for instance), he always made it clear that these statements were based on averages which don’t say anything about specific individuals. I thought it was a nice way of staying in touch with reality while avoiding stereotyping. Many sections of the book, such as these ones on gender and race issues or others on the value of practice, could be relevant to many fields other than sports. So if you don’t like sports but are interested in genetics, gender and race issues, or theories on learning, I would still highly recommend giving this book a try.This review first published on Doing Dewey.