web site hit counter The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

Availability: Ready to download

Now a New York Times Bestseller! With a new chapter added to the paperback.  In high school, I wondered whether the Jamaican Americans who made our track team so successful might carry some special speed gene from their tiny island. In college, I ran against Kenyans, and wondered whether endurance genes might have traveled with them from East Africa. At the same time, I beg Now a New York Times Bestseller! With a new chapter added to the paperback.  In high school, I wondered whether the Jamaican Americans who made our track team so successful might carry some special speed gene from their tiny island. In college, I ran against Kenyans, and wondered whether endurance genes might have traveled with them from East Africa. At the same time, I began to notice that a training group on my team could consist of five men who run next to one another, stride for stride, day after day, and nonetheless turn out five entirely different runners. How could this be? We all knew a star athlete in high school. The one who made it look so easy. He was the starting quarterback and shortstop; she was the all-state point guard and high-jumper. Naturals. Or were they? The debate is as old as physical competition. Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training? The truth is far messier than a simple dichotomy between nature and nurture. In the decade since the sequencing of the human genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor’s training environment affects athleticism. Sports scientists have gradually entered the era of modern genetic research. In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic success, Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving this great riddle. He investigates the so-called 10,000-hour rule to uncover whether rigorous and consistent practice from a young age is the only route to athletic excellence. Along the way, Epstein dispels many of our perceptions about why top athletes excel. He shows why some skills that we assume are innate, like the bullet-fast reactions of a baseball or cricket batter, are not, and why other characteristics that we assume are entirely voluntary, like an athlete’s will to train, might in fact have important genetic components. This subject necessarily involves digging deep into sensitive topics like race and gender. Epstein explores controversial questions such as: Are black athletes genetically predetermined to dominate both sprinting and distance running, and are their abilities influenced by Africa’s geography? Are there genetic reasons to separate male and female athletes in competition? Should we test the genes of young children to determine if they are destined for stardom? Can genetic testing determine who is at risk of injury, brain damage, or even death on the field? Through on-the-ground reporting from below the equator and above the Arctic Circle, revealing conversations with leading scientists and Olympic champions, and interviews with athletes who have rare genetic mutations or physical traits, Epstein forces us to rethink the very nature of athleticism.  


Compare

Now a New York Times Bestseller! With a new chapter added to the paperback.  In high school, I wondered whether the Jamaican Americans who made our track team so successful might carry some special speed gene from their tiny island. In college, I ran against Kenyans, and wondered whether endurance genes might have traveled with them from East Africa. At the same time, I beg Now a New York Times Bestseller! With a new chapter added to the paperback.  In high school, I wondered whether the Jamaican Americans who made our track team so successful might carry some special speed gene from their tiny island. In college, I ran against Kenyans, and wondered whether endurance genes might have traveled with them from East Africa. At the same time, I began to notice that a training group on my team could consist of five men who run next to one another, stride for stride, day after day, and nonetheless turn out five entirely different runners. How could this be? We all knew a star athlete in high school. The one who made it look so easy. He was the starting quarterback and shortstop; she was the all-state point guard and high-jumper. Naturals. Or were they? The debate is as old as physical competition. Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training? The truth is far messier than a simple dichotomy between nature and nurture. In the decade since the sequencing of the human genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor’s training environment affects athleticism. Sports scientists have gradually entered the era of modern genetic research. In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic success, Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving this great riddle. He investigates the so-called 10,000-hour rule to uncover whether rigorous and consistent practice from a young age is the only route to athletic excellence. Along the way, Epstein dispels many of our perceptions about why top athletes excel. He shows why some skills that we assume are innate, like the bullet-fast reactions of a baseball or cricket batter, are not, and why other characteristics that we assume are entirely voluntary, like an athlete’s will to train, might in fact have important genetic components. This subject necessarily involves digging deep into sensitive topics like race and gender. Epstein explores controversial questions such as: Are black athletes genetically predetermined to dominate both sprinting and distance running, and are their abilities influenced by Africa’s geography? Are there genetic reasons to separate male and female athletes in competition? Should we test the genes of young children to determine if they are destined for stardom? Can genetic testing determine who is at risk of injury, brain damage, or even death on the field? Through on-the-ground reporting from below the equator and above the Arctic Circle, revealing conversations with leading scientists and Olympic champions, and interviews with athletes who have rare genetic mutations or physical traits, Epstein forces us to rethink the very nature of athleticism.  

30 review for The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book is an exploration of many of the factors that influence the performance of top-flight athletes. The book starts out with a fascinating, attention-getting description of a challenge softball game. A pro softball team challenges a pro baseball team to a softball game. The young woman softball pitcher approaches the pitcher's mound, and her entire team sits down on the field! They realize that there is no possibility for any of the baseball team to hit the ball! And they are absolutely ri This book is an exploration of many of the factors that influence the performance of top-flight athletes. The book starts out with a fascinating, attention-getting description of a challenge softball game. A pro softball team challenges a pro baseball team to a softball game. The young woman softball pitcher approaches the pitcher's mound, and her entire team sits down on the field! They realize that there is no possibility for any of the baseball team to hit the ball! And they are absolutely right--the opposing team never makes a hit! David Epstein explains why this happened, but while exceedingly impressive, the reason has absolutely nothing to do with genetics. It has to do with training, and the subconscious cues that ball players learn with lots of practice. It used to be thought that fast reaction time is a useful prediction of future great baseball player. But now, it turns out, reaction time is not useful at all. The best baseball players have average reaction times. Instead, the most useful predictor is visual acuity. A good baseball (or softball player) uses his special visual acuity to view the pitcher's muscles during a wind-up, to glean a better estimate of the nature of the pitch. This first two chapters are very reminiscent of the style of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success, and even mentions Gladwell's misunderstanding of the 10,000 hour "rule". But after this tangent, the book begins the real subject matter, the implications of genetics on the very best athletes. A central theme of the book is that each sport favors a different set of body attributes. Some sports favor short, stocky body types, others favor tall ones, some favor thin legs, others favor thick, muscular legs. A good sports coach will recognize when a young athlete is better suited to some other sport than the one he (or she) is presently practicing. The book is full of anecdotes where a good coach steers an athlete in some other direction, with wonderful results. For example, a woman named Alisa Camplin who competed in gymnastics, track and field, and sailing was directed to aerial skiing. With her lack of experience, she was completely accident-prone as she broke a rib on her first jump, and hit a tree on her second. While she competed in the Olympics at Salt Lake City in 2002 she was like "a giraffe on roller skates." But she won a gold medal! Another important theme in the book is the dichotomy between nature and nurture. Epstein shows that having the right genes is essential to becoming a top athlete in a sport. Practice and experience are essential for some sports, but not so much in others, as long as the right genes are present. The style of this book is truly wonderful. Epstein blends long, interesting anecdotes with good scientific explanations of physiology and genetics. I'm not a sports fan, but Epstein made the subject come alive for me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Otis Chandler

    Very interesting and scientific book, highly recommended especially for parents. The book goes into the age old nature vs nuture question for what makes a successful athlete. And basically finds that both are required. Wsome people are more athletic than others for their given sport, and some people "respond" better to training. You need to both have the right body type AND be a high responder to reach elite - but you still have to train! "The truth is, even at the most basic level, it’s always a Very interesting and scientific book, highly recommended especially for parents. The book goes into the age old nature vs nuture question for what makes a successful athlete. And basically finds that both are required. Wsome people are more athletic than others for their given sport, and some people "respond" better to training. You need to both have the right body type AND be a high responder to reach elite - but you still have to train! "The truth is, even at the most basic level, it’s always a hardware and software story. The hardware is useless without the software, just as the reverse is true. Sport skill acquisition does not happen without both specific genes and a specific environment, and often the genes and the environment must coincide at a specific time." You also have to train enough to be able to be able to read the game at a glance. This requires lots of hours spent, whether its basketball or chess or any sport. "elite athletes need less time and less visual information to know what will happen in the future, and, without knowing it, they zero in on critical visual information, just like expert chess players. Elite athletes chunk information about bodies and player arrangements the way that grandmasters do with rooks and bishops." The book lays into the 10,000 hour theory a bit, made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, saying that the time spent alone is not enough. A person also has to have some sort of genetic advantage, AND have the passion and focus to make those hours of practice as useful as possible. For instance, if I practice tennis with a mediocre player vs if I practice with Roger Federer or a top tier player, I'm going to progress at very different rates on those hours. So it's not just hours spent, there is a quality metric attached to it. "The average students accumulated 1,382 hours of play and practice on their first instrument prior to entering the school, compared to 615 hours for the exceptional students, who only focused on one instrument and ramped up their practice activities later."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Sparks

    As a former college athlete, I found this investigation into what makes great athletes absolutely fascinating. David Epstein shows that there’s a lot of complicated middle ground to explore when it comes to the question of nature versus nurture.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Delway Burton

    This is an important and brave book. Any discussion of human performance based on DNA is a big no-no. Its the scientific 900 pound gorilla. Politicians, celebrities, academicians, coaches, and CEO's have all fallen hard at the mere hint of it. The link of performance or worth based on our genes has a sad history stretching across the millennia as genocide and more recently eugenics. The all-wise media seems to ignore the fact that the very essence of life is our DNA and that to a great degree li This is an important and brave book. Any discussion of human performance based on DNA is a big no-no. Its the scientific 900 pound gorilla. Politicians, celebrities, academicians, coaches, and CEO's have all fallen hard at the mere hint of it. The link of performance or worth based on our genes has a sad history stretching across the millennia as genocide and more recently eugenics. The all-wise media seems to ignore the fact that the very essence of life is our DNA and that to a great degree living things preform based on the code found there. At the human level we have the additional nature vs. nurture argument which Mr. Epstein does an excellent job of balancing. He mixes his personal experiences and travel, from the Cockpit Country of Jamaica, to the highlands of Kenya, to the arctic circle in Finland, with the hard science of human athletic performance based on known science. I was aware of some of the results he discusses, but many were a total surprise. For example, the primary characteristic of major league baseball hitters is not their reflexes or strength, but rather they possess Superman vision. He draws no conclusions other than to point out that genetics seems to curiously find an opportunity. On the nurture side he points out that the presence of a sports culture, the promise of reward, and ability to train and train very, very hard brings results. He also points out what we should all remember is that the Olympics and indeed professional sports of any kind represent the elite not the mean. This is a great read for anyone who enjoys the pageant of world sport.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Scot

    Most thinking and observant people, based on accumulating evidence, have moved beyond the old “Nature v. Nurture” simplistic either/or dichotomy to try to better understand the complex ways these two categories interplay and interact, both over the course of any given individual’s life, and over broader ranges of time for larger groupings of related peoples, in creating just who we are and offering potential or setting limits for what we might become. David Epstein, a reporter for Sports Illustr Most thinking and observant people, based on accumulating evidence, have moved beyond the old “Nature v. Nurture” simplistic either/or dichotomy to try to better understand the complex ways these two categories interplay and interact, both over the course of any given individual’s life, and over broader ranges of time for larger groupings of related peoples, in creating just who we are and offering potential or setting limits for what we might become. David Epstein, a reporter for Sports Illustrated, gathers here, in a very readable, well documented, and sweeping review, an assessment as of 2013 as to how much we now know about the distinct (and interwoven) roles of genetics and cultural (as well as physical) environment in creating elite athletes. Just what is inherited and what isn’t? How much can early training of the gifted make a difference? Can anyone, with enough of the right training and practice, rise to the level of a superstar? What different genetic traits or cultivated skills are most crucial across different types of sports, and how do the two correlate in creating a champion? This philosophical question arises as well: based on what we can learn about people’s genetic predispositions, how could or should this information be used? I enjoyed this book very much, both for the wide range of different types of sports covered and for the wide range of human cultural groups visited and investigated. We learn about track stars from Jamaica, marathon runners from Kenya, cross country skiers from Finland, water polo superstars from Croatia, and many more. (We even move beyond humans for one chapter on the genetics of creating the best dog teams to win the Iditerod, which made me nostalgic for the huskie/malamute kennels my family had when I was a teen.) It is fascinating to me how complexly genetic instructions are overlaid within our DNA materials, and what just one tiny genetic mutation might achieve. What we have already learned is remarkable, but to use a metaphor Epstein himself employs, we are only beginning to scrape the tip of the iceberg. No matter what your particular special sport or sports of interest might be, a lot of useful knowledge and also some riveting tales of both personal triumph and incredible fortitude in the face of challenge can be found here. Some implications of concerns to arise in the future are suggested (some already beginning) about how much about a person’s future predispositions or limitations, already encoded in their DNA, could or should be available to others (like for instance, future possible employers or insurers).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    A fascinating, though uneven, look at what we know about the nature versus nurture debate. The first half, as Kate pointed out, is really a refutation of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. Epstein first cites the 10,000 hour rule that is accepted in pop science as the amount of time to become an expert to explain how professional baseball players are able to hit a pitch that the human eye is in fact incapable of tracking across the plate (long story short, they develop a database of where balls are li A fascinating, though uneven, look at what we know about the nature versus nurture debate. The first half, as Kate pointed out, is really a refutation of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. Epstein first cites the 10,000 hour rule that is accepted in pop science as the amount of time to become an expert to explain how professional baseball players are able to hit a pitch that the human eye is in fact incapable of tracking across the plate (long story short, they develop a database of where balls are likely to end up based upon lots of experience). This also explains why those same baseball players cannot hit a softball pitcher because the information is totally different. Incidentally, he cites a study showing that Albert Pujols is only in the 66th percentile of adults in reaction time. But Epstein then goes on to show how the 10,000 hour rule is not a hard and fast rule, but rather an average, meaning some people may get to elite status after 3,000 hours; some may never get there at all. After a pretty good chapter on male vs. female athletes, the book moves on to a discussion of training patterns and regimens. This too is quite strong, though also boils down to the similar idea that the general way people respond is an average and there is a distribution within that. Still, the idea that people start at different baselines of fitness and where they can move or improve from there is radically different is somewhat interesting. Probably my two favorite chapters are those on what Epstein calls the "Big Bang of Body Types," and one that then applies that to the NBA. The Big Bang argument is basically tailor made for a Moneybox post. It alms about how we moved from a world where all athletes shared roughly the same height and weight characteristics to one of extreme specialization. As a result, our sprinters have gotten taller, our gymnasts shorter, our linemen heavier, and our basketball players taller. It's an interesting argument that's less actually about genetics and more really a focus on sorting and markets and the economic effect of internationalizing certain sports. This internationalizing effect becomes pretty interesting in the NBA chapter. There Epstein discusses how even though even a "short" NBA player is still at the far right end of the human male height distribution, and that we've basically done a better job finding the tall people across the world to get them into the NBA as we tapped out our domestic supply of capable athletes at necessary heights. As an example of this phenomenon, he discusses how the average height of the European players in the NBA is actually greater than that of the American players. Also fascinating is his projected breakdown of height versus probability of playing in the NBA. If you are 6'2" you have a 5:1,000,000 chance of playing in the NBA. Growing two inches more brings the odds up to 20:1,000,000. But someone 6'10" to 7' your odds are about 3.2 percent (or 32,000:1,000,000). But the craziest thing is he estimates that 17 percent or about one out of every six of American men between the ages of 20 and 40 who are at least 7 feet tall are in the NBA right now. What's particularly crazy about that is some people get to that height due to pituitary issues that would preclude them from likely being able to play basketball (though some like Gheorge Muresan did). Sort them out and that means the odds are likely even higher. It's true what they say "you can't teach height." Also fascinating tidbits from the NBA chapter: * The difference between the average NBA player and the average man is greater than the difference between the average WNBA player and the average woman, likely because we haven't sorted as effectively since its not as financially remunerative to play in the WNBA. *Wingspan in excess of height matters beyond height at a certain point. The average NBA player's ratio of wingspan to height is greater than the ratio at which concerns about Marfan's syndrome arise. The only players in 2010-11 with wingspans shorter than their heights? J.J. Redick and Yao Ming. *Height and wingspan can predict about half of a player's likely defensive rebounds. *Height differences in a population is 80 percent genetics, 20 percent environment. *White players generally have a lower wingspan to height ratio than black players. Unfortunately, a big chunk of the book is less about the genes behind sports and athletes than it is about running in particular. These parts raise some interesting discussions about the pairing of high altitude lifestyles in places like Kenya combined with a low-income lifestyle that leads to highly successful endurance athletes, as well as some stuff on the racial divide in athletics that is pretty well handled given how rarely that seems to be discussed intelligently. None of this is bad per se, but it feels one or maybe two dimensional. It's a discussion of one specific skill executed either quickly in the form of sprinting or excruciatingly over lengths of time that you'd have to be a crazy person to do in the form of distance running. There's not as much explaining what might make someone good at football or hockey (there's no refutation of the Gladwell birthdate part of Outliers). Apart from one chapter that talks about sled dogs and work ethic, there's not as much talk about grit or determination, which isn't surprising given how tough a thing that is to quantify. But it does sort of play into the difficult argument that Epstein threads at the end. It's clear that some genetic things clearly do give people an athletic advantage. Yet there are plenty of people with talent who do not make it into professional athletics while less-skilled ones do. And even those that do make it have to work hard to get there. Some may not work as hard as others, but it does take work and practice and time--also more predictive time spent practicing, as experts tend to do. But how much this hard work or dedication stuff is innate versus developed also matters, since that would explain who engages in that hard training and who doesn't. Finally, I do wish there'd been a bit more about team sports or things that go beyond just running. One way to have done this would be to discuss more about vision or hearing or other senses, particularly for basketball. You always hear a lot about a player's "court sense." Is that meaningless numbo jumbo? A code word for lots of accumulated practice time and the same memory database that explains baseball hitting? Or something else? It would be very interesting to know more about that. Still, at a certain point books like this are limited by the research they can draw on and it might just not be there. But all in all it's still worth a read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten McKenzie

    What an incredible read. Every page contains incredible insight into the world of elite athletes and DNA research. Nature or nurture? Are elite athletes born or raised? Epstein has written a stunning analysis of the research done on what makes some athletes better than others. Leg length, wing span, country of origin, parents, running to school, access to training venues, coaches, better than average eyesight. It’s a brave new world out there, and it’s an exciting time to watch developments in t What an incredible read. Every page contains incredible insight into the world of elite athletes and DNA research. Nature or nurture? Are elite athletes born or raised? Epstein has written a stunning analysis of the research done on what makes some athletes better than others. Leg length, wing span, country of origin, parents, running to school, access to training venues, coaches, better than average eyesight. It’s a brave new world out there, and it’s an exciting time to watch developments in training regimes based on an athletes specific gene makeup. Happy to recommend this book to anyone with an interest in sport. Easy to understand as well!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    Is elite athletic performance the result of nature (our genes) or nurture (environment and training)? Yes, according to David Epstein’s The Sports Gene. This engaging and illuminating work is a pleasure to read. The anecdotes are amazing and humanize the scientific questions and issues raised by the role of genes in sport. Epstein does a great job of reporting the science without getting too technical, but without dumbing it down or sensationalizing it. He clears away the misunderstandings and m Is elite athletic performance the result of nature (our genes) or nurture (environment and training)? Yes, according to David Epstein’s The Sports Gene. This engaging and illuminating work is a pleasure to read. The anecdotes are amazing and humanize the scientific questions and issues raised by the role of genes in sport. Epstein does a great job of reporting the science without getting too technical, but without dumbing it down or sensationalizing it. He clears away the misunderstandings and misuse of the effect of genes. We often, he shows, misascribe the influence of genes: over-attributing them in some cases while failing to see their role where there is a significant influence. Part of the story here is that genes play significant and important roles in athletic performance, but Epstein is careful not to overplay this. First, the target of his work here is extraordinary and elite performances. These are athletes that are already well off the curve. What he finds here isn’t going to necessarily translate back to the rest of us who live in the heart of the bell curve. Second, Epstein doesn’t want to disrespect or downplay the importance of the effort and hard work of these elite athletes. Yes, they often have amazing genetic gifts, but without the effort and practice, these gifts won’t amount to anything. (At the same time, the book looks at the genetic contributions for effort-taking and practicing.) Another important theme of the book is that a better understanding of the genetic roots of performance can help us improve performance. The differences in our genetic propensities (our genotype) require, in many cases, different kinds of training and practice. Our bodies react to training and practice differently and so, to understand better how to improve our skills and outcomes, we have to understand better how we respond to the environment and training. One person’s strenuous cardio workout might be overkill (tragically quite literally in rare cases) for another. Epstein doesn’t tackle the issue of genetic manipulation (or gene-doping) head on, but it certainly lurks throughout the book. Over the last century, the scientific and technological influence on training for athletic performance has increased immensely. As our knowledge of the human genome and genetic technology increases, will we see this influence extend beyond training into the athlete’s genetic makeup? Epstein’s tentative response is that, given the state of the science, there is just too much unknown at this point to do this in any extensive or effective way. But that knowledge is coming; it is more of a when than an if. I am fairly certain that as the knowledge increases, so will the use of this knowledge to improve performance. Epstein is agnostic, ultimately, on the wisdom or morality of doing this. That wasn’t the point of the book, so it is no fault. But his work suggests much about this possible future. Personally, I think that, as with most scientific and technological advances, this will generally be a boon for human civilization and for sport. I am not utopian, though, and recognize that it will come with some harms and dangers. This is in part why it is important to get a better understanding of the science and learn more about how nature and nurture interact. Another moral question not raised by Epstein, but suggested by his book, is how our understanding of the influence of our genes on performance affects our evaluation of doping. If some people have natural advantages conferred by their genotype, then is it really unfair for someone without those genetic advantages to use a drug to produce a similar effect? For example, Finnish athlete Eero Mantyranta has a genetic variation that makes his red blood count as much as 65 percent higher than that of an average man (274). His body is able to move oxygen to muscles much better than most and this (all other things being equal) gives him an advantage in endurance sport. This is quite similar to the effect of taking EPO as a performance-enhancer. If one of the goals in athletic competitions is a level starting point for athletes, then maybe we ought not ban EPO. That is, maybe, allowing EPO would level the field for athletes that do not have the benefit of genetic advantages. Is there a moral difference (putting aside for the moment the wrongness of the rule-violation) between someone who has a performance advantage from their genotype and someone who has a performance advantage from taking a substance? In more fundamentally, it begins to challenge the traditional concepts and evaluations of doping and performance enhancing. While Epstein doesn’t deal with these issues, the book is good place to learn (in a non-technical way) about the scientific foundation for answering these kinds of moral and philosophical questions. For that reason alone it worth a read. But it is also quite interesting on its own terms.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Thekelburrows

    Did not explain why Katie is better than me at Peloton :(

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nattapan

    Convincing and very impressive. Although you might be able to predict the conclusion of this book, I am quite sure that you will be awestruck by valuable information supported by many empirical research anyway.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Garret Giblin

    a really excellent examination of the nature vs nurture debate in sporting success. Innate talent vs 10,000 hours theory. Unsurprisingly, the book comes down somewhere in the middle (malcolm gladwell is still a fraud though)

  12. 5 out of 5

    Carie Steele

    I was very excited to read this book. Unlike some of the other reviewers, I was not looking for a book that profiled famous athletes. I was looking for a book that reviewed the scientific literature on athletic performance and the interconnection between nature and nurture. During the first chapter or two, I was very pleased with the author's attempts to address causal complexity --- how it is incredibly difficult to separate the impact of learned/trained and genetic factors on success (any kind I was very excited to read this book. Unlike some of the other reviewers, I was not looking for a book that profiled famous athletes. I was looking for a book that reviewed the scientific literature on athletic performance and the interconnection between nature and nurture. During the first chapter or two, I was very pleased with the author's attempts to address causal complexity --- how it is incredibly difficult to separate the impact of learned/trained and genetic factors on success (any kind of success, not just athletic). The early chapters address the 10,000 hour rule with a critical eye that has been lacking in other attempts to examine the interaction of training and genetics. However, after the first couple of chapters, the author moves deeper and deeper into genetic analysis of athletic performance and as he does so, his interpretation of the scientific literature that he chooses to review and the conclusions he draws become increasingly simplistic, ignoring the complexity he discussed earlier. I was particularly bothered by several recurring problems: poor definition of athleticism, drawing conclusions based on ecological fallacy and neglecting the causal complexity that the author claims to have addressed, and ignoring research that does not fit with the author's desired conclusion. First, the author is exploring the literature on elite athletic performance, using professional athletic success as the selection criteria. But this ignores the reality that actual athleticism may not be fully encompassed or represented in current sports for which one might be paid to perform. Indeed, it might not be fully encompassed in activities currently referred to as sports. At the very least, the author should have discussed the potential limitations of using professional athletic achievement as the criteria for identifying athleticism. For example, he repeatedly notes that pygmy peoples are not genetically suited to playing in the NBA. But being of smaller stature does not mean that they lack athleticism --- it means that if you define athleticism in a certain way, you will bias your conclusions about the impact of specific genetic factors. Second, the author begins the book by discussing the difficulty of trying to identify independent impacts of genetics and training, and even identifies in several chapters that the tremendous amounts of genetic variation within and across groups makes attributing success to a single gene difficult. But then, the author goes on to interpret findings within the scientific literature in a very simplistic manner. For example, the general finding that individuals with lower center gravity will be better swimmers, and that white people tend to have a lower center of gravity than black people, is then used to explain why black athletes should choose sports other than swimming. However, there are multiple very large problems with this. First is that this conclusion rests on ecological fallacy --- the idea that something that holds true at the population level holds true at the individual level. Any given athlete from any racial group might vary from the trend in the population. Making recommendations to individuals based on population data rather than on individual data, is problematic. Second, center of gravity is not the only factor that might affect success --- either in terms of training or genetics. The size of hands and feet, the length of legs, the distribution of fat, overall buoyancy, etc. are all physical factors that affect performance. But the author does not discuss this complexity, the degree to which any one of these physical features individually affects performance, or the degree to which any one of these physical features interacts with training. In addition, most of the research starts by identifying elite athletes and then searching for common genetic factors. But, again, there is a selection bias based on what activities one can get paid to perform (or go to the Olympics with). Moreover, this approach neglects selection biases associated with socioeconomic and cultural factors. For example, although the author mentions multiple times that pygmy peoples are ill suited for basketball, he fails to address the fact that they might be extremely well suited to other athletic activities --- say gymnastics. This is because there are other factors that likely prevent them from entering the field to begin with. If you're only looking for what is currently successful, you are not looking at the broader realm of potential success. Along the same lines, its worth thinking about what types of athleticism sports are actually measuring and how they are designed. For example, gymnastics is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Humans created it. And we specifically created a sport and designed the point allocations in such a way that a woman who has reached puberty is less likely to be competitive. Does that mean that women who can't complete acrobatic tumbling routines are less athletic than those that can? No, it means that sports are designed to favor certain types of activities, body types, and levels of development. Unless you're willing to wrestle with a different way of defining athleticism, you absolutely have to wrestle with how the structures/rules/design of sports affects how you're measuring athleticism and what genetic factors might influence success. Similarly, the author never addresses how norms and institutions within sports affect how successful one body type might be. For example, while height and long arms are certainly beneficial in basketball, individual success is partly determined by interactions of other factors --- quality and chemistry of teammates, types of plays, type defense, etc. Part of the game itself is finding ways to exploit weaknesses in your opponents system --- and many of those weaknesses are not about height. It's possible for a shorter person to be highly competitive when playing on a team that uses that individual in specific ways. The author only addresses this in the case of dog-sledding, when he discusses the marathon strategy over the sprint strategy. But the same thing is relevant for many human sports. The author also chooses literature/research and draws conclusions in a more definitive manner that he should given the complexity of causality and the existence of additional research that might contradict that finding. For example, in the chapter titled "Why Men Have Nipples" the author examines the difference in athletic performance between men and women. He reviews the sexual selection literature and the literature on the importance of hormones in development of muscle and bone in an effort to explain why men are more athletic than women (using professional sports as the measure of athleticism). Here, he specifically avoids a growing literature on women's comparative advantage in ultra-endurance sports and a vast literature on human evolution. Instead, he asks the question "Why are women athletic at all?" given that women only needed to "carry children and dig for tubers". He concludes that women are athletic for the same reason men have nipples --- if one sex needs something, the other sex has to have that trait to, thus women are athletic because men need to be athletic to have sex with as many partners as possible. This question and the statement about women's "activities" ignores a growing literature that challenges the idea that sex roles in early human development have always reflected today's stratified sex roles. Moreover, this conclusion ignores the evolutionary reality that women are likely athletic because they evolved facing the same predators and environmental pressures as men. Nobody thinks that female horses have four legs and are able to run because stallions have to run to round up mares to mate with. Even among his other example which focuses on the degree of difference between male and female --- gorillas --- nobody assumes the female is athletic and muscular to serve only the reproductive requirements of the male. So why the laziness of thought when it comes to men and women. I suspect the reason is the author didn't want to have to actually address the broader literature and this conclusion enabled him to continue to review literature that focused primarily on male athletes without having to further address sex when discussing genetic factors. My last concern is one of ethics and the author's failure to address outcomes and opportunity costs associated with elite athletic performance. The author discusses the Jamaican sprinting program intended to identify and train the best sprinters. He discusses several cases where individuals are forced to forgo other opportunities --- like a college education --- by the national athletic organization in order to train for and become a sprinter. Similarly, he discusses genetic and behavioral factors that affect how individuals experience pain. In one example, he uses an example of NFL linemen and how pain can prevent a "peak" performance. But there is no discussion about why we experience pain --- what the value or meaning of pain is. With the exception of discussing how people who genetically do not feel pain tend to die young, he does not address how ignoring pain caused by athletic performance might cause tremendous harm and even lead to the inability to engage in any athletic endeavor in the future. This book seems to start from the assumption that production of athletic performance is a good that has value of its own and that value outweighs other considerations. The author never takes the time to examine whether all of the time, effort, resources, and lives dedicated to improving athletic performances, which by the studies' own definitions are valuable primarily as they are consumed for entertainment purposes, is worthwhile and valuable to society or the individual who performs them. This pattern of lazy, superficial thought, incomplete review of the literature, and faulty conclusions exists throughout the book. As a result, I would recommend that anyone who reads this to avoid accepting the author's conclusions as stated. Indeed, I strongly suggest seeking out the studies he cites and reviewing them yourself, and considering their findings/implications in a much more cautious manner than the author of this book did.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ward

    Nice book, bit of a pointing out of all the ways genetics and hard work will affect how well you do at sports and how hard of a time we still have understanding any of it. On the other hand, I don't feel like I walked away from this book with any new insights on the matter, besides the knowledge that that it is the limit of our scientific understanding now. I did learn a bunch of examples though, so that's something? Nice book, bit of a pointing out of all the ways genetics and hard work will affect how well you do at sports and how hard of a time we still have understanding any of it. On the other hand, I don't feel like I walked away from this book with any new insights on the matter, besides the knowledge that that it is the limit of our scientific understanding now. I did learn a bunch of examples though, so that's something?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tereza Vítková

    moje oblíbený quotes (bez kontextu jsou ale méněcenný): ,,Every athlete has a photographic memory when it comes to his sport." The Matthew effect: ,,Fir to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." ,,Every human embryo is female for the first six weeks of existence." ,,Men are twice as likely to be left-handed as women - an athletic asset in number of sports." ,,All womens world records in sprint moje oblíbený quotes (bez kontextu jsou ale méněcenný): ,,Every athlete has a photographic memory when it comes to his sport." The Matthew effect: ,,Fir to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away." ,,Every human embryo is female for the first six weeks of existence." ,,Men are twice as likely to be left-handed as women - an athletic asset in number of sports." ,,All womens world records in sprint and power events are from the 1980s, a testament to the powerful effect of male hormones (doping) on female athletes." ,,In these days of computer games, sedentary pursuits, nd driving our children to school - it´s the hungry fighter or the poor peasant who has the endurance background and the incentive to work on it, who makes the top distance runner." ,,There is no such thing as a casual jogger in Kenya, only those who run for transportation, those who are killing themselves in training and those who are not running at all." ,,Help Americans compete in distance running by donating school buses to Kenyan children. None of Kenyan top runners offsprings excel at running, because their parents have resources and the child never has to run to school again." ,,Pain must be practiced in the first place."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dillon

    Super informative. Covers the characteristics that help comprise excellence in various sports and the genetic traits that give rise to those characteristics. One big revelation to me was the scientific evidence that how people respond to training is genetic - I'd seen that anecdotally but it's helpful to see that in the science. Also that thing about NBA players having disproportionately long arms, even the short ones - or Kenyans more likely to have a bone structure that is conducive to enduran Super informative. Covers the characteristics that help comprise excellence in various sports and the genetic traits that give rise to those characteristics. One big revelation to me was the scientific evidence that how people respond to training is genetic - I'd seen that anecdotally but it's helpful to see that in the science. Also that thing about NBA players having disproportionately long arms, even the short ones - or Kenyans more likely to have a bone structure that is conducive to endurance running. Overall a fun read too. The book is emphatic that genes alone don't make an athlete. I found myself mulling over various moments I've witnessed or been a part of in sport/athletic training - like my struggling so hard to run a mile in eight minutes in middle school while most of my friends zoomed by, or that time an eighth grader walked into our high school weightroom and bench pressed 315 lbs, or the random super-athletes at LA fitness. This book lends some insight to the enormous variance you find in any sport.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Sauvageau

    Such a fascinating read that really makes me want to get myself genetically tested for many of the genes that were discussed! Epstein is a very talented writer and is able to make scientific research digestible to the every day person reading the book. Thanks to Mackayla for letting me talk her ear off about the things I learned 😊

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    I found this surprisingly readable (much like Epstein’s other book RANGE). Heavy on science but not too difficult to digest. I wish this book would have been around when I was 12. What I gleaned from this is that nature and nurture both play roles in athletic success though nature is a very substantial determiner. Also, try different things, different sports, different interests, you never know what sneaky gene might help you on any road to success.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    This was a very fascinating and easy read. If you’re curious about MLB players’ reaction speed and visual acuity, or why Jamaicans are such great sprinters, why Kalenjin Kenyans dominate in endurance races, or how there is a genetic component to laziness, then this book is for you. If the idea that there are genetic differences between genders and among ethnicities that predisposes certain groups to superior athleticism makes you feel uncomfortable then this book is not for you. I am surprised t This was a very fascinating and easy read. If you’re curious about MLB players’ reaction speed and visual acuity, or why Jamaicans are such great sprinters, why Kalenjin Kenyans dominate in endurance races, or how there is a genetic component to laziness, then this book is for you. If the idea that there are genetic differences between genders and among ethnicities that predisposes certain groups to superior athleticism makes you feel uncomfortable then this book is not for you. I am surprised that such people exist but David Epstein mentions various times throughout the book that many researchers he talked to did not publish research that demonstrates those very things for fear of the backlash they might receive for the implications of their results. A main theme of the book is the question of whether world class athleticism and elite sports performance is born or made. Obviously the answer is a disappointing both, but Epstein does a great job of providing both scientific and anecdotal evidence of the influences that nature and nurture each have on athletic performance. He can tell you who will not be competing for the gold medal in the 100 meters based on genetics (those who don’t have the ACTN3 gene) but that only rules out 1 billion people. I’m glad I’m very interested in and informed about running because I’d say that the majority of this book talks about runners. It makes sense since speed is something that can be definitively measured unlike some of the skills in other sports. It would be a lot more difficult to examine the genetics behind three-point shooting in basketball than it is to figure out why Jamaicans can run so fast. The most interesting chapters to me were about the Jamaicans and the Kalenjin Kenyans, specifically the various theories about why they are so great at sprinting and endurance running respectively. I won’t spoil that here. OTHER HIGHLIGHTS: - Baseball players having average reaction times, but way above average visual acuity - The story of the two high jumpers: one who trained his entire life and the other one who picked it up in a few months’ time - The sickle cell trait and low hemoglobin levels among western Africans as a defense mechanism against malaria - The sled dogs who were bred for the trait of hard work - Distance runners who live between 6,000-9,000 feet above sea level - Untrained people who are naturally better at a skill will also progress faster with the same training relative to someone who wasn’t as good to begin with, but only in certain skills. - The freakish height of NBA players along with their freakish arm lengths compared to height - Scientists in the 70s and 80s predicting that women would one day overtake men in terms of athleticism based on women’s huge improvements in measurable athletic achievements during that era. Unfortunately for them their prediction was based on women who – unknown at the time – were doping like crazy, mostly women in eastern Europe. QUOTES: “It’s what Durandt hasn’t seen, though, that is telling. “We’ve tested over ten thousand boys,” he says, “and I’ve never seen a boy who was slow become fast.” “The numbers are unequivocal. Elite women are not catching elite men, nor maintaining their position. Men are ever so slowly pulling away. The biological gap is expanding.” “It now appears that a primary reason why women in track and field gained on men in the 1970s and ‘80s – and what the Nature papers did not account for – was because they were making up for the lack of an SRY gene by simply injecting testosterone.” “Big Bang data in hand, Norton and Olds devised a measure they called the BOZ. It gives the probability that a person randomly selected form the general public has a physique that could possibly fit into a give sport at the elite level.” “The gene variant that allows some adults to digest lactose, the sugar in milk, is one example. The general rule for mammals is that the lactose enzyme is shut down after the weaning period, and milk can no longer be fully digested. That held true for essentially all humans just nine thousand years ago, before the domestication of cattle. Once humans kept dairy cows, though, any adult who could digest lactose was at a reproductive advantage, so gene variants for lactose tolerance spread like brushfire through societies that relied on dairy farming to thrive during winter, like those in norther Europe. Almost all present-day Danes and Swedes can digest lactose, but in populations in East Asia and West Africa, where cattle domestication is more recent or nonexistent, adult lactose intolerance is till the norm. Comedian Chris Rock famously joked that lactose intolerance is a luxury of wealthy societies: ‘You think anybody in Rwanda’s got a f—–g lactose intolerance?!’ Rock asked in one of his routines. In fact, most people in Rwanda are lactose intolerant.” ““If you want to know if your kid is going to be fast, the best genetic test right now is a stopwatch. Take him to the playground and have him face the other kids.' Foster's point is that, despite the avant-garde allure of genetic testing, gauging speed indirectly is foolish and inaccurate compared with testing it directly - like measuring a man's height by dropping a ball from a roof and using the time it takes to hit him in the head to determine how tall he is. Why not just use a tape measure?” “When I asked Ethiopian icon Derartu Tulu—Olympic 10K gold medalist in 1992 and 2000—if any of her two biological or four adopted kids like to run with her, she replied: “No, they say they get tired when I take them training with me. They don’t like to run. . . . I think it is because they go to school by car.” Says Moses Kiptanui, the Kenyan former steeplechase world record holder, of his children: “A vehicle came and took them to school . . . they like to do easier sports.” “How many of the top Kenyan runners have sons or daughters who are excelling at running?” Pitsiladis asks, rhetorically, after noting that there are plenty of Kenyan siblings and cousins who excel. “Almost none. Why? Because their father or mother becomes a world champion, has incredible resources, and the child never has to run to school again” “Consider this title and subtitle of a Sports Illustrated story: “The Fire Inside: Bulls center Joakim Noah doesn’t have the incandescent talent of his NBA brethren. But he brings to the game an equally powerful gift.” The “gift” is Noah’s desire to win. Never mind that he is the 6'11" son of a French Open tennis champion and has a wingspan of 7'1¼" and a 37½" vertical jump. If those aren’t incandescent athletic endowments, then what, pray tell, are? Noah’s lack of talent referenced in the headline—and by Noah himself in the story—would seem to describe the fact that he’s a graceless ball handler and mediocre jump shooter. Which, based on the sports science, probably has more to do with the specific work he has put in to develop dribbling and shooting skills than with his hereditary gifts. A more honest headline might read: “The Talent Outside: Joakim Noah has not acquired basketball-specific skills to the extent of his teammates, but he is at the upper extreme of humanity in terms of his physical gifts and therefore can be a good NBA player anyway.””

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mac

    It's both nature and nurture, at least from David Epstein's point of view, and to be sure there are many other opinions expressed in this book. Like a good writer, Epstein includes plenty of anecdotes, quotes, and stories that humanize the book and make it enjoyable to read. And he adds the occasional analogy to clarify the science ("it's both hardware and software.") Like a good reporter, Epstein has evaluated numerous research studies to accompany his stories and support his point of view. How It's both nature and nurture, at least from David Epstein's point of view, and to be sure there are many other opinions expressed in this book. Like a good writer, Epstein includes plenty of anecdotes, quotes, and stories that humanize the book and make it enjoyable to read. And he adds the occasional analogy to clarify the science ("it's both hardware and software.") Like a good reporter, Epstein has evaluated numerous research studies to accompany his stories and support his point of view. However, for me, he over reports the studies with much too much science. Yes, it may be good to know that a particular gene is over represented in certain athletes, but I don't need to know which gene, how it was discovered, when, and by whom. So the stories are great; the conclusions are interesting, but I'd like much of the science focused on the big picture, not the details. Then I'd more easily understand and recall the main points of the book, and I would have enjoyed it even more. Note. Epstein seems to have successfully navigated the sports gene waters without crashing on the shore of racial outrage. I believe that's because he presents his information in a balanced, nonprejudicial way. Here (to argue against my earlier point), the sheer volume of research described is useful because that research makes it evident there are genetic physical differences among populations. So Epstein's reportorial balance and breadth of research provide insights without arousing animus (at least, I'm not aware of any).

  20. 4 out of 5

    Robert Meyro

    This book is a great introduction to how the nature side of the "nature vs. nurture" debate is finally taking shape (in sports). While it has always been in the interest of athletes to take the credit for their achievements, genetic research is showing that some athletes have it much easier when it comes to performance in certain sports. This, for example, is rather unfortunate for people (view spoiler)[ (myself included) (hide spoiler)] who have always wanted to play in the NBA. With an arm-span This book is a great introduction to how the nature side of the "nature vs. nurture" debate is finally taking shape (in sports). While it has always been in the interest of athletes to take the credit for their achievements, genetic research is showing that some athletes have it much easier when it comes to performance in certain sports. This, for example, is rather unfortunate for people (view spoiler)[ (myself included) (hide spoiler)] who have always wanted to play in the NBA. With an arm-span-to-height ratio of under 1, and without the Marfan syndrome, one becomes one of only a handful of T-rex players in the league. While a "golden" athletic body type existed in the early 20th century, every sport nowadays is demanding its own body proportions. This means that getting the boost needed to be the best at a sport will depend on inheriting the genes that can be developed into preferable physical traits. The book will try to not be too discouraging to those who believe that putting in 10,000 hours will suffice to become a professional of any sport: (view spoiler)["If one sport or training method isn't working, it may not be the training. It may be you. Don't be afraid to try something different." Basically, if you are not good at a sport, blame it on your genes and move on. (hide spoiler)]

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Highly engaging look at how nature and nurture contribute to talent and performance in sports. Although the general thesis - "It's both - and in complicated and unexpected ways!" - isn't exactly groundbreaking, Epstein explores how this operates in a range of different sports, from sprinting to long distance running to high jumping to skeleton to basketball. Some fascinating factoids - for example, those famous short NBA players? They have SUPER long arms. I quibble with the level of certainty i Highly engaging look at how nature and nurture contribute to talent and performance in sports. Although the general thesis - "It's both - and in complicated and unexpected ways!" - isn't exactly groundbreaking, Epstein explores how this operates in a range of different sports, from sprinting to long distance running to high jumping to skeleton to basketball. Some fascinating factoids - for example, those famous short NBA players? They have SUPER long arms. I quibble with the level of certainty implied in the discussion about why women's bodies differ from men's in ways that make us slower, worse at throwing, etc., only because I'm pretty sure that all theories about WHY humans evolved a certain way are theories, and damned difficult to prove or disprove. HOW we evolved - sure. But WHY? Not so sure. Overall, one of the better popular science books I've read in a while, so kudos to the author! Don't go all Jonah Lehrer on us... ;-)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kaspars Koo

    Main conclusion - yes, it's nature AND nurture. Makes sense. Lot's of interesting stories, but really no clear takeaways. However, I really enjoyed the discussion on the fair/unfair advantages of the genes. Particularly 2 questions: 1. is a disease or gene mutation that gives you similar advantages as doping is considered unfair advantage and should you be forbidden to participate in professional competitions? 2. what is an objective way how to determine one's sex? It turns out there are many cases Main conclusion - yes, it's nature AND nurture. Makes sense. Lot's of interesting stories, but really no clear takeaways. However, I really enjoyed the discussion on the fair/unfair advantages of the genes. Particularly 2 questions: 1. is a disease or gene mutation that gives you similar advantages as doping is considered unfair advantage and should you be forbidden to participate in professional competitions? 2. what is an objective way how to determine one's sex? It turns out there are many cases where it is unclear, e.g females with XY syndrome (females having a pair of XY chromosomes which typically is a male pair). This is just one example but it turns out the border between the sexes is blurrier than it seems + it is not clear in which cases there actually are any benefits. Will be interesting to follow this in the near future as the genomics and some other particular fields of science (which improves human capabilities and performance) progress quickly.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    This is a fascinating book, irrespective of your interest in sports. The content - nature vs. nurture in the realm of extraordinary athletic performance - is super interesting, and the execution is admirable. Epstein is a great writer, and specifically handles issues like race with complete sangfroid so as to diffuse any potential minefields entirely without losing the ability to discuss the topic. In another writer's hands, this could have been a disaster. Super compelling. Tip of the hat to Ra This is a fascinating book, irrespective of your interest in sports. The content - nature vs. nurture in the realm of extraordinary athletic performance - is super interesting, and the execution is admirable. Epstein is a great writer, and specifically handles issues like race with complete sangfroid so as to diffuse any potential minefields entirely without losing the ability to discuss the topic. In another writer's hands, this could have been a disaster. Super compelling. Tip of the hat to Radiolab for the recommendation!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Isaac Jensen

    Popular science writing at its best. I read this book 6 or 7 years ago, but wanted to reread it based on its nuanced discussion of gender and race in the context of sports. Epstein’s writing is easy to follow, and provides a good primer for thinking about the overlapping role of nature and nurture (genetics and training) in shaping athletic performance.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea Kozior

    Absolutely one of the most interesting nonfiction books I have read in a long time. If you love sports and you love science you will probably like this. Excellently researched, excellently written.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Book

    The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein "The Sports Gene" is an enjoyable book that shares the latest of modern genetic research as it relates to elite athleticism. In the never-ending quest to settle the debate of nature versus nature, David Epstein takes the readers on a journey into sports and tries to answer how much does each contribute. This fascinating 352-page book includes the following sixteen chapters: 1. Beat by an Underhand Girl: Th The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein "The Sports Gene" is an enjoyable book that shares the latest of modern genetic research as it relates to elite athleticism. In the never-ending quest to settle the debate of nature versus nature, David Epstein takes the readers on a journey into sports and tries to answer how much does each contribute. This fascinating 352-page book includes the following sixteen chapters: 1. Beat by an Underhand Girl: The Gene-Free Model of Expertise, 2. A Tale of Two High Jumpers: (Or: 10,000 Hours Plus or Minus 10,000 Hours), 3. Major League Vision and the Greatest Child Athlete Sample Ever: The Hardware and Software Paradigm, 4. Why Men Have Nipples, 5. The Talent of Trainability, 6. Superbaby, Bully Whippets, and the Trainability of Muscle, 7. The Big Bang of Body Types, 8. The Vitruvian NBA Player, 9. We Are All Black (Sort Of): Race and Genetic Diversity, 10. The Warrior-Slave Theory of Jamaican Sprinting, 11. Malaria and Muscle Fibers, 12. Can Every Kalenjin Run?, 13. The World’s Greatest Accidental (Altitudinous) Talent Sieve, 14. Sled Dogs, Ultrarunners, and Couch Potato Genes, 15. The Heartbreak Gene: Death, Injury, and Pain on the Field, and 16 The Gold Medal Mutation. Positives: 1. Well-written, well-researched book. Epstein is very engaging and keeps the science at a very accessible level. 2. Fascinating topic that sports fans will enjoy. A look at elite athleticism through the eyes of science. Sports elites. I'm there! 3. Epstein does a fantastic job of skillfully handling the very sensitive topic of race and genetics. Any minor miscue and it would have derailed the book but Epstein never lets that happen and should be commended for his utmost care. 4. There are very few books on this interesting topic and this one covers multiple sports. And behind it all is the quest to find what's behind elite athleticism, "The question for scientists is: What accounts for that variance, practice, genes, or something else?" 5. You are guaranteed to learn something new. As an avid sports fan and reader, I didn't expect to learn too many new facts but I am always humbled and pleasantly surprised when I do. 6. The importance of experience in athletics. "Studies that track the eye movements of experienced performers, whether chess players, pianists, surgeons, or athletes, have found that as experts gain experience they are quicker to sift through visual information and separate the wheat from the chaff." 7. Golfers will pick up a valuable scientific tip...I'm not going to spoil it here. 8. The 10,000 hours rule in perspective. "Studies of athletes have tended to find that the top competitors require far less than 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to reach elite status. According to the scientific literature, the average sport-specific practice hours to reach the international levels in basketball, field hockey, and wrestling are closer to 4,000, 4,000, and 6,000, respectively." 9. Understanding the importance behind visual acuity and its importance in sports like baseball. "Coincidentally, or perhaps not, twenty-nine often is the age at which visual acuity starts to deteriorate and the age when hitters, as a group, begin to decline." 10. Important lessons shared, "To this day,” Woods said in 2000, “my dad has never asked me to go play golf. I ask him. It’s the child’s desire to play that matters, not the parent’s desire to have the child play." 11. Addressing the differences in gender. "Much of sexual differentiation comes down to a single gene on the Y chromosome: the SRY gene, or “sex determining region Y” gene. Insofar as there is an “athleticism gene,” the SRY gene is it." Great stuff! 12. So who was the greatest high-school athlete of all time according to ESPN? Find out. 13. The impact of the Human Genome Project as it relates to sports. The naturally fit six... 14. The science behind muscle growth. "Something that myostatin does signals muscles to cease growing. They had discovered the genetic version of a muscle stop sign. In the absence of myostatin, muscle growth explodes." A lot of good information here. 15. Discusses physical traits by sport that give the athletes innate advantages over the competition. "The height of a sprinter is often critical to his best event. The world’s top competitors in the 60-meter sprint are almost always shorter than those in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter sprints, because shorter legs and lower mass are advantageous for acceleration." 16. A cool look at the NBA. My favorite team of all time, the 95-96 Chicago Bulls (Jordan, Pippen and Rodman). Some eye-opening facts concerning wingspan. 17. Scientific observations, "Low-latitude Africans and Australian Aborigines had the proportionally longest legs and shortest torsos. So this is not strictly about ethnicity so much as geography." 18. Race and genetic diversity. "Kidd’s work, along with that of other geneticists, archaeologists, and paleontologists, supports the “recent African origin” model—that essentially every modern human outside of Africa can trace his or her ancestry to a single population that resided in sub-Saharan East Africa as recently as ninety thousand years ago." Honestly, where would we be without understanding the grand theory of evolution? An excellent chapter, worth the price of the book. 19. Mind-blowing facts, " In an example particularly relevant to sports, about 10 percent of people with European ancestry have two copies of a gene variant that allows them to dope with impunity." Wow! 20. An interesting look at Jamaican sprinting and Kenyan long-term running. What's behind the success? "Consider this: seventeen American men in history have run a marathon faster than 2:10 (or a 4:58 per mile pace); thirty-two Kalenjin men did it just in October 2011." Say what? 21. The honest limitations of the young science of genetics, "Just as it is tough to find genes for height—even though we know they exist—it is extraordinarily difficult to pin down genes for even one physiological factor involved in running, let alone all of them." 22. Is motivation genetic? Interesting. 23. Genetic diseases. "According to statistics that Maron has compiled, at least one high school, college, or pro athlete with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) will drop dead somewhere in the United States every other week." 24. An excellent epilogue on the perfect athlete, "In reality, any case for sports expertise that leans entirely on either nature or nurture is a straw-man argument." 25. Notes and selected citations included. Negatives: 1. Football is the most popular sports in America bar none but wasn't really given as much paper as I was hoping for; sure you get some stories about Jerome Bettis, Herschel Walker, head injuries and weight lifting...but not the treatment a sport of its magnitude would warrant. 2. The science is very basic and done so to reach a larger audience. Links or an appendix would have given curious readers more to immediately munch on. 3. At no fault of the author, the science of genetics is still too young to be able to answer the most demanding questions to a satisfactory level. 4. No formal separate bibliography...you have to surf through the notes. 5. Few links. In summary, the perfect summer book. This was a page-turner of a book that provides us a glimpse into elite athleticism through the eyes of science. David Epstein provides sports enthusiasts with a scientific treat. One thing is perfectly clear...genetics is very complex and we are we are in its infancy. That being said, it's fascinating science and its increased understanding will continued to be applied to the world of sports. Epstein provides readers with an excellent appetizer of things; if you are interested in how genetics is being applied to extraordinary athletic performance, I highly recommend this book! Recommendations: "Outliers" by Malcom Gladwell, "Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us" by Daniel H. Pink, "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg, "Subliminal" by Leonard Mlodiknow, "Running Science" by Owen Anderson, "Your Inner Fish" by Neil Shubin, "The Making of the Fittest" by Sean B. Carroll, "The 10,000 Year Explosion" by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, "Relics of Eden" by Daniel J. Fairbanks, "Why Darwin Matters" by Michael Shermer, "Only a Theory" by Kenneth R. Miller, "The Greatest Show on Earth" by Richard Dawkins and, "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Khari

    This review is for the audiobook version. The content of this book was fascinating. It ranged from selective breeding in Huskies to random mutations within one family. I learned a lot about sports and about genetics from this book. For instance, I'm not too into the Olympics so I had no idea that the athletes that make up different sports have completely different body types. I thought that scholars are really interesting because someone out there thought it would be cool to measure athletes' leg This review is for the audiobook version. The content of this book was fascinating. It ranged from selective breeding in Huskies to random mutations within one family. I learned a lot about sports and about genetics from this book. For instance, I'm not too into the Olympics so I had no idea that the athletes that make up different sports have completely different body types. I thought that scholars are really interesting because someone out there thought it would be cool to measure athletes' legs across various sports and discovered that, surprisingly, depending on the sport the length and variability is completely different. I mean, how cool is that?!? And how strange of a person do you have to be to start wondering about it? It would never have dawned on me to measure fingertip to fingertip in order to predict how good you are at basketball, or to measure your depth perception to predict how good you would become at baseball. It gives me hope for my bad reflex self. Although really, speaking of reflexes, a lot of it has to do with body awareness and vision, I think. As I started doing sports, running, boxing, and weight lifting, my reflexes have gotten better. Isn't that odd? I used to not be able to catch anything that fell of my shelf, but now I can catch it before it falls a foot. So weird, it surprises me every time I do it. But it could also coincide with when I had eye surgery so maybe suddenly having peripheral vision has more to do with it. Anyway, I also learned more about the physical differences between men and women and why testosterone does what it does. It made me decided that regardless of what someone identifies as, if they are producing/being dosed with and using testosterone, they should not be running with the people who aren't because it's essentially doping. The same is true on the other side, those who are not producing/being dosed with and using testosterone should not be competing with people who are because they will be woefully under-competitive. That's just with one aspect of bodily difference! There are more! Upper body strength, collagen production, hip width, knee structures, all kinds of things that mean that men and women are just...different. I mean, the part about the average man being 3 standard deviations above the average woman in upper body strength literally blew my mind. I know what that means now. It's not a small difference. All in all, I really enjoyed the book and I learned a lot, perhaps the most interesting thing being how often humans are wrong in what they predict. The only reason that this book didn't get a 5 star review is because the reader was seriously annoying. He kept putting on horrible accents and changing the tone of his voice and sounded like he was reading to a two year old.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Let me preface this by saying.... I don't like sports. I have zero interest in any of them. Watching sports or knowing sports stars? Nope. But I do love genetics. So, I hope that the love for one would be enough to supersede my apathy of the other. That... didn't work. Some of the book was interesting! You learn about unusual mutations that cause unique physiological characters like the ability to use hemoglobin or become more muscular. Some body types are best suited to some sports, pain is very Let me preface this by saying.... I don't like sports. I have zero interest in any of them. Watching sports or knowing sports stars? Nope. But I do love genetics. So, I hope that the love for one would be enough to supersede my apathy of the other. That... didn't work. Some of the book was interesting! You learn about unusual mutations that cause unique physiological characters like the ability to use hemoglobin or become more muscular. Some body types are best suited to some sports, pain is very different between people, so is the drive to be athletic. All neat topics. There's a lot on the trainability of athletes and laypeople which was referenced often, but threaded well throughout. A few things: this is certainly NOT a book limited to genes at the title might suggest. In fact, it took about 3 chapters for any mention of genes to show up. While there are some pieces on genetics, some parts are really about anatomy or research about sports science. Some parts I just plainly found very boring. So and so's sports story... Zzzzz.. don't care. Some of those little anecdotes/tales went on and on. Perhaps if you like sports you will find them less tortuously dull than I did. Some of the book dragged, like the success of athletes in ethnic regions. However, I will state that I thought the book was well-researched and did a great job articulating the roles of nature and nurture to the reader (even though I had read "software" and "hardware" one too many times....). It did a genuinely good job capturing the complicated nature of genetics and especially predictive genetics that so many want desperately to exist, even though they mostly cannot do this with much fidelity. If you love genetics, but hate sports, you may find this boring. If you love sports, but are a newbie to genetics, I think you'll appreciate the level of detail in this book and be able to follow it well. If you like both, you'll probably really enjoy it. But... that was plenty of sports stories for me. Will stay far away now...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Zarina Marsaleh

    The centuries long nature vs. nurture debate has not exactly gotten old. From the Great Rift Valley to Arctic forest, David Eipstein brings us into a journey examining the debate in relation to sporting success, including the flaws of the 10,000-hour rule which most people know through the Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers book. Eipstein’s has also recently published a new book titled Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. Reading The Sports Gene, we can see buds of Range springing in i The centuries long nature vs. nurture debate has not exactly gotten old. From the Great Rift Valley to Arctic forest, David Eipstein brings us into a journey examining the debate in relation to sporting success, including the flaws of the 10,000-hour rule which most people know through the Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers book. Eipstein’s has also recently published a new book titled Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. Reading The Sports Gene, we can see buds of Range springing in it, piquing Eipstein’s interest. This later followed by a debate with Gladwell whom later suggested to write about it. I definitely enjoyed The Sports Gene thus I look forward to read Range someday!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ron Christiansen

    A fascinating read. So many intriguing examples (e.g. Kalenjin runners in Kenya) which suggest that genetics is the key ingredient in sports success--body type in particular. The numbers are astounding. For example every finalist in the 100 meters since 1980 has West African roots. OR: 17 american men in history have run a marthon faster than 2:10; 32 Kalenjin men did it in the month of October 2011. OR: five American high-schoolers have run under 4min in the mile yet there are 4 Kalenjin 4 min A fascinating read. So many intriguing examples (e.g. Kalenjin runners in Kenya) which suggest that genetics is the key ingredient in sports success--body type in particular. The numbers are astounding. For example every finalist in the 100 meters since 1980 has West African roots. OR: 17 american men in history have run a marthon faster than 2:10; 32 Kalenjin men did it in the month of October 2011. OR: five American high-schoolers have run under 4min in the mile yet there are 4 Kalenjin 4 min milers in one high school at the same time. And lots of intriguing push back and complicating of the 10,000 hr rule of mastering a sport or skill. Too much to get into here. One critique: early in the book Epstein way way over-relies on the brain as computer metaphor. We know these metaphors change and we know they always over-simplify.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.