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The Sports Gene: What Makes the Perfect Athlete Hardcover – 29 Aug 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Yellow Jersey (29 Aug 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 8129129345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224091619
  • ASIN: 0224091611
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 14.4 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 148,351 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A. D. Thibeault on 13 Aug 2013
Format: Hardcover
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.

What does it take to become an elite athlete? The intuitive answer for most of us is that it probably takes some lucky genes on the one hand, and a whole heck of a lot of hard work on the other. Specifically, that we may need to be blessed with a particular body type to excel at a particular sport or discipline (after all, elite marathon runners tend to look far different than elite NFL running backs, who in turn tend to look far different than elite swimmers), but that beyond this it is practice and diligence that paves the way to success. When we look at the science, though--as sports writer David Epstein does in his new book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance--we find that the story is much more complicated than this. In general terms we find that nature and nurture interact at every step of the way in the development of an elite athlete, and that biology plays far more of a role (and in far more ways) than we may have expected.

To begin with, when it comes to physiology, we find that genetics not only has a large role to play in influencing our height and skeletal structure (as we would expect), but that genes also influence physiology in many other ways that are important when it comes to elite sports.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. Hillmann on 26 May 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The 10,000 hour rule, which emphasises the importance of practice and training in achieving world class sporting success, was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell and Mathew Sayid in “Bounce”. In this meticulously researched book written in a compulsive story telling style, Epstein argues that the studies undertaken by K. Anders Ericsson – the so-called father of the 10,000 hour rule – do not address the existence of genetically based talent because their work begins with subjects of high achievement in music or sports. When most of humanity has already been screened out of a study before it begins, the study has nothing to say about the existence or non existence of innate talent.
Trelawny is a tiny parish in north west Jamaica. Sprinters and jumpers from Trelawny won 8 medals at the Beijing Olympics – more than entire countries won the in the entire Olympics. 32 marathon runners from the Kalenjin tribe in Kenya ran a sub 2hours10 minute marathon in one month in October 2011. Only 17 Americans in history have run sub 2.10. This is convincing evidence of the existence of the sports gene. Epstein looks, in some detail, at the genetic exceptions that these Jamaican and Kalenjin populations exhibit – the ACTN3 “sprint gene” prevalent among Jamaican people and the genetic make up of Kalenjin that gives them a particular linear build with narrow hips, and long , thin limbs.

But Epstein does not ignore the cultural and environmental factors. For example, the immense popularity of athletics and its passport to fame and fortune among impoverished west Indians, or kids running long distances to school at altitude in Kenya, and again the route out of poverty that athletic success can provide.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By The Outsider on 30 Dec 2013
Format: Hardcover
David Epstein's useful corrective to the so-called 10,000 hour rule illustrates how little nurture has to do with sports success compared to nature. It's what's in the genes that counts most, and amazingly, this runs contrary to the still popular idea that we are a 'blank slate' As Pinker and other science writers have shown us, this is utter bunk. Yet it is taboo to say it too loud out of fear of racism or sexism. The more we learn, the more stupid it appears to be.

While Epstein walks on eggshells throughout, anxious not to offend, it is pretty clear that there are huge differences between men and women, and clear genetic reasons why African athletes have been so successful at running. If you stand back and think about it, it's all pretty obvious - 'Doh!' as Homer would say. Here are a few of the conclusions he reaches.

Men are always going to be stronger and faster than women. It's just biology, not 'sexism'.

A natural, tall black high jumper with no training beats the best trained white jumper in history with almost no training. 10,000 hours can beat many, but not all. Too much training can make things worse.

Jamaican sprinters have genetic advantages (more fast twitch muscles)that help them run faster, which evolved over many thousands of years.

Kenyan distance runners have a genetic advantage (more slow twitch muscles) which evolved over many thousands of years, partly in sync with environment.

There is lots more where this came from. Nature, with the right nurture, wins.

Epstein is a good researcher (a science degree from Columbia) and is clearly sports mad (a former college runner). He writes for Sports Illustrated, and makes everything clear and readable.
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