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The Sports Gene: What Makes the Perfect Athlete [Hardcover]

David Epstein
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

29 Aug 2013

*** Shortlisted for William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2013 ***

Is Usain Bolt a superhuman one-off?

Are sports stars like Paula Radcliffe and Tiger Woods born or made?

Could we all be Olympians if we trained hard enough?

And is the answer to be found by looking at Alaskan huskies?

In this ground-breaking and entertaining exploration of athletic success, award-winning writer David Epstein gets to the heart of the great nature vs. nurture debate, and explodes myths about why top sportsmen excel.

Along the way Epstein exposes the flaws in the so-called 10,000-hour rule that states that rigorous practice from a young age is the only route to success. He shows why some skills that we imagine are innate are not - like the bullet-fast reactions of a baseball player - and why other characteristics that we assume are entirely voluntary, like an athlete's will to train, might in fact have important genetic components.

Through on-the ground reports at locations ranging from below the equator to 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 sport.



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 (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 144,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"A wonderful book. Thoughtful... fascinating." (Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers)

"Provides a powerful and convincing analysis of how genes influence all our lives, especially the careers of elite sportsmen" (The Times)

"A fascinating, thought-provoking look at the leading edge of sports performance, written by a guy who knows the territory. David, besides being a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, was a collegiate runner for Columbia University. More to the point, he's a terrific researcher and a fine, thoughtful writer" (Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code)

"Full credit to David Epstein, a Sports Illustrated journalist with a serious and deep knowledge of genetics and sports science, for his terrific and unblinking new book, The Sports Gene, a timely corrective to the talent-denial industry" (Ed Smith New Statesman)

"Endlessly fascinating" (John Harding Daily Mail)

"Epstein's book does not try to simplify the argument, but it does provide a welcome corrective to those who have deliberately underplayed the notion that genetic make-up is irrelevant" (Mike Atherton The Times)

"David Epstein's illuminating synthesis of the latest research into the nature v nurture debate as applied to sport" (Simon Redfern Independent)

"Provoking spirited debate about the merits of the 10,000 hour rule" (Rick Broadbent The Times)

Book Description

An entertaining and thought-provoking examination of the truth behind sporting talent

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief Summary and Review 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
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
4.0 out of 5 stars It's nature, not nurture 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic !
Really insightfully written great read !
Published 10 days ago by lookalikey
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Very good, but a little heavy going at times
Published 17 days ago by bob the pigman
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, and full of quotable trivia
If you've watched David's TED talk (as I had), then you probably have a fair idea of what this book will be about - suffice it to say, I was not disappointed, the book was very... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mr Timothy Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars Very insightful!
Interesting book containing a lot of valuable information on the mystery of "talent", mostly from the perspective of sports performance. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Henning Langer
2.0 out of 5 stars Read with caution
This is an extreme curate's egg of a book. Parts of it are good but there are other parts which are particularly awful. Read more
Published 4 months ago by James Medhurst
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting if depressing
Interesting book though the conclusion that genes count for a great deal in a vast range of sports is a bit depressing. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Tanda
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
This book is a true insight into the human debate on nature-nurture, with plenty of examples carefully investigated and clearly set out by the author - it is clearly a subject... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Steve
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book
Fascinating, gripping and easy to read. Must read for any sports science or strength and conditioning students. I shall be reading this again
Published 5 months ago by Mr M J Irwin
4.0 out of 5 stars David Epstein gets to the heart of the great nature versus nurture...
This book addresses with nuances and subtlety the debate between culture and nature. It emphasises the complexity of the subject. Read more
Published 5 months ago by LoveLife Reading List
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
Well written, makes some interesting points and keeps you engaged. The Sports Gene is well worth a read whether you are a sports fan or not!
Published 6 months ago by Chris Chapman
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