Monday, November 22, 2010

The genius in all of us: Why everything you’ve been told about genetics, talent, and IQ is wrong

Book Club... And Then Some!

The genius in all of us: Why everything you’ve been told about genetics, talent, and IQ is wrong 


by David Shenk

Book Review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

For a 302-page book, this is an amazingly short one, and here’s why.  The “Sources and Notes, Clarifications and Amplifications” section is 140-pages long!  140 pages!!!  Then there is a 20-page “Bibliography,” and there is no index.  So, the book ends with a 1 1/2-page “Epilogue,” on page 134!  There are ten chapters; thus, average chapter length is about 13 pages.

Despite its brevity, this is an amazingly interesting, very well written, captivating through stories and anecdotes, seemingly accurately explained and described, and thoroughly documented book. 

All those who might be interested in purchasing this book should be advised to read the reviews at  Todd Stark’s (from Philadelphia, PA), writes (as part of his review): “In deconstructing talent, Shenk leaves no room to think about what little the scandalously politically incorrect Galton, Spearman, and Terman might have somehow gotten right, what stable developmental trajectories genes might actually provide us under a wide range of environments, and what sorts of things the people Shenk cites favorably might actually disagree with him about.”  Be sure to look at Stark’s list of additional readings while you are there. 

Then, there is Kevin Currie-Knight from Newark, Delaware, who writes (as part of his review), “WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! It is true, of course, that studies deal with groups and averages, not individuals and specifics. But, this does not mean that studies can't be generalized, as that is the whole point of studies with controls on variables, sufficient sample sizes, etc.”

M. A. Glenn, of Santa Cruz Mountains, CA, writes: “Shenk's premise is that there are no geniuses, there are no exceptional people, we just have to work at developing the talent that is latent in all of us. He relies on a marginal branch of genetics that holds that genes don't have much to do with our natural endowments. We are all mostly the same and factors other than our genes shape us. Hence, no need to discuss nature vs. nurture because it's all nurture. 

"No doubt, hard work and drive are important, but Shenk never addresses the source of this hard work and drive. Could it be part of one's genetic makeup? No, Shenk is convinced that genes have little to do with talent and achievement. He uses this premise to attack IQ, the Bell Curve, genius, talent, and even Ayn Rand. Incredible! Of course, if there are no exceptions, then we, as individuals, are not only equal under the law, but equal in all ways. The subtext is that individuality and merit are old notions that we must move beyond. How democratic! I hated it at summer camp when everyone was a winner. Competition drives us and pushes us to our inherited limits. 

"Most troubling is the logical inconsistency in Shenk's argument: if genes play little role in achievement, then what about natural selection. His handling of the Kenyan runners is laughable. After centuries of natural selection to run faster, Shenk concludes that we don't know that genes have anything to do with it. Unanswered, of course, is how this idea relates to such hot topics as homosexuality. If this is gene determined,w hy the exception? If this is part of Shenk's theory, then is he really saying that homosexuality is learned? He's stays far away from any unpopular implication of his premise. This is a shallow, PC argument for mediocrity and a not so subtle attack on individual achievement, written by a popularizer with little, if any, education in the subject. 

"If we just work hard enough, and follow Shenk's suggestions, we might become a mid-life Mozart. Wrong. There is greatness and, yes, you have to inherit the basic stuff for greatness, such as long legs for jumping, before you can practice your way to stardom. If Shenk had been born with talent, it would not have taken him three years to write this thin polemic. Footnoted, but, so what? A waste of time.”

Brazen999, from Florida, writes: “This book sells hope to those that don't measure up genetically and those that wish everyone did measure up genetically. The book can be summed up as "You can do it!", said in the style of Rob Schneider. But he makes a whole mess of oxymoronic and contradictory claims to push that message through though.”

R. M. Smith, another reviewer of the book at, writes, “Sometimes journalists can make sense of complex scientific topics and sometimes they can't. Unfortunately, in this book, David Shenk falls into the latter category. "The Genius in All of Us" is another example of the romantic fantasy that is gripping some realms of popular psychology and all of public education at the moment (think No Child Left Behind). Yes, human nature is plastic, but it is not as yielding as Shenk would like us to believe. In the real world, our genomes impose tighter constraints. For instance, I doubt that David Shenk has an IQ of 85 which he has re-worked through 10,000 hours of writing practice culminating in the publication of a book.”

Now, I don’t want to suggest that all the reviews of this book at are negative as the above selections would indicate.  There are a total (at this writing) of 34 reviews with an average customer rating of four stars out of five.  But, what these reviews indicate is significant.  Some of the positive reviews are rather superficial and don’t look below the surface.  I feel, when you read the complete reviews of those who give the book a negative review (and I have been incredibly selective in the portions I have quoted above), they have some serious—and some quite in-depth—concerns.

If you want a quick-read motivational book, this is a good one to choose, after all, David Shenk’s bottom line is a simple one: all people can do better by working harder.  Who can deny that? — scientific evidence or not!

This book is available from The genius in all of us: Why everything you’ve been told about genetics, talent, and IQ is wrong.

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