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The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

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4.16 of 5 stars 4.16  ·  rating details  ·  3,805 ratings  ·  424 reviews
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 bega
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Hardcover, 338 pages
Published August 1st 2013 by Current
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David
Jan 15, 2014 David rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to David by: Donald Plugge
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
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 ...more
Nicholas
I found Epstein's book to be a revelation. It contains a strongly reasoned argument about the impact of genetics on sport that does not pander to tired biases. Because there is a long history of horrid biases and some of humanities greatest crimes have been justified based on the alleged genetic superiority or inferiority of certain groups, many scientists have been justifiably leary of writing about the impact of genetics on athletic achievement.

Epstein does so very well. He write from data and
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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 ...more
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) who have always wanted to play in the NBA. With an arm-span
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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
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Kelly
Aug 12, 2013 Kelly rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: sports fans, science fans, Malcolm Gladwell fans, Jonah Lehrer fans
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 ...more
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 ...more
Kerry
Few people know that I am an absolute sports nut. I can watch almost any sport that I can understand and have watched some I have no understanding of--cricket, lacrosse,wrestling to name a few. What I have come to understand about my fascination is it has mostly to do with the simple wonder of the human body to do incredible things, some with training and some by accident. I've seen this in my chosen profession as well (medicine) but in sports it has more to do with planned rather than unexpecte ...more
Danni Green
Since I generally have absolutely no interest in sports, I would not ordinarily have chosen to read this book. But I made some ignorant comments about the subject matter when a friend was discussing the book a few months ago, and since I am allergic to being the kind of person who makes ignorant comments about a book I haven't even read, I had to go out and find the book so that I could actually know what I was talking about. It was clear that this topic was important to my friend, and I wanted ...more
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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
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Alan Kaplan
Many people are familiar with Malcolm Gladwell and his books. In one of his books, he states that it takes 10,000 hours to master a subject. The Beatles played in Hamburg for years before they hit it big. Bill Gates used a university computer in the middle of the night. The 10,000 hours is only part of the story. You can practice hitting a curve ball for years and never master the skill. This is where our genes enter the picture. In order to be a major league hitter, you must have perfect vision ...more
Allen Adams
http://www.themaineedge.com/sports/th...

For as long as competitive athletics have existed, we have sought understanding of what allows a good athlete to become great or a great athlete to become truly elite. Is greatness destined, present since birth on a genetic level? Or is it possible for an athlete to become great through hard work and a beneficial environment? The argument has gone on for years, with plenty of good reasons to come down on either side.

So – nature or nurture? Which is it?

That
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Katie/Doing Dewey
Pop culture has long used the phrase “nature vs nurture” to ask whether genetic or environmental factors are more important. As science has discovered, the truth is far more nuanced. David Epstein explores this fascinating topic in the context of extreme athletic performance. The question he addresses include whether there are people who are just naturals and whether or not everyone could be equally good at sports with the same amount of practice. He also addresses more sensitive topics, such as ...more
Tom
This book was an interesting look at the science behind various aspects of sports. Some of this material was familiar from Sports Illustrated articles, not surprising, since the author writes for the magazine. It delves into the research in skill acquisition as well as some of the genetic research behind strength, endurance, and explosive speed. It does a good job of addressing the topic and delving into the potentially thorny issues of race, ethnicity, and athletic ability in a delicate manner. ...more
Adrian
Jan 03, 2014 Adrian added it
Sports Illustrated writer Epstein surveys the world of sport to answer the question: is athletic brilliance more nature or nurture? There are lots of intriguing facts and studies revealed here. West Africans have fast twitch muscle as an adaptation for fighting malaria which incidentally make them great sprinters, East Africans on the other hand are culturally adapted to distance running events by running miles to school as kids. Mind you they also have perfect legs and bodies for these events. ...more
June
I read this about 3/4 of the way, and found both the research and the specific case studies very interesting. However, I noticed a particular trend in the specific case studies that Epstein chose: they were either in sports or in specific roles in sports for which success (either short term or long term) relies on a singular skill. After some very limited, discrete case studies of the youth soccer academy in Europe, it doesn't look like there were any case studies of soccer, lacrosse, or other s ...more
Juris Grišins
Mind opener on the nature and evolution of competitive sports, as well as development of a body. A wonderful read and plenty of interesting facts for showing off at a cocktail party.
Sara
There were rather more names, dates, facts, and figures in here than I am generally disposed to as I find those types of things difficult to track, especially when there are new ones every chapter, but this book was still a fascinating read. The book explores the overlap between genetics and sport and how there is still so much to learn since the field of genetics is still new and is very, very complex.

There were so many fascinating anecdotes in here that if you like sports or science (or not) I
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Uwe Hook
The Sports Gene is a fascinating look at the hidden side of greatness. It is easy to see how effort and athleticism make professional athletes into stars, but David Epstein examines the genetic advantages certain athletes have that allow them to become such stars. Epstein essentially takes all the studies conducted over the last century involving physical development as it relates to genetics and rolls them into an explanation of why certain athletes are so much better than everybody else. The a ...more
Lisa
Fascinating reading for anyone interested in sports, genetics, biology, psychology and high performance.
Ryan
This was a fascinating page-turner about the role of genetic traits and training in sports. It attempts the difficult task of untangling the two using cutting-edge research. The book looks at how professional sports has caused intense specialization and selection of body types. The desirable traits for each sport--like being tall will always help in the NBA, having more blood, slow-twitch muscle, or hemoglobin will help with endurance, having a long torso and shorter legs with longer arms will h ...more
Dan

This book is partially a reaction to Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers with its famous rule that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is a necessary and sufficient condition for mastery, and it fits into the larger literature on the influences of nature and nurture on human performance. But I'm going to take a more personal approach to this review.


My sport of choice is Crossfit, a blend of gymnastics, weightlifting, and running. I was in an Internet Argument with a fellow Crossfitter, and to make a rhe

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Nazrul Buang
Finished reading "The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance / What Makes the Perfect Athlete" (2013) by David Epstein. As one who is perhaps biased towards sociologists/psychologists/scientists and against journalists, I wasn't sure whether to expect anything good from this book, of which I first thought would be all about glorified stories of extraordinary athletes and their Spartan training. Pleasantly, I was completely wrong.

When it comes to sports science, esp
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DW
Pretty good. The writing style was super-easy to digest, with very vivid metaphors and the main point often repeated at the end of the paragraph somewhat unnecessarily. I imagine it reads like a Sports Illustrated article, though I've never actually read Sports Illustrated.

First off, the author debunks the 10,000 hour rule, which at first made me happy, because surely that rule is too simplistic to apply to everybody. This book says it's really the "7,000 to 40,000 hour rule", and that some peop
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Katie
Interesting non-fiction book about nature vs. nurture in terms of excelling in sports. Lots of talk about genetics and how it relates to sports excellence, versus people who practice for the "10,000 hours" it takes to become an expert, allegedly.

Interesting read and lots of food for thought, but I took a lot of it with a grain of salt because there were some things I found confusing. At one point, the author stated that there are more than twice as many left-handed men as women, and I don't thin
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Crosby
For anyone that enjoys sports and appreciates science, this book is a great read. Given to me as a Christmas present, I had entertained thoughts of buying it for myself prior to receiving it as a gift but did not because I was not sure the science would be in enough depth to be satisfactory. I'm pleased to report that the science is very well presented and there was much to learn from it. The author's first hand investigations into each topic were very obvious and as a former athlete himself, he ...more
Larry Hinman
This is a fascinating book, very well researched and full of insights and new perspectives on some challenging issues. Epstein has an interesting critique of Gladwell's popularization of the 10K hour rule and presents a much more nuanced view of this issue and the research surrounding it. He has a fascinating discussion of the role of perception in the development of talent (from chess to volleyball) that pushes back against modular approaches to understanding the formation of talent.
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David Epstein is an award-winning senior writer for Sports Illustrated, where he covers sports science, medicine, and Olympic sports. His investigative pieces are among the magazine's most high-profile stories. An avid runner, he earned All-East honors on Columbia University's varsity track squad, and has a master's degree in environmental science. He lives in Brooklyn.
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“Without both genes and environments, there are no outcomes.” 0 likes
“The same medicine should not be prescribed for every athlete. For some, less training is the right medicine.” 0 likes
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