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The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  10,654 ratings  ·  832 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 beg
Hardcover, 338 pages
Published August 1st 2013 by Current
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Jan 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Nicholas Sparks
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
Delway Burton
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Kirsten McKenzie
Dec 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sports, science
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
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Did not explain why Katie is better than me at Peloton :(
Aug 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Garret Giblin
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
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)
Ward Muylaert
May 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: running, non-fiction
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?
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Michelle Sauvageau
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 😊
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Sep 02, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Robert Meyro
Dec 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Chelsea K
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
Aug 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Kaspars Koo
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Zarina Marsaleh
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Ron Christiansen
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, sport, genes
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 ...more
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Epstein brings a lot of data to the book, and it works to give you some idea behind where the current state of science is with respect to elite athletics. He's good with the stories around the athletes as well, though there have certainly been better writers to handle this weaving of anecdotes with science and data (Michael Lewis immediately springs to mind). It does get a bit repetitive after a while, and while I was quickly sucked in, and devoured the first half of the book, I had to work to f ...more
Nick Rolston
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look into the incredible adaptations that the human body makes, along with the counterintuitive and surprising adaptations, such as how sickle cell traits improve sprinting prowess. More than the 10,000 hours rule, this book shows genetics are a big factor for success in the world's top athletes.
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Some of the genetic research presented here, as well as the questions it can answer, was fascinating! Also, this book addresses the question of why men have nipples, which I think is a major selling point.
Zach Morrell
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book debates the idea of Nature Vs Nurture. What makes the better athlete and why? After reading it there really isn't a firm conclusion to which is better. Both have aspects that help a athlete, but their is so much more that is involved like Body type, specific genes, environment in which you are raised.

The downsides to this book are when they talk about genetics and it goes way over my head
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such a provocative, fascinating read. I enjoyed this book immensely. Both comforting and unnerving being an amateur distance runner and learning that genetics accounts for a huge proportion of trainability, running economy, oxygen intake, sport specialization, etc. Highly recommend for anyone even vaguely interested in sports and/or genetics. The book is long, but super well-written and easy to digest while still being true to the science it's reporting.
Sep 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-books
Epstein dares to explore the complex nature of innate talent (as opposed to the mainstream idea of nurturing talent) in an accessible way. A must read for anyone even remotely interested in sports
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David Epstein is the author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, and of the New York Times bestseller The Sports Gene, which has been translated in 21 languages. He has master's degrees in environmental science and journalism and has worked as an investigative reporter for ProPublica and a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He lives in Washington, DC.

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