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The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
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The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  7,674 Ratings  ·  659 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.
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
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
Aug 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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: science, sports
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
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
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
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
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
Benjamin Hola
3.5/5. Great pre-cursor to this book is the movie Gattaca.
Allen Adams
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing

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?

David Ball
Mar 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Another book I enjoyed immensely but have doubts whether I can do it justice. Epstein bucks the conventional "we're all created equal" philosophy to show that a combination of genetics and environmental factors explain why East Africans run far and West Africans run fast (it's altitude and skinny calves for the former, and Caribbean history and sickle-cell traits for the latter). His arguments are sophisticated, well researched and compelling. He completely runs circles around the pop sociologis ...more
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was fantastic. A scientific look at gene breakdown and how it affects sports and athletic ability. It was a real eye-opener to DNA and genetic testing. Terrific and intelligent discussion on human performance and the impact of genetics on sports. Highly recommend.
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.
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sports lovers, sportspeople, athletes, science buffs
Shelves: favorites, learn
Phenomenal book that takes the reader all over the world, from the highlands of Kenya to the frozen Arctic tundra to the secluded and wild terrain in Jamaica where some of the best athletes on the planet are born and nurtured. The writer takes care to emphasize that while genetic studies have revealed that particular ethnic groups and/or people with certain genes have gone on to prove outstanding ability at certain sports, hard work, being at the right place and right time (e.g. luck of getting ...more
Katie/Doing Dewey
Aug 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, sports
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
Alan Kaplan
Nov 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Danni Green
Jul 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 03, 2014 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
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: health, science-misc
I was surprised at how well I liked this book. I liked the author's conversational tone, the vast array of genetic information that wasn't too complicated for a science idiot like me, and getting to meet different world-class athletes. I learned a lot and enjoyed it all! A quote I especially liked was this one:

(Some genes, like the one for the degenerative brain disease, Huntington's, are rather deterministic. If you have the genetic defect for Huntington's, you WILL get the disease.) Many other
Sep 09, 2013 rated it liked it
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
May 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
What makes some athletes elite, good performers or amateurs? Does the 10,000 hours rule coined by Malcolm Gladwell hold true? That whether you are a chessmaster or an elite ultramarathoner, your improvements and rise to success are tied to relentless training and putting in the hours? Or does your genes have a part to play? How much of it is talent and how much of it is positive genetic mutation? From research into visual acuity by chessmasters, baseball hitters and American football quarterback ...more
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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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“The same medicine should not be prescribed for every athlete. For some, less training is the right medicine.” 1 likes
“If you want to know if your kid is going to be fast, the best genetic test right now is a stopwatch. Take him to the playground and have him face the other kids.' Foster's point is that, despite the avant-garde allure of genetic testing, gauging speed indirectly is foolish and inaccurate compared with testing it directly - like measuring a man's height by dropping a ball from a roof and using the time it takes to hit him in the head to determine how tall he is. Why not just use a tape measure?” 1 likes
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