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Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World

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What's the most effective path to success in any domain? It's not what you think.

Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you'll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world's top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.

David Epstein examined the world's most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields--especially those that are complex and unpredictable--generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They're also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can't see.

Provocative, rigorous, and engrossing, Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. Failing a test is the best way to learn. Frequent quitters end up with the most fulfilling careers. The most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published May 28, 2019

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About the author

David Epstein

13 books1,639 followers
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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,845 reviews
Profile Image for Randall Wallace.
530 reviews389 followers
March 18, 2023
I’ve staked my entire adult life on following the generalist’s path instead of the specialist’s, so I hoped this book would answer my basic questions: What about the role Neuroplasticity plays with keeping the following people analytically extra-sharp: The Polymath, the Multi-Instrumentalist, and those like Noam Chomsky, composer Elliot Carter, Aristotle, Leonard da Vinci, or Bertrand Russell all deeply learned in multiple fields (range), yet known for changing how we understand, hear, or see things? Zero on Neuroplasticity. Ok, then what will David say about how generalists best can pull deep multi-disciplinary analogies through their multiple points of reference? Meh, nothing of note. How about this: Generalists can see the big picture. They can see the forest for the trees. They can tell us deeper stories of our times. They are more apt to see macro. Society is further atomized by specialists, while further integrated by the generalist. How do you make systemic change to avoid extinction without generalists? How do local areas survive economic collapse without generalists? How do you prioritize at the highest level of society without generalists? I’m just making stuff up fast that I wanted to hear but this book had none of it, so what did this book teach me? Some cool facts like:

When you think your favorite Van Gogh’s paintings, you are thinking of only the last three years of his life. Wow. At his death, Michelangelo “left three-fifths of his sculptures unfinished”. Edison had over 1,000 patents, most were unimportant. “Sandwiched between King Lear and Macbeth, Shakespeare quilled Timon of Athens.” Jackson Pollack “was literally one of the least talented draftsmen at the Art Student’s League”. That led him to writing his own rules. Lots of stumped creative teams benefit from bring in outside knowledge like InnoCentive (google them). Iowa, not traditionally known as the hot bed of American music and culture, once had more than 1,000 opera houses! MRI scans of jazz musicians show that during improvising, their internal criticism was suspended, unlike during practice, when they identified errors and corrected them. “There is no entrenched interest fighting on the side of range.” – Well, that is because elites don’t want oppressed masses with “range” out-lobbying corporate lobbyists by sheer endless volume (as Ralph Nader discusses in depth with Chris Hedges on In Contact – RT). If you have true range, you are more likely to want to oppose corporate power, capitalism, militarism, and all undeserved power, because your outlook becomes bigger. Luckily for elites, even though everything from ancient pre-history to today is all at your fingertips, the average American can’t find Europe on a map of the world - there’s today’s range. A lot of this book is telling the reader that, when involving techniques of problem solving, there is no one answer, nor is there one place to look for answers. David uses “quitters never win” as an example. Many top minds quit what they were doing and changed jobs to finally succeed, and so for them, quitting made all the difference. With this mindset, you fail when you don’t have the courage to leave a dead-end situation. In other words, there are strong advantages if you don’t consider your path fixed. Although, some say Einstein was “destined for fame” as a Swiss patent clerk, others say he made a good call in switching.

Premature optimization means, specializing in a field before you know yourself well-enough. For many Americans, their jobs didn’t exist when they were kids and so to reach them they took many paths. As David says, those many paths travelled gave us range.

In conclusion, this book has no stories of activists with range, nor stories of progressive or radical change makers who affected great change by linking many disciplines: MLK linking racism, capitalism, and militarism, Noam Chomsky linking language, power structure analysis, foreign affairs, journalism, economics, and all social and economic and social justice initiatives, Cornel West and Chris Hedges linking Theology to Social Justice, Radical Prophets and Philosophy. David never even mentions Intersectionality once. So, if you are reading this book to learn how humans are right now solving the climate crisis, fending off extinction, or any kind of activism through the range of generalists, sorry, you are out of luck. Instead, this book is about how generalists help innovation, capitalism, and even the military. In one of David’s stories, a U.S. military team is requested to gain a speed advantage over “the enemy” in Afghanistan. Not “the opponent” but “the enemy”. Let’s invade a sovereign nation and give it the longest war in American history and after refusing to leave, let’s label anyone actively resisting our invasion and our never leaving as “the enemy”. One reviewer called this groundbreaking and other called it breathtaking - what nonsense – the subject of this book is so important and yet I see it as a massive opportunity squandered. Range is needed in hundreds of ways to save the planet, why not mention it once in your book?

This is a great defanged book for US elites to exploit – by employing generalists, both the military and multi-nationals can better pry open business opportunities in countries that can’t defend themselves. Each chapter starts with an easy story and there’s some People Magazine worthy quotes inside about tennis players, musicians, chess players, Darwin, Girl Scouts, and the Challenger disaster to keep the average reader quite content. If I wasn’t so busy hugging my American Flag made in China, I be saluting this brave book which, after giving minor nods to art, sports and culture, will keep any conservative or centrist reader on the straight and narrow of focusing on business and military applications (where the money to pay generalists is), without any embarrassing talk about applications for social or economic justice.
Profile Image for Kobe.
12 reviews24.1k followers
September 5, 2019
This book looks at how an emphasis on specialization can actually hamper our ability to really excel at something. It aligns with what I try to do when I am coaching, in my stories, and what we’re doing with Mamba Sports Academy—create all-around athletes who can think critically and make assessments in real time to enhance their play rather than rely only on a narrow set of skills.
1 review
May 13, 2019
Disclosure: I won this pre-release copy in a drawing from the publisher.

The book wasn't badly written, but for me it was something of a slog. I've enjoyed similar books in this genre more, the sort of pop-psychology-self-help mashup including books like "Willpower" (Baumeister/Tierney), "The Upside of Down" (McArdle), "The Power of Habit" (Duhigg), among others. There was nothing distracting in the style of "Range" that failed to work for me. But the presentation often left me wanting more, arguing in my head against the point the author was making. It often felt like being led down a garden path, and asked to ignore things on the edge of the trail as meaningless distractions.

Part of the challenge confronting the author was in tackling a deconstructed subject. In the opening chapter, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer are presented as juxtapositions in how to become the best in their respective sports. Woods is raised on golf obsessively from an early age, while Federer is allowed to explore all sports, until he settles on tennis much later. Woods exemplifies the narrow specialist, while Federer stands in for the generalist. As a reader, I kept complaining that they were both raised on sports generally, and that both were clearly encouraged to develop talents by sports-obsessive homes.

And the reading went on in this spirit throughout, with quite impressive, accomplished individuals described in broad outlines, predominantly having achieved success as apparent outsiders rather than very, very narrow specialists who had rarely been permitted to pursue interests beyond the narrow confines. This often felt like an anecdote held up as a contrast to a caricature. The supporting research mentioned frequently felt more vague than persuasive. And as a result, for me the book was mostly frustrating.

It was not all a loss, however, as the author certainly shows significant benefit of applying far-flung knowledge to unanticipated problems. He clearly demonstrates the tendency of narrow specialists in our increasingly specialized society to become blinkered by their own learning to the point that they can no longer step outside their fields for a fresh view from a different perspective. He also shows how institutions like NASA can succumb to a narrow-minded, specialist group-think.

I can't say that I regret pushing myself to read all the way through. But I felt I didn't get any particular insights from it, much less suggestions for how to get greater range, or how to make better use of my own more generalist background. Yet it may well benefit readers who've come to believe that specialization is all there is or should be in life.

Profile Image for David Epstein.
Author 13 books1,639 followers
April 27, 2020
Do I think it's a five-star book? It's very hard for me to say, as I wrote the thing. By the time I'm done working on a book, I have such a strong insider view of the project that it's difficult to be objective. I will say this: I worked extremely hard on it, and as a writer, researcher, and reader, I found it to be much more interesting than my first book. Most readers enjoyed that first book--at least according to Goodreads ratings--so I hope most readers will (as I have) enjoy this one even more.
Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,145 reviews2,171 followers
June 5, 2022

Is starting young and practicing a lot, and focusing on one specialization an essential factor for success? This book is trying to find an answer to this controversial yet crucial question

What I learned from this book
1) Is experience the best teacher?
The author says that extra focus on specialization making us dumber and tunnel-visioned to a certain extend and mentions that it is the reason why the generalists are triumphing over the specialists

“Scientists examined the life path of the athletes. Eventual Elite athletes typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity, which they will eventually become experts. Instead, they undergo what the researchers call a sampling period. They play a variety of sports and gain a range of physical proficiencies. They learn about their own abilities. Only later did they focus on and ramp up practice in one area. Late specialization is the key to success in these cases."

"Whether or not experience inevitably led to expertise, they agreed, depended entirely on the domain in question. Narrow experience made better chess and poker players and firefighters, but not for better predictors of financial or political trends, or of how employees or patients would perform"

2) Cardiologists and Oculostenotic reflex
It is the urge of the cardiologists to correct coronary disease upon visualization by the stent deployment.
"Randomized clinical trials shows that stents for patients with stable chest pain prevent zero heart attacks and extend the lives of patients by a grand total of not at all. The cardiovascular system isn't a kitchen sink that turns out treating out one blocked pipe doesn't help. When an entire specialty grows up around devotion to a particular tool, the result can be disastrous myopia. ”

3) Knowing when to quit
If you liked the book the The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit by Seth Godin, you would like this part of the book. It specifically tells us about the idea of quitting and switching jobs.
"Knowing when to quit is such a big strategical advantage that every single person before undertaking an endeavor should enumerate conditions under which they should quit. The important trick is staying attuned to whether switching is a failure in perseverance or astute recognition that better matches are available."

My favourite three lines from this book
“Learning stuff was less important than learning about oneself. Exploration is not just a whimsical luxury of education; it is a central benefit.”

“Overspecialization can lead to collective tragedy even when every individual separately takes the most reasonable course of action.”

"Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren't you. Everyone progresses at a different rate, so don't let anyone else make you feel behind. You probably don't even know where exactly you're going, so feeling behind doesn't help."

What I didn’t like in this book
The problem with this book is ironically the exact problem about which this book is trying to discuss. This book took one single idea: to be a generalist instead of a tunnel-visioned specialist and tried to specialize (focus) on it too much that things seem to become repetitive. If some pages and some examples were not included, this book would have been a better read.

3/5 The central theme which the book is trying to discuss is a very relevant one. I haven't seen too many books dealing with this topic. If you like non-fiction, this will be a good one-time-read.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,293 reviews21.7k followers
June 12, 2021
Perhaps needless to say, I really want the main argument in this book to be true. As someone who has been a quality control inspector in a chocolate factory, a house painter, a counter hopper in a post office, an archivist, a technical writer, a strategic researcher, an industrial officer in a trade union, and a research fellow – and initially who started a degree in physics and then shifted to do one in philosophy and professional writing and editing, then a graduate certificate in adult literacy, and then eventually to go on to a master’s in teaching, to end up with a PhD in the sociology of education – well, you can see that the ‘range is good’ hypothesis is appealing to me.

In a way this is an argument against Gladwell’s Outliers. Part of the argument there is that to become world class in any talent or skill you need to perform 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. I’m not sure this guy really argues against the idea of deliberate practice, but he does argue against what some people might take to be the obvious conclusion from that – that is, that if you’ve spent 50 hours of deliberate practice, you’d better keep at it until you’ve clocked up 10,000 hours, or you’d have blown your 50 hours. The seemingly obvious rejoinder of ‘but won’t you be wasting 9,950 hours developing a skill you don’t want to have?’ is well worth considering, and might even seem conclusive. Except, of course, that humans are much more stupid than they imagine themselves to be, and so the whole ‘don’t give up the lead you’ve acquired’ voice, or the one that says, ‘grit and determination are all that count in life’ often drowns out the ‘I hate this shit, why am I doing it again?’ voice.

While I was doing my Master’s degree, I read over a document called ‘The Shape of the Australian Curriculum’, and a thing that annoyed me about it was a line that said: “The Australian Curriculum provides for rigorous, in-depth study, preferring depth to breadth wherever a choice needs to be made…” And this is something the author of this book discusses at length. The author refers back to the metaphor of the hedgehog and the fox (hedgehogs knowing one big thing – that is, depth, while foxes know lots of little things – breadth). The book is a bit more nuanced than just saying, breadth is better – but if it doesn’t jump to the opposite extreme, it does point out that a lot of what we currently say does involve stressing depth over breadth – hedgehogs over foxes.

I want to stress that even if this book had made a stunningly clear case that having an insanely narrow focus was self-evidently a great thing, I doubt it would have really changed my life all that much. I’m a dabbler. I like to learn a bit about this and then something about that too. And it hasn’t escaped my notice that for most of my life I’ve been told that this would mean I wouldn’t really amount to all that much – that a true vocation involves expertise and that expertise requires dedication and blinkers and being stringently applied to the one true course. What I mean is that even if that was totally true, I’m just not really constituted for such a narrow pathway. I’m not saying that that means people who are able to live that sort of life are deficient – I’m just saying, along with Lou Reed, self-knowledge is a dangerous thing, the freedom of who you are… and so, I’m not sure my preference for breadth is an arbitrary choice for people like me.

There were lots of examples given in this book of people bringing knowledge from outside their field to problems within their field and this making all the difference. I never know what to make of these sorts of stories. They were, of course, virtually the opposite stories to those told in Outliers. My guess is that some form of cherry picking is inevitable when you are writing a book like this. What I found interesting, though, was the idea that many of the things that really work well with the 10,000 hours of deliberative practice are activities where feedback is more or less immediate. The example given is Tiger Woods – you hit the ball, it goes in the hole (good), you hit the ball it goes in the bunker (bad) – do more practice so that the ball goes the way you want it to. But if the thing you are doing has multiple factors determining a range of different ‘acceptable’ outcomes, practice alone might not be leading you to the ‘optimal’ way of doing that thing, but rather, it might be showing you just one way that provides a more or less acceptable solution. That is, you might not be moving ever closer towards greater perfection in your practice, but rather just being confounded by something that ‘sort of’ works well enough in the current situation. As he points out at one point in this, there are many skills in which there are no such thing as a child prodigy. And that seeing the difference between the skills that do and do not have child prodigies seems a worthwhile exercise.

I’m going to do something of a digression now, but I’m hoping you see it is still to the point. I’ve been involved lately in analysing data that has come out of a series of conferences organised to try to give early career teachers something approaching a hug. You see, although the estimates vary wildly, a lot of people believe that up to half of all early career teachers leave the profession in the first five years. Without getting too side-tracked here, this figure might be true and false at the same time – that is, a lot of early career teachers are female and might leave the profession to have children and then come back sometime later. One of the problems is no one seems to be doing the counting to say for sure.

But that’s not really what I’ve been looking at in my research. If you ask early career teachers if their Initial Teacher Education course really helped them become a teacher and if it helped them in their classroom practice, they are likely to say that it was next to a total waste of time and that their lecturers – nice people and all that – proved next to useless when they hit the ‘real world’ of the classroom.

The problem is that going through the learning you need to go through in the first years of teaching aren’t really anything like learning to sink a 20-foot putt. Every bit of the job of teaching is challenging: the workload is so large it is almost funny, no class is the same as the last. This is something people who have never taught don’t quite get. Sometimes you will have to teach the same lesson three times in the same day – and even if the first one goes off like a song, that in no ways means the next one won’t crash and burn. And this is something that becomes immediately obvious to early career teachers. And they are likely to say, ‘why didn’t uni give me some foolproof strategies to ensure I would never crash and burn?’

But related to this is the fact that what early career teachers often fall back on is something that is necessary to them ‘for now’, but is also something that they will need to more beyond if they are ever going to become expert teachers. That is, early career teachers can’t avoid being obsessed with the process of teaching – but getting the process of teaching right just isn’t enough to help you become an expert teacher. Expert teachers are experts because they don’t focus on process, but rather they focus almost exclusively on the relationships in the classroom.

Early career teachers often say things like – what we learnt at uni was far too theoretical, we should have been given more practical knowledge. The problem is that it is incredibly easy to give someone four or five tricks to try out when things go pear-shaped in teaching a class, and maybe 80% of the time those five tricks might even work. The problem is that when they don’t work, doing any or all of those five tricks might actually make things worse. Without theory (in education it’s called pedagogy) once your tricks stop working, you don’t have anything else to fall back on. As Kurt Levin liked to say, ‘there’s nothing as practical as a good theory’.

Generalists are likely to make the best teachers. This relates back to something Nietzsche says about a real teacher, that they take everything seriously only in respect to their students – themselves included. And one’s students have such a vast range of interests, that if you are to teach them, it is best to do so by including their interests in what you teach. But that is a pretty hard thing to do if you are a hedgehog – if you only know one thing very well.

I’m not sure if this review has helped explain the book or not. But I think in a world where narrow is king – the need to remember that broad can have benefits too, isn’t a bad lesson to learn.
Profile Image for Katie.
515 reviews204 followers
July 7, 2019
“Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren’t you.”

An incredibly slow read for me but I enjoyed it a lot and felt like I was on information overload after finishing each chapter. Who knew that so many case studies and anecdotes could support having breadth vs. depth of knowledge? The author of course nods to the fact that it’s important to have both kinds of people (generalists and specialists), but his argument is against the prevalent thinking that we should pick an area of focus from a young age and keep at it.

Some of the sections that spoke most to me involved communication across teams and disciplines. I honestly felt that I grew the most as a professional when working with and learning from colleagues who did very different things than me during their day-to-day; these relationships were especially rewarding when we could collaborate toward fixing a common problem. Epstein covers this a few different times, from a task as general as comparing your project against others within the company to get an understanding of how long it might take (and whether it will be worth it in the end), to the tradition of Monday Notes at NASA (notes submitted by engineers which were circulated so all divisions could see what problems others were facing).

One of my favorite conclusions from Epstein was that teams need elements of both hierarchy and individualism to survive. Often, too much process focused on pandering to upper management leads to lower quality feedback from “lower ranking” employees (or in so many words, an erosion of trust). He calls this concept an “Allegiance to Hierarchy” and showcases how detrimental it can be, particularly through the examples of the Challenger disaster and the 2008 global financial crisis.

As someone who enjoys working across teams, learning new things, and sees contextual information critical to doing my job, I appreciated Epstein’s argument that it’s important to have people who look across teams/projects to identify systemic issues. This is something I truly feel companies don’t value enough, and even though I’ve advocated for it myself, it’s not something I’ve often been encouraged to do.

This is one of the few books I would actually recommend that everyone read! That being said, I can’t quite give it 5 stars because it really is a challenge to push through some of the research (I think the best approach is trying to read just one chapter per day so you have time to think about it.) Maybe it’s more of a 4.5 star read :)

See more of my reviews: Blog // Instagram
Profile Image for JD.
691 reviews290 followers
April 21, 2023
What an eye-opening read this is!! This book goes into great detail of how being a jack-of-all-trades can be great and make you a master of some, and how over-specialization can be counter-productive to innovation. I am always one who believes experience is vital, and even though it is, it can also make you less likely to innovate or to overcome new obstacles, and this book has just reinforced in me again that there is no place for complacency in your life and that you should always strive to better yourself and learn new things, even though you might think it will never come in handy, but it really just broadens your horizons. As they say in the end of the book, "Compare yourself to yourself yesterday, not to younger people who aren't you." Great read and very highly recommended !!
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,657 followers
May 31, 2019
This book is a useful mythbuster--grit, 10,000 hours, deliberate practice, tiger moms--this book says forget all of that (*sort of). Try lots of things, read broadly, and fail lots of times. I agree with this formula for success. Specialization is boring.

*I think there is something to being obsessive once you are in the right track. Once you figure out the project or sport, you need to focus. This doesn't go against the thesis of the book, but he wasn't explicit about it
Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 22 books2,017 followers
February 2, 2020
As a believer in Charlotte Mason's generous feast, I knew the minute I heard about this book that I had to read it. It did start slow but this book snowballed itself through my mind gathering momentum during a long, lonely car trip. After finishing the audio I immediately bought the Kindle version because I plan to use much of this information in a talk I have already done a few times. This book illustrates so well how important a wide and generous feast is. Beating out Atomic Habits, another great book, this is my favorite book so far this year.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,966 followers
March 10, 2020
In a lot of ways, this book is a vindication of everything I hold dear.

Why? Well, granted, it IS a vindication of a mindset that rebels against going down any single rabbit hole to the exclusion of everything else in this life, which is basically another way of saying that specialists are generally unable to see beyond their own field. Being widely read, having wide experiences, and knowing a ton of different fields lends the person in question a much greater chance to make creative connections that most others will miss.

The benefit of being a generalist is not lost on me. The more I learn across many fields, the easier I understand ANY field, even unrelated ones like cross-stitching and covariant loop analysis. Or the tensile strength of a willow tree to cognitive plasticity.

It's not about knowing any one thing. It's about being able to see the forest for the trees. About seeing and correctly intuiting the bigger picture. It's about sussing out trends. Tossing out bad ideas... including a wide variety of tools in your toolbox and knowing which ones to throw away as the situation demands.

It's about being adaptable. Being able to be creative. Using analogies. It's about cutting to the heart of the issue because you're able to SEE a problem that might cross many different fields and affect them all.

In a specialist world, generalists still tend to outperform, across their entire lifetime, any specialist. Being able to cite everyone in your field does not predict how you would perform when encountering anything novel.

So, who's in charge of hiring well-read people with strong critical thinking skills and temperaments conducive to thinking outside the box?


Hello? I'm right here!

Profile Image for Michael Perkins.
Author 6 books354 followers
April 4, 2021
The story of the new U.S. Open golf winner illustrates part of the thesis of this book. A range of experience is sometimes better than over-specialization. In the book, Roger Federer is another example.



This passage describes a key finding that is central to the book....

James Flynn, is a professor of political studies in New Zealand

Flynn’s great disappointment is the degree to which society, and particularly higher education, has responded to the broadening of the mind by pushing specialization, rather than focusing early training on conceptual, transferable knowledge.

Flynn conducted a study in which he compared the grade point averages of seniors at one of America’s top state universities, from neuroscience to English majors, to their performance on a test of critical thinking. The test gauged students’ ability to apply fundamental abstract concepts from economics, social and physical sciences, and logic to common, real-world scenarios.

Flynn was bemused to find that the correlation between the test of broad conceptual thinking and GPA was about zero. In Flynn’s words, “the traits that earn good grades at [the university] do not include critical ability of any broad significance.”

“Even the best universities aren’t developing critical intelligence,” he said. “They aren’t giving students the tools to analyze the modern world, except in their area of specialization. Their education is too narrow.”

As a patient, I see this in medicine. My father practiced medicine for 40 years. He used to say that medicine was as much an art as a science. The art is gone. No doctor I've encountered knows how to take a good patient history. Many times, as a result of my own research, I've asked my doctors "what about X?" "Oh, good idea!" Shouldn't they have the ability and knowledge to bring these issues up themselves? But this is true in many fields.


in late 2014, a team of German scientists published a study showing that members of their national team, which had just won the World Cup, were typically late specializers who didn’t play more organized soccer than amateur-league players until age twenty-two or later. They spent more of their childhood and adolescence playing non-organized soccer and other sports.

It's not about the mythical 10,000 hours. The reason that elite athletes seem to have superhuman reflexes is that they recognize patterns of ball or body movements that tell them what’s coming before it happens. As the greatest hockey player in history, Wayne Gretzky, said: “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” Same is true of Steph Curry, who views the basketball court as a rapidly moving chessboard. He sees several moves ahead.


When we know the rules and answers, and they don’t change over time—chess, golf, playing classical music—an argument can be made for savant-like hyperspecialized practice from day one. But those are poor models of most things humans want to learn.

Meanwhile, advances in artificial intelligence have already shown that rules-based human jobs will be the first to go the more A.I. is implemented. This reality was made shockingly obvious when a computer defeated the world champion Gary Kasparov in chess. Likewise, the international Go champion. And now poker.


RE: parents, psychologist Adam Grant noted that creativity may be difficult to nurture, but it is easy to thwart. He pointed to a study that found an average of six household rules for typical children, compared to one in households with extremely creative children.

Darwin's father was a doctor who wanted his son to become a doctor. Darwin lasted only half a semester in med school. He turned to the church. He was a Bible literalist at the time, and figured he would become a clergyman. He bounced around classes, including a botany course with a professor who subsequently recommended him for an unpaid position aboard the HMS Beagle. After convincing his father that he would not become a deadbeat if he took this one detour, he experienced perhaps the most impactful post-college gap year in history. Decades later, Darwin reflected on the process of self-discovery. “It seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman,” he wrote.


A recent international Gallup survey of more than two hundred thousand workers in 150 countries reported that 85 percent were either “not engaged” with their work or “actively disengaged.” In that condition, according to Seth Godin, quitting takes a lot more guts than continuing to be carried along like debris on an ocean wave.

The trouble, Godin noted, is that humans are bedeviled by the “sunk cost fallacy.” Having invested time or money in something, we are loath to leave it, because that would mean we had wasted our time or money, even though it is already gone.


There is “perverse inverse relationship” between fame and accuracy. The more likely an expert was to have his or her predictions featured on op-ed pages and television, the more likely they were always wrong. Paul Ehrlich's "Population Bomb" is an infamous example. He appeared on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" (20x), gave congressional testimony, and his theory was heavily sold in a cover article in The New Republic. The end result of this crisis, Ehrlich asserted, would be global nuclear war.


The hedgehogs, according to political scientist Philip Tetlock, “toil devotedly” within one tradition of their specialty, “and reach for formulaic solutions to ill-defined problems.” Outcomes did not matter; they were proven right by both successes and failures, and burrowed further into their ideas. It made them outstanding at predicting the past, but dart-throwing chimps at predicting the future.


the opposite of flexible intelligence is cognitive entrenchment.....

Researchers in Canada and the United States began a 2017 study by asking a politically diverse and well-educated group of adults to read arguments confirming their beliefs about controversial issues. When participants were then given a chance to get paid if they read contrary arguments, two-thirds decided they would rather not even look at the counterarguments, never mind seriously entertain them.


I liked the first 10 chapters of this book. In chapters 11 & 12 the author turns it into a business book with some extremely tedious cases studies that they do in MBA programs. It reminded me why I don't like and never read business books. So this a caveat for this book that removes one star from the rating.


Poker & A.I....


Excellent new documentary on A.I......

Profile Image for Trish.
1,927 reviews3,402 followers
March 10, 2020
Now THIS is how you write a compelling non-fiction book! This has catapulted itself on my must-have shelf after the introduction alone!

The topic is nothing new: specialized thinking vs. broad thinking. We have it in evolution in Darwin’s famous fitness of surviving species. It has nothing to do with size or teeth or muscle strength. Rather, it’s about adaptability. It also applies to thinking processes.
Thus, the author examines the different psychological variations within the human population throughout history.

We get athletes like Tiger Woods vs. Roger Federer (totally opposite upbringing, both highly successful), we get artists like Van Gogh or Miyazaki (both for the same point), we get the woman who saved the Girl Scouts of America, we get chess champions (not masters) vs computers, we get musicians like the orphans of one of the goodwill hospitals in Venice.

There are many stories of people being successful (or not). All these stories - along with many studies - show that being a polymath is the way to go. Yes, there are some outliers (such as Tiger Woods), but generally speaking it’s better to nurture many interests and try out different things, taking risks instead of always just falling back on experience (though there is nothing wrong with experience itself, it's just that it doesn't help in every situation).

Interestingly, I had to think of many experiences from my own life.
For example, Germany has different kinds of graduations at high schools (science-heavy, art-heavy, general …) and I chose the general „Abitur“. Then I had to decide about my future and, after being told (and believing I couldn’t do what I wanted (yes, I’m regretting it, especially after this book), I studied linguistics. But I decided against a university as those students only study vocabulary and grammar - it was too narrow for me and didn’t promise good chances to get a job later, instead opting for a private school that taught geography, history, and politics of all the countries where the language I chose was spoken, plus IT and finance on top of that. It was definitely the right way to go though my degree is considered less than that with a university stamp (which isn’t worth anything when applying for a job though).
Theoretical knowledge alone wasn’t worth as much as theory plus practical appliance so I „won“.
I do regret not risking much more when I was younger, instead being talked into fearing failure. This book showcases that there necessarily isn’t any fault in making mistakes and trying one thing after another. An important lesson.

There are some almost unbelievable stories in here. Such as the Navy SEAL the author met personally. Or the United States Military Academy West Point and how it had to adapt (completely misjudging the situation). Or how some people raised their children (not necessarily in a „bad“ way, the accomplishments are what’s unbelievable). To say nothing of NASA engineers having to puzzle over problems before the Challenger launch (we all know how that ended), or the professors trying to teach their students to not only interpret any given data but to ask if this is the data they indeed need.

It also hints at what we need to do (change) going forward. Standardized tests like the US school system uses are the death of innovation. And other countries aren’t doing much better. People are no longer (if ever) encouraged to really solve problems but to categorize them according to pre-established templates. But life doesn’t always happen according to pre-ordained patterns. We need polymaths and unafraid ones as that.

Personally, I loved the history lessons here. In telling the reader of certain people throughout history, the author managed to show the psychological differences he was talking about. Along the way, we even get a few exercises to solve. *lol*

Moreover, the way events and theories are presented is downright thrilling and funny and down-to-earth. The writing isn’t simplistic but it’s also not unnecessarily complex. We get swept along at breakneck speed and I enjoyed every minute of this ride. Not many non-fiction books manage to break a topic down in such a charming way and convey so much information so successfully (if it’s not presented in a dry fashion, one is much more likely to remember it).

Fantastic book!

"Let them torture the cucumbers!"
Profile Image for Ryan.
990 reviews
March 19, 2022
After encountering the 10000 hours theory (popularized by Gladwell), the grit theory (Duckworth), and the Tiger Mom theory (Chua), it seemed obvious to many that we should specialize as much as possible and as early as possible. Because Tiger Woods was unusually athletic as an infant and his father had him golfing as a toddler, the thinking went, parents who didn't have their children excelling at playing chess or the obo at a soon-to-be-grandmaster level by kindergarten were failures. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World argues against a knee jerk enthusiasm for specialization, it highlights the accomplishments of generalists, and it attempts to sort out why generalists are sometimes able to produce insights that elude specialists.

Although I enjoy teasing Gladwell, Duckworth, and Chua, Epstein's book demonstrates that each of these theories, alone, is too narrow. Taken together, however, they rise. In speaking against each other they offer readers nuance and they further remind us of the dangers of generalizing from a small sample size (how replicable is Tiger Woods' career, really?). Range admirably nudges us to have a bit more enthusiasm for generalists. I worry that our culture is incapable of discussing any issue without resorting to some form of "silver bullet" discourse. Well, it can make sense to expose children (or adults) to many interests, and it is also the case that many professionals (and children) do very well by specializing. Grit, commitment, and grinding away at a longterm goal are admired traits for good reason, as is a broad curiosity.

Our attempt to optimize life's path--worrying that 10 is too late to specialize--undervalues and underestimates human potential. Epstein considers cadets who joined the military, who seemed perfect for leadership, and who left. In fact, the ones who were highlighted as having the most potential to succeed in that program were most likely to leave. To be clear: they aren't washouts and went on to succeed outside of the military. As people learn about themselves, they reassess their values and options. Even if we could match ability with a career when a child is 10, such a program would still struggle because people are capable of doing more than one thing well.

Random observations... First, Successful athletes seem to generalize until their mid to late teens before specializing. There may be evidence that specialization can occur still later. He highlights a British Olympic program that targeted late bloomers. (I'm not sure this supports generalizing so much as it reveals how difficult it is to successfully realize one's strengths as a child, but I still enjoyed that section.) Second, Epstein is convincing when he argues that many fields have become blinded within silos thanks to excessive specialization, and there is now an opportunity for professionals who eschew that path to produce unique insights. One man highlighted here uses computer searches to find areas of suggestive overlap between overly specialized fields. I'm not sure producing those insights will be easily replicated, but it does seem that specialization can blind us. Third, Tetlock's famous foxes appear, and the most interesting takeaway from that oft told story, aside from the importance of branding, is that these foxes often excel at creating networks that successfully revise each other's predictions. Maybe the best strategy for success, regardless of whether one's a specialist or a generalist, is networking so that one's opinions are tested but also so that they are heard and amplified.

Although there was much I appreciated in the book... Range is written with generous margins, liberal spacing, and a breezy “did you know!” style that I’ve come to find tiring. The writing is engaging, but I enjoy “and now you know the rest of the story” biographies about as much as I do exclamation points. There's also too much of a "how to succeed" ethos in this book for my taste. Finally, Range is designed to appeal to people who are already skeptical of specialization/ enthusiastic about generalized skillsets. I worry that some of the appreciation of this book is just a soothing exercise in confirmation bias for generalists.

3.5 stars.
Profile Image for Bharath.
594 reviews449 followers
April 4, 2021
I had wanted to read ‘Range’ since some time, having come across it in discussions at work. The content is without doubt critical and vital today – while there is an increasing trend towards specialization, the biggest innovations are multi-disciplinary. Some of the treatment in the book is simplistic, especially at the beginning, and not all scenarios are explored holistically, and yet – this is a thought provoking read.

The book starts with a simplistic example comparing Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. While Woods was focused on golf right from childhood, Federer tried a bunch of things before settling to tennis. Till date, the prevailing wisdom was to choose your field early and invest many hours of practice with unwavering focus as the path to excellence, success & prominence. This book challenges that premise – and in my personal experience, rightly so. Breadth of experience provides you the ability to see the bigger picture and cross-pollinate experiences. After the Woods – Federer example, the book moves on to the well-known and often cited example of the Polgar sisters whose father got them into systematic chess training right from childhood, and all three sisters were very successful chess players. While David gets the general picture right, the examples & explanations in the early part of the book are very simplistic. For instance, as Viswanathan Anand quotes Ken Thompson in his excellent book ‘Mind Masters’, strategy is nothing but long-term tactics. This is especially true for narrow discipline focus areas such as chess and many other games. As a result, the chess examples of players combining with machines in the book are dated, and chess engines have assumed dominance which can no longer be challenged.

The later sections have more complex and deeper examples which are reasoned well and combined with good research. I liked the discussions around the lives of Van Gogh, Aristotle, Einstein and the Challenger disaster. There are a number of excellent examples on how range enables impactful discovery and inventions. It is also not difficult to find more personal examples to illustrate this – most doctors would benefit knowing about nutrition and other disciplines, in many professions – technology knowhow is critical etc.

This book outlines many key aspects professionals in any career stream would benefit from knowing – it is not late to start on anything, it is worthwhile wandering across disciplines before finalizing a career, it is ok to switch, and always keep an eye on other disciplines. So, what could have been better? For starts, at one point the author points out the tendency among teams to view data presented to reach conclusions rather than looking at alternate data points and aspects beyond the visible. This book is also guilty of that – where the examples are chosen to reinforce its core basis (not unexpected). The term ‘generalist’ is a misnomer and might give people the impression that it is best not to get deep into anything. The content does clarify this adequately – you need to wander across disciplines but you still need depth, a lot of it actually in anything you do. The discussions around ‘grit’ was good, just maybe there could have been more around ‘curiosity’ which really is the key trait to build range. Specialization is inevitable as complexity rises in all disciplines, what we need are people networks to combine breadth & depth. So, it is probably not one vs the other.

An important topic, and a book I loved reading. Be warned that while the early part of the book has simpler examples and is easily readable, the later sections are dense and need slower reading.

One of the key habits needed for building range, would say is reading!

My rating: 4.5 / 5.
Profile Image for Jin.
635 reviews117 followers
September 25, 2020
My general problem with this kind of non-fiction/self-help book is that they are just too long. Too generic and not significant enough. I mostly feel they lack depth or information when talking about a certain theme. I do prefer non-fiction books based on science and history because I feel they are based on better research.

Anyway, the book was an ok read; the writing style is easy to comprehend and the book gives us plenty of examples and famous people who succeeded through being a generalist. Unfortunately, the book was not satisfying in really answering the question written in the title. Also, the book could have easily been summarized to half the size.

My favorite part of the book was the conclusion in the end which was 5 pages long.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
804 reviews2,535 followers
December 11, 2020
This book is an engaging look at the multitude of ways in which generalists can generalized thinking is essential in the modern world. The emphasis in today's society is increasingly on specializing in specific fields. This book contains many anecdotes about how generalized training and thinking resulted in the greatest successes.

Later in the book, the author shows that societies certainly need specialists. The specialists dig deep into technical areas, increasing our knowledge and skills. The generalists look at disparate areas, and find bridges between them. So often, it is the generalists' bridges, the interfaces between different areas, that result in the greatest benefits and successes. So, it would seem that the book's title is somewhat misleading. Generalists don't always triumph--so often it is a collaboration between specialist and generalist thinking and approaches that combine to generate the greatest advances.

But the author makes some excellent points. So often, we point to celebrity athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, and learn that they were trained to excel by their parents from an early age in their specialties. However, just as often, people who excel did not specialize in a single sport or art or vocation; they trained in many different areas, and perhaps never specialized, or did so at a much later age.

None of this book is revolutionary. We all know about how generalists often excel. The interest in this book derives from putting lots of examples all together into a single volume. The writing reminds me a lot of the books by Malcolm Gladwell. It combines lots of anecdotes together to make a point. It makes for fun reading!
Profile Image for Henk.
850 reviews
April 1, 2023
An inspiring read on the importance of bringing a breadth of knowledge to problems in our current, complex world. Touches on the nature of knowledge and the differences between kind and wicked learning environments
Knowledge is a double edge sword, it allows you to do some things but also makes you blind to other things you could do

Dovetails quite beautifully with Black Swan of Taleb in respect to keeping an open mind, thinking holistically and critically, the limits to experts and experience and the importance of considering contrary evidence.
More thoughts to follow but thoroughly readable and though provoking 🧠
Profile Image for عبدالرحمن عقاب.
680 reviews767 followers
January 26, 2020
في عالمٍ شديد التداخل والتعقيد تشتدّ الحاجة إلى العقول الأكثر قدرةً على التعامل ‏معه. تميل البشرية في مواجهة ذلك إلى التخصصات الدقيقة جدًا. ولتحقيق أعلى ‏درجات التخصّص، نميل إلى فكرة التخصّص المبكّر، والمبكر جدًا متى أمكن ذلك. ‏لنحصل على أشخاص على أعلى قدر من التخصص عمقًا وأطول زمنًا. ‏
يطرح هذا الكتاب وجهة نظر مغايرةٍ تماماً. فيقول أننا في عالمٍ يكمن تعقيده في ‏تداخله وتراكيبه. وعلينا لتحقيق النتائج المثلى في التعامل معه، وحلّ إشكالاته أن ‏نكون أكثر اتساعًا في الرؤية، قبل أن نكون أكثرعمقًا. أي أن نعتني بالتفكّر ‏الاستراتيجي الأفقي الممتد، عنايتنا بالتفكّر التحليلي الرأسي. ‏
ولإثبات وجهة نظره هذه، يأخذنا الكاتب على امتداد فصول الكتاب في رحلة ‏متعددّة الاتجاهات والمجالات؛ من عالم الرياضة والمحترفين إلى التدريس والحياة ‏الأكاديمية، إلى عالم الفنّ والرسم والشطرنج، وإلى عالم المؤسسات والشركات، ‏ليقدّم لنا أدلّة من واقع الحياة ومن الدراسات المعتبرة على أنّ للاتساع مثل أهمية ‏العمق، بل ربمّا زاد عليه.‏
إنّه دفاع، بل حثّ على التوسع في التعلّم، والتنوّع في مجالاته، قبل اختيار ‏التخصص والحفر في أعماقه. ‏
يعيب الكتاب الإسهاب في القصص التي يقيمها أمثلة لأفكاره الت�� يبنيها على ‏دراسات وأبحاث و ملاحظات علمية. و لاحظت أنّ لغته ليست بسهولة ما اعتدت ‏عليه من الكتب الإنجليزية. فهي لا تخلو من وعورة!‏
ختامًا، الشكر واجب للدكتور نضال قسوم الذي ذكره من ضمن أفضل 5 كتب ‏قرأها في العام المنصرم، وكذلك د. أمجد جنباز الذي اختاره ورشّحه في قائمته ‏الخاصة أيضًا. ومنهما عرفت عن الكتاب، ومن ثمّ قرأته.‏
Profile Image for Numidica.
371 reviews8 followers
October 23, 2021
It has lately become an article of faith among many people, especially certain type-A parents, that to do anything well, one must spend 10,000 hours (or some other arbitrarily chosen criteria) practicing the activity, from playing the violin to mastering a foreign language to becoming an outstanding soccer player. Single-minded focus is recommended by the "tiger-mother" school of thinking, and is unfortunately inflicted on many children by well-meaning parents. David Epstein has done extensive research to demonstrate that what appears to be obvious about becoming proficient in a sport, game, or academic pursuit, is actually far from obvious.

Epstein researched a wide range of people who were successful in their fields, and he found the opposite of what many would expect; instead of the example of Mozart, who started learning the keyboard as a very young child and then continued with daily training for years, he found that most of those who achieved great success and honors in science, sports, or the arts were "samplers". They tried many different things before settling on their chosen field, and even after choosing their profession or specialty, they continued to dabble in hobbies or other interests unrelated to the field where they achieved success. And importantly, these people cited example after example where knowledge or experience in an outside interest or hobby gave them an unexpected tool in solving a problem in their chosen profession. Also, people with a broad range of interests tended to seek and identify data that did not fit, and they were willing, even eager, to identify problems with their own theories or systems in order to find a correct theory or more effective process.

An example of seeking problems and investigating data that didn't "fit" was NASA during the Apollo Program. Werner von Braun asked engineers every week to write up their activities in a weekly one-page document, and to report any problems or anomalies they were encountering. Von Braun would often write comments on these papers and direct investigation into problems that had been reported; people who reported problems were viewed as part of the solution, not troublemakers, and von Braun used these reports to improve NASA's performance. Similarly, the most effective quality-improvement system I was ever a part of was as an engineer at Texas Instruments where, on a weekly basis, a designated engineer (me) would lead a meeting in which we asked manufacturing line employees, "what are we doing wrong?", and/or, what can we improve? If a manufacturing employee identified what appeared to be a process error or inefficiency, the engineer was required to investigate and answer the issue raised by the employee and to change the process if appropriate. It was often astonishing to me to see how easy it was to get large productivity or quality improvements through this process, and all it took was for engineers and management to check their egos at the door and seek the best solution.

Epstein also explored the stark contrast between strict specialists and generalists in terms of finding correct solutions or forecasting outcomes correctly. Those who were narrowly focused on their chosen field tended to be less productive than those who dabbled in a variety of fields; notable examples are Steve Jobs and Roger Federer, but a survey of Nobel prize winners turned up the same kind of profile; almost all the Nobel winners had many outside interests from bird watching to amateur theater to playing a musical instrument, and these interests, despite taking time away from their professional work, were cited by the Nobel winners as actually enhancing their performance as scientists, economists, etc. Among children who were driven to specialization by parents, a notable effect of such early specialization is what appears to be burn-out. By virtue of being forced to immerse themselves every day in soccer, or violin, or foreign language, or chemistry, children often came to hate the thing that they were being forced to learn, whereas the samplers, like Roger Federer, who was not pressured at all by his parents, ultimately chose the sport he liked best out of five or six that he played as a child, and he did not definitively choose tennis until he was thirteen. By allowing him to sample many things, his parents helped him become the greatest tennis player of all time.

All this points to the foolishness of forcing children or college students to specialize early. In an earlier age, say fifty years ago, it was quite common for colleges and universities to have a large core curriculum including math, history, sciences, English, foreign languages, and other courses with the intent of providing a broad rather than a narrow view, but the current approach to higher education has turned that on its head, with ominous consequences. It has become common for Nobel Prize winners to note that the breakthroughs they made would likely not occur in today's academic environment where each discipline operates in a silo without access to the insights of other fields of study. And studies of specialists showed that when confronted with problems in their theories or conflicting data, their tendency is not to investigate to look for error, but to double down on their own views.

None of this is meant to diminish the value of specialists. I have a good friend who was first in his class in nuclear physics, and he is still contributing to the science of laser physics at a major university. He is a huge asset to society, but no one forced him to be a physicist - he does it because he loves it. Not everyone need be a specialist, but everyone needs to learn how to think, and Epstein shows that people think better, and are much better problem solvers when they have broad experience and varied interests.

This book made me feel better about my early life, because I was nothing if not a sampler as a child. I had intense interests in a variety of areas, but after several months, or years, I tended to lose interest in most of the things I delved into. And any hobby that required a massive commitment of time, to the exclusion of other interests, quickly dropped away for me, because I was unwilling to give up the many other things I enjoyed. So I kayaked, I gardened, I played softball, I sailed, I swam, I was a runner, I built hundreds of model airplanes, I played tennis, I read hundreds of books, I had a neighbor who was an airline pilot and he taught me to fly, I lifted weights, I built dozens and dozens of model rockets which my friends and I then launched (occasionally starting fires), I had a chemistry set and did experiments, I played basketball (badly), I drew, I water-skiied, I shot a .22 rifle and became quite a marksman, I played golf well enough to make the high school team, and perhaps my most frequent activity was just wandering in the woods and observing the plants, birds, snakes, and other animals I saw there. Altogether, one might say it was an aimless childhood. Academically, I did well, but not outstandingly well. Physics interested me, so I got A's in it. Calculus did not, so I got B's. I went to West Point (surprising myself a little by being admitted), and after two years found myself not sure about my choice, despite being ranked high in the class academically. I studied engineering, but I specifically disliked its narrowness of focus. I did not select my current profession until I was 32 years old, having been an Army officer, a product engineer, a procurement engineer, and a customer account manager. So in each new job, I felt like a bit of an imposter because of my lack of "credentials", a feeling which many of the people profiled by Epstein also admitted feeling. But I have also noted that I am frequently able to identify problems when others don't, and to see patterns, and to ignore structure and processes when logic says they should be ignored. This can be dangerous - as my dad said, if you're gonna be tough, you better be good, i.e., if you are challenging orthodoxy, you better have thought through your alternative solution. But alternative solutions are often what we need; solutions that go back to first principles and use basic logic to work to an answer. And generalists are far more likely than specialist to be able to do that.

I gave the book four stars rather than five only because I thought some of the examples Epstein shared became repetitive - he could have shortened things down a bit. I also disliked his military example and did not agree with the solution, but that's nit-picking from an Army vet. His bit about firefighters dying rather than putting down their tools moved me deeply, as I have read the book he references, Men Against Fire, and I understand viscerally the instinct to keep one's tools in hand, even when survival would favor throwing them away.

I wish the higher education establishment and our society generally would take the lessons of this book to heart, but I'm afraid we are wrong-headedly committed to the path of early specialization. Maybe this book can be part of a beginning to turn the ocean liner of educational practice back toward broader learning.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,893 reviews218 followers
January 21, 2021
There is a commonly held perception that starting young and specializing in a particular area is a key to success. It is easy to find examples of child prodigies, such as golfer Tiger Woods. However, Epstein contends that early specialization is only applicable in what he calls “kind” learning environments, where repetition (practice) leads to success. He has found that a journey of experimentation, diversification, and experience across a breadth of disciplines is even more important in most situations, which he calls “wicked” learning environments. These are situations where there are many variables at play, and it is seldom possible to accurately predict outcomes.

Research suggests mental meandering and personal experimentation are sources of power and “head-starts” are overrated. Epstein provides many examples, such as analysis of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, the 2008 global financial crisis, Vincent Van Gogh’s artistic development, and a woman who is leading corporations at age 100. I found these examples extremely engaging. I believe businesses, in particular, could benefit from the messages presented in this book. Consultants are taught to value “subject matter experts,” but Epstein’s research suggests they should supplement expertise with those who have been exposed to a wider range of disciplines. It may take a while to get through this book if you are not already familiar with some of the principles on which it is based.
Profile Image for Candie.
316 reviews102 followers
October 7, 2020
I actually read this book a while ago but just never got around to writing a review for it. I though the book had some very interesting points and stories in it but I found that the book dragged on for me and I wasn't always very excited to read it. I think the stories were interesting but the writing itself could have used some editing. That said, this is one of those books that has actually really stuck with me. I have found that there have been many times, especially when dealing with my children, when I have actually thought about the points in this book and applied them to my life or my approach towards certain situations.
Profile Image for Andrew Hoskins.
11 reviews2 followers
July 9, 2019
Core idea resonates with me and a few interesting stories and examples that I remember, but wow what a slog to get through (I didn't finish and skimmed mostly). Endless examples trying to prove the same points. Could be summarized in a 10 page length blog post.
Profile Image for CoachJim.
163 reviews89 followers
July 9, 2021

This is the third book I have read recently examining the notion of success. The first book, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, popularized the idea of the Ten Thousand Hour Rule, which states that it requires 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become elite. The second book was The Sports Gene by David Epstein, the author of this book. In that book Epstein examines the genetic and environmental factors contributing to some success in sports.

The main premise of this book is a comparison between Specialists and Generalists. Epstein borrows the concept of the Hedgehog and Fox from philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s essay on Tolstoy to illustrate the difference. A Hedgehog/Specialists is someone who burrows deep into something, perhaps without seeing the bigger picture. A Fox/Generalist is someone with a wider range of knowledge. The narrow-view hedgehogs know one big thing and the “integrator” fox knows many little things.

He gives evidence of scientific breakthroughs where the foxlike scientists used knowledge from a completely different discipline to reach a solution to a problem. He gives the example of specialists who because they see their specialty as a hammer they view everything as a nail.

The book opens with a comparison of the paths of Tiger Woods, the golf star, and Roger Federer, the tennis star. Tiger Woods as a child prodigy was introduced to golf as a toddler. He dragged a putter around in his walker. His path is an example of a Specialist, and the story became the gospel for many parents attempting to make their child into an elite star. This story is somewhat responsible for the “Tiger Moms”.

Roger Federer on the other hand did not even pick up a tennis racket until almost a teenager, and even then did not concentrate on tennis. His mother, although a tennis coach herself, did not coach or even play tennis with him. He participated in many different sports. “He would later give credit to the wide range of sports he played for helping him develop his athleticism and hand-eye coordination.” (Page 3)

The book deals with the “Graduation Speech.” These are usually filled with themes about “don’t give up your dreams”. How do these 18 year olds know what lies ahead 10 years from now? A better option is to be open to what is available now and choose those that give you more and better options later.

Likewise trying to build an elite athlete or artist from a young child makes no sense. A person at 28 is different than they were at 18, and that person is different than they were at 8. The modern world is a complex place and it requires breadth of knowledge.

From that opening Epstein leaves the field of sports and writes of many other areas where a broad range of activities contributed to the success of several “stars”. He describes learning domains as being either “Kind” or “Wicked”. A Kind domain is one that gives immediate feedback during practice and experience. Examples of a Kind domain might include music or chess. A Wicked domain is one where the feedback is neither immediate, accurate nor consistent. These domains may be characterized as chaotic. An example might be the financial markets. “In wicked domains that lack of automatic feedback, experience alone does not improve performance.” (Page 230)

Epstein investigates many different areas and examples, and some are interesting, but many are very long and not all that interesting. There are a number of examples involving science and scientists.

There is an interesting story about music groups in Venice during the seventeenth century. Children in orphanages, or “Houses of Mercy”, were taught music. The children were taught all sorts of music on all kinds of instruments. Many of the instruments are no longer even around. Some were the piano, which at that time was a new instrument, and violins enhanced by Antonio Stradivari, which centuries later would sell for millions of dollars. The resulting choirs and ensembles were then used by churches as entertainment and a source of money. The Venetian composer Antonio Vivaldi capitalized on the skill of these groups and the concerto was born. The point here was that these musicians did not specialize, they were trained in music across many instruments.

This book was a disappointment. First I was mistaken in what subject it was going to investigate. Epstein’s first book concentrated on sports, which is an area of interest for me. The subject of Specialists versus Generalists is not uninteresting, but his examples were. They seemed rather repetitive.

I had heard a talk by Epstein previously and he seemed to hint this book would be dealing with organized youth sports; specifically the travel and long tournament weekends. These are things that I have strong opinions about and was looking for support from him. He does refer to the Tiger model, and discusses Tiger Moms who attempt to groom their kids for a certain musical talent, and then watch the child drop the musical instrument at the first opportunity. A friend related that her young daughter played in a four-game weekend softball tournament and at the end of the weekend most of the young girls were crying from exhaustion. Not a good way to introduce a love of sports.
Profile Image for Andy.
1,373 reviews465 followers
February 15, 2022
This book starts by questioning what's in other bestsellers by so-called thought leaders, in particular the rugged individualist trope that hard work overcomes everything, as in Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. He explains why activities such as chess are not representative of life in general. He also comes up with some good analogies like "Drop your tools!" for firefighters running away from a wildfire to represent anyone who should try to look at things in a different way. Overall, he makes a good case that there are benefits to being a generalist vs. a specialist in an anecdotal pop-culture fluffy way.

Nerd addendum:
The author also goes beyond the bestsellers to look at original research, and this is where things get a little iffy, but he's not a scientist and he cites his sources. For example, one of his running themes is the counterintuitive notion that a head start is not helpful in the long run. This is based on a paper about early childhood education (ECE). I looked up those authors (Duncan and Bailey) and it's good stuff. But it doesn't really prove his point. The relevant context for all the studies those researchers are reviewing is that children born into poverty in the U.S. are way behind the starting line at the beginning of Kindergarten vis-a-vis their middle-class peers: even with pre-K, kids in poor districts are not likely to be Kindergarten-ready. So it's not the poor kids in Head Start who are getting a head start, it's the middle-class and rich kids who have a head start, and that does work out for them very nicely thank you. According to Duncan and Bailey, the one pre-school for poor kids program with good long-term academic results (Abecedarian) is the one that after pre-K funneled the kids into an economically integrated K-12 school district where the poor kids could share in the assets of the non-poor. We know a lot about why high-poverty school districts don't succeed and it's not because of an illusion about head starts.
Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh
Hope and Despair in the American City Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh by Gerald Grant

For more on interleaving:
Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
Make It Stick The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown
Profile Image for Sugavanesh Balasubramanian.
33 reviews11 followers
August 26, 2019
"For reasons I cannot explain, David Epstein manages to make me thoroughly enjoy the experience of being told that everything I thought about something was wrong. I loved Range"
- Malcolm Gladwell

reads the backcover of the book.

It started 5 years ago really, picking up Blink, and reading my first Malcolm Gladwell book talking about the power of intuition and what it actually is. The journey went through "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman questioning a lot of functional wisdom and how biases make our judgements myopic, "Black Swan" by Taleb talking about the power of probabilities and our total lack of understanding of a basic concept that drives most of our decisions, "Travels" by Michael Chrichton talking about his fascinating career and travel adventures taking him to places, being part of a lot of different experiences, "Dao of Capital" by Mark detailing the power of cicuituous path in life and investments instead of aiming for short term wins, landing here with 'Range'.

Inside Amazon, as much as we are a data driven company, our boss Jeff Bezos made a famous statement - "If the data and anecdotes are in conflict, I tend to agree with anecdotes". That became a driver for some of the decisions we made even in our current team, some of my past projects. Some of the stories beautifully narrated by Epstein in this book echoed a similar idea.

Epstein weaves multiple stories so vividly to bring his point home about the power and strength of breadth and exploration in a world that is increasingly moving towards specialization and head start. I haven't heard a better argument against the famous quote 'Winners don't quit'. I picked up few music recommendations, new leaders to read about and follow and other book and paper recommendations along the way. A quick read filled with many real characters and their conventional wisdom questioning life stories. Seattle Library's peakpicks continues to recommend me such gems.
Profile Image for Dragos Pătraru.
51 reviews2,673 followers
December 31, 2020
Dacă ați citit ceva mai mult despre antrenamentul metodic, despre antrenamentul specific și importanța lui în desăvârșirea unor abilități (și aș menționa aici cărțile bazate pe cercetările lui Anders Ericsson, omul care a studiat 35 de ani talentul și a ajuns la concluzia că așa ceva nu există - explicațiile sale sunt de găsit în cartea Peak, tradusă și la noi, de editura Publica, excepționalii lui Gladwell tot de la cercetarea lui Ericsson pleacă), atunci cartea asta vine să vă zguduie din temelii convingerile. Deși sunt de acord cu Ericsson și cu toată expunerea sa, mai ales că e bazată pe cercetări serioase, întinse pe durata a peste trei decenii, nu pot să nu mă regăsesc cu totul în cartea lui Epstein. Sunt absolut sigur că sportivii care au început practicând mai multe sporturi au avut de partea lor un mare avantaj (exemplul lui Federer e doar unul dintre cele oferite în carte, opus lui Tiger Woods), pentru că și-au dezvoltat abilități multiple, care nu se dezvoltă când te antrenezi la un singur sport. Cartea e plină de exemple, de studii și chiar oferă argumentele care susțin ideea că generaliștii triumfă într-o lume specializată. Iar asta pot confirma prin exemplul personal, m-am antrenat de-a lungul timpului la atât de multe lucruri, la multe dintre ele de nevoie, nu pentru că am vrut neapărat, dar toate m-au ajutat până la urmă. Este motivul pentru care le spun copiilor care-mi cer sfatul să înceapă să lucreze devreme la ei și să-și dezvolte multe abilități, pentru că astfel de oameni caută toată lumea. Oameni care să știe să rezolve probleme diverse, în domenii diferite. Pentru că, așa cum spune autorul, în lumea malițioasă, cu provocări vag definite și cu puține reguli rigide, polivalența poate fi o strategie câștigătoare în viață. Cum ajungi la ea? Un pas bun e să citești cartea asta.
Profile Image for Camelia Rose.
651 reviews86 followers
March 26, 2023
The book opens with two well-known stories of two very different sports legends: Tiger Woods, an example of early specialization and dedication, and Roger Federer, who sampled many different sports before becoming a professional tennis player. The author’s main argument is that having a range of skills and knowledge is great, that early specialization is an exception not a rule, and “head-start” is overrated. He argues against the self-described tiger mum Amy Chua that to become successful in an area, one (or their parents) must “choose early, focus narrowly, never waver”.

Majority of the studies used in this book are from sports, chess and music.

The skills where proficiency can be achieved by long hours of practice are also those easily replaceable by AI. This argument applies to tasks with clearly defined rules. Example: chess. I find it fascinating that in freestyle chess where humans team up with computers, humans suddenly appear capable again. The author says it’s because humans are better at strategy.

Improvisation was a concept against (music) conservatory training. The legendary American pianist Leon Fleisher told his co-author of 2010 memoir that his greatest wish was to be able to improvise, but after a lifelong interpretation of notes on the page, he said, “I can’t improvise at all.” A study of Jazz musicians shows, inside a fMRI machine, “brain areas associated with focused attention, inhibition and self-censoring turned down when the musicians were creating. It’s almost as if the brain turned off its own ability to criticize itself…While improvising, musicians do pretty much the opposite of consciously identifying errors and stopping to correct them. Improv masters learn like babies: dive in and improvise first, learn the formal rules later.”

In Chapter 6: The Trouble with Too much Grit, I am not sure Van Gogh is a good example of the merits of being a generalist. Van Gogh has a family history of mental health issues. But I agree that choosing a major at a young age and sticking to it may not always be a good idea. The author examined college students who switched majors and those who didn’t. The former may experience a temporary setback but in the long run, they have better career satisfaction. I am a switcher. I can speak for this assessment.

The author argues that the ultra refined academic disciplines harm creativity and innovation, as both require broad and cross-domain knowledge.

The author does not distinguish between motor skills and mental skills.

The book lacks a clear distinction between generalists and dabblers. The latter carries a negative connotation for a reason. The difference between a generalist not a dabbler is not what have you “dabbed”, but how, i.e. your learning style. Perhaps grit is overrated, but resilience is never. Knowing yourself and when to quit is the key.

Table of Content:
Chapter 1: The Cult of the Head Start
Chapter 2: How the Wicked World Was Make
Chapter 3: When Less of the Same is More
Chapter 4: Learning, Fast and Slow
Chapter 5: Thinking Outside Experience
Chapter 6: The Trouble with Too much Grit
Chapter 7: Flirting With Your Possible Selves
Chapter 8: The Outsider Advantage
Chapter 9: Lateral Thinking with Withered technology
Chapter 10: Filled by Expertise
Chapter 11: Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools
Chapter 12: Deliberate Amateurs
Conclusion: Expanding Your Range
Profile Image for ladydusk.
446 reviews180 followers
August 15, 2022
Cindy Rollins has been recommending this book for a number of years now and she is completely right. Great book. Great things to consider.

One thing I loved was how throughout the book, Epstein uses analogical thinking to see how situations compare. Fantastic.
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