The Sports Gene

August 28, 2013 non-fiction, Science 5

16171221Title: The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
Author: David Epstein
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: ★★★★★
Fun Fact: One in two hundred men share a common male ancestor, thought to be Genghis Khan
Review Summary: Scientifically accurate but easy to follow and with topics of interest even if you don’t love sports.

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 questions he address 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 the influence of race and gender on athletic prowess.

When I heard about this book from @writerrhiannon, I was certain it was going to be just another pop science book perpetuating the fallacy that a single gene can control a complex trait like athleticism. Fortunately, I was very, very wrong! One of this book’s greatest strengths was its nuanced look at the specific components of athleticism that can be attributed to genes or the environment. I found many of these results surprising and couldn’t stop writing down fun facts as I read.

As with many great science books, there was a good mix of science experiments, great explanatory analogies, and personal stories. I was also blown away by the author’s handling of sensitive topics such as race and gender. Although he does acknowledge differences (women throw less far than men, for instance), he always made it clear that these statements were based on averages which don’t say anything about specific individuals. I thought it was a nice way of staying in touch with reality while avoiding stereotyping. Many sections of the book, such as these ones on gender and race issues or others on the value of practice, could be relevant to many fields other than sports. So if you don’t like sports but are interested in genetics, gender and race issues, or theories on learning, I would still highly recommend giving this book a try.

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5 Responses to “The Sports Gene”

    • DoingDewey

      Hahaha, me either! And while I enjoyed the book anyway, I think someone athletic could probably benefit more from learning about where practice makes a difference. Thanks for sharing my review!

  1. Alice

    I definitely lack any genes that help me be athletic, I hurt myself walking.

    This sounds like a really interesting read, addressing the topic from many angles, while also being sensitive to difficult topics.

    • DoingDewey

      Yeah, I enjoy some sports, but I would not describe myself as naturally talented at any of them! It was a very interesting read and I really liked the many different aspects of sports it covered 🙂

  1. Non-fiction November: Become the Expert | Doing Dewey

    […] The Sports Gene was so well written that it was easy to follow even though I knew nothing about the topic before I started and it was interesting even though sports aren’t my favorite subject. I was also very impressed by the nuanced conclusions the author drew. He also handled sensitive issues like race and gender with great delicacy. […]