December 16, 2011 · 6:11 pm
The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Ever Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong by David Shenk (Anchor, $15.00, 400 pages)
“Greatness was not a thing to Ted Williams. It was a process.”
Are some people born with more talent and ability than others? For as long as most of us can recall, the premise of nature vs. nurture has been used to describe the two major components that influence a person’s life. Best-selling author David Shenk makes it his task to showcase a different, somewhat overlooked alternative concept in The Genius in All of Us. He believes that hard work and practice are critical to success, not something you either have or not. As he states, “Talent is not a thing; it’s a process.”
This book is more than what it appears at first glance. It is not one man’s attempt at coining a new phrase or repackaging old ideas in a new survey-book format. Rather, Shenk has spent time gathering information and gives credit where credit is due. He thoughtfully presents the reader with a manageable amount of information geared at unseating the status quo regarding genius, or the lack thereof. He is direct in his take on what has been fed to the public over the last 100-plus years – personal concepts that have not stood the test of rigorous scientific study, sensationalism and, lastly, letting slackers off easily by claiming that genius is a genetic gift that is passed on to a person.
If you choose to read the book in the original Doubleday hardcover edition, which was this reviewer’s experience, it is worth taking a few moments to examine the book without the dust jacket. In doing so, please observe the care and deliberate effort that went into the creation of the volume.
The physical proportions, type font, graphics and paper stock (even its slight buff color) lend an air of timelessness. What better way to present a concept that is meant to be taken seriously? The text is divided into two main parts followed by “The Evidence” – an equal number of pages devoted to elaboration on the sources and points made in parts one and two, along with comments by the author. Clearly, Shenk and the team he brought together to produce the book devoted their best efforts to showcasing an alternative to what he calls a wrong-headed approach to genius and success that has been imbedded in the minds of the general populace.
There is one new term, “interactionism,” that is used to characterize the concept of genetics interacting with environment. An easy-to-remember shorthand for this is G x E. The reader is advised that plasticity in humans, even as early as during gestation, guarantees that no ability is set or fixed. Just as Shenk advises that practice and hard work are required to bring about the best results, the reader needs to know that attention and open-minded commitment is required on his or her part to fully realize the value within The Genius in All of Us.
David Shenk is a master at writing and sets a pace that allows the reader to consider the concept of G x E. His clear voice is consistently authoritative; however, he never casts the reader as a lesser person. Shenk carefully sets out the premise of G x E using incremental steps to coax the reader’s acceptance of how thought has unfolded over time within the academic community. Helpful citations referencing prior chapters reinforce the learning process.
There are no great leaps in thinking or pushy theories, just well-documented scientific thought and exploration. Shenk does his due diligence examining findings from dissenters; he demonstrates where they miss the mark. The Genius in All of Us is filled with hope and is a call to action that fosters flexibility in thinking and a commitment to growth and success. This is a book worthy of a reader’s time, attention and contemplation.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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December 22, 2010 · 3:14 pm
“I feel like the 1960’s is about to happen. It feels like a period in the future to me, rather than a period in the past.” Paul McCartney, 1994
After the Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties – A Memoir by Catherine Gildiner (Viking; $25.95; 368 pages)
This is a memoir that I simply didn’t understand, and let me try to explain why. Memoirs – literally, a telling of personal memories – generally fall into one of two categories. In the first, the writer self-examines his or her own life very closely (if not microscopically) and critically. These generally conclude with life lessons and the writer’s unflinching willingness to accept responsibility for the mistakes he or she has made. With the second category, the writer plays it for laughs. Basically, he/she says, “I was young and irresponsible. I know that now, but back then I was such a fool. Oh, well, such is life!”
In After the Falls, Catherine Gildiner refuses to place herself in either category. She writes here about a life filled with errors and omissions but then declines to accept responsibility for her own role in it. (She’s shocked when a crime happens in front of her very eyes; a boyfriend lies to her – actually he simply fails to tell her the truth; she acts hatefully toward her parents, etc.) In a sense she commits one of the worst offenses imaginable in life, which is to be a mere observer of her actions and inactions.
Let me give a specific example of her disclaiming of responsibility. At one point, she writes about observing the gang rape of a presumably underage girl while hiding in the closet of a female friend’s house. The rape is instigated by the friend’s older brother. Does Gildiner report the crime to anyone? No. Does it even make her angry? Apparently not, although she thinks now and then about the girl who was repeatedly violated, but… But she rejects any responsibility on not one, but multiple instances within the pages of After the Falls. This raises a key question that must be asked: If one does not want to accept responsibility for things that happened decades earlier, why write a book that tells the entire world about those actions? (In other words, what is the point of all this?)
I did not read Gildiner’s earlier memoir Too Close to the Falls, but I did notice one person’s comment to the effect that this memoir is darker and more depressing than Too Close. Well, yeah. Frankly, I found it a bit dangerous as well as depressing.
It’s also, sadly, in this reviewer’s eyes a bit of a distortion of what it was like to grow up in the 1960s. There was a lot of excitement about human potential and about the leaders who later fell – beginning with John Kennedy and extending through Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. There was also the Civil Rights Movement (touched upon tangentially in these pages), and great music. But this memoir would lead one to think that the entire decade was, in the words of one notable rock band, “a drag…”, as in “What a drag it is getting up.”
To her credit, Gildiner concludes this unconventional account with an admission of how belatedly she grew to love and appreciate her parents – especially her father who lived for six years with a cancer that eventually turned his brain into “an empty honeycomb.” But it seems to be too little too late.
Missing most of all is a sense of the joyousness of growing up in what was truly a unique and energizing time. We may not be able to go back to those times, but we can certainly treat the decade more kindly that it has been portrayed here. A bit of gratitude might have been in order.
This review was written by Joseph Arellano. A review copy was received from the publisher.
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May 8, 2010 · 4:07 pm
This Hungry Spirit: Your Need for Basic Goodness by C. Clinton Sidle (Larson Publications)
C. Clinton Sidle is a recognized expert in consulting, leadership training, and human potential development. This Hungry Spirit is a departure from his previously published works that focused on strategic planning and achieving personal and organizational greatness. Instead, Sidle uses his personal journey through difficult times as the structure for sharing the skills needed to make it past the rough spots we all face. (The original subtitle of this book was Seeking Happiness in the Heart of Discontent.)
This book is well-organized. There are exercises within each chapter designed to engage the reader and bring to life the concepts being taught. Key phrases, pearls of wisdom, are highlighted in sidebars that accompany the text. Sidle draws from a wide variety of resources to make his pitch for mindfulness and introspection. His approach seems best suited to a reader who has not yet explored the concepts of meditation, keeping a journal and opening one’s heart.
It’s easy to picture the author leading workshops and drumming up enthusiasm for the topic at hand. He conveys a sense of importance and necessity when describing the steps that can lead the reader to a calmer, more fulfilling, life. However, Sidle’s writing is a bit labored. This reviewer sensed that he would rather conduct an interactive workshop than be restricted to mere words on a page. His message is bold and somewhat aggressive. The feeding of the hungry spirit becomes a mission with goals and objectives, not unlike the leadership skills and human potential topics he is known for in business and military circles.
A counterpoint to This Hungry Spirit can be found in The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Many of the concepts are quite similar; however, the tone and mood created in The Power of Now is highly suggestive rather than direct and blunt as is the case with This Hungry Spirit. It will fall to the reader to decide which approach is likely to be the most effective for his/her personal needs.
A review copy was received from Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME).
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