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The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ

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  • Posted October 10, 2011

    Misleading - a triumph of marketing over substance

    The main, accurate, premise of this work can be summarized as: we are not only restricted by our genetic composition in terms of what we can and cannot do, but we are also restricted by our environment and our parents' environment and their parents' environment - which are as beyond our control as our genes.

    However, the point that resonates (and repeats itself ad infinitum throughout the first half of the book) is that since our environment as it interacts with our genes is responsible for how capable or incapable we are at certain things, we can stop thinking that our abilities (or 'talent' as we might say) are limited by our genes - the suggestion being that we are not restricted in ways we always thought we were.

    This is misleading as the assertion that our environment restricts our abilities is just as limiting as if it were our genes and there still can be no satisfaction that we can be freed from the shackles of our background to the extent that Shenk implicitly suggests. Shenk acknowledges that genes are still important, but only in the context of 'now we know that our environment affects us signficantly, this is radical. PS, our genes play a part but less so than we thought'. How much less so is not addressed. Dissent is not addressed. Two people within the same environment but with different genes and how one might be better than another at something is not addressed. What we do get instead of a balanced view (not the intention of the book) is an unpersuasive attempt to buy into a theory because it has been unilaterally declared by Shenk to be ground breaking. If it empirically showed we can all be genuises in our own lifetimes (he also fails to explain what it is that makes those who are hugely successful different from everyone else - Mozart, for example) then groundbreaking it would be, and Shenk would not have to persistently remind us that it is ground breaking. It would inch closer to ground breaking if objections to his theory were handled, even in a pop-scientific way.

    However, these problems are dwarfed by Shenk's credibility plummeting two thirds of the way through when he cringingly attempts to ressurect Lamarckian theory of evolution by announcing 'Welcome back Lamarck!' only to scuttle back a few paragraphs later to say "of course, I'm not saying that Lamarck's theory of evolution was right, but he did have a point.."

    It's an interested, quick read, it's major fault being promising more than it delivers (or Shenk has bitten off more than he can chew). Perhaps the title should have been 'Wouldn't it be cool if everything we believed about genuis was wrong - and how we might be able to change it'. Selling fewer books is a small price to pay to dial up a few notches on the integrity scale.

    High hopes, low expectations please in a 'science' book. Not vice versa; this isn't fiction (or at least, this isn't supposed to be fiction).

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 24, 2010

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    Posted April 26, 2011

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