The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ [NOOK Book]

Overview

With irresistibly persuasive vigor, David Shenk debunks the long-standing notion of genetic “giftedness,” and presents dazzling new scientific research showing how greatness is in the reach of every individual.

DNA does not make us who we are. “Forget everything you think you know about genes, talent, and intelligence,” he writes. “In recent years, a mountain of scientific evidence has emerged suggesting a completely new paradigm: not talent ...

See more details below
The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$13.99
BN.com price

Overview

With irresistibly persuasive vigor, David Shenk debunks the long-standing notion of genetic “giftedness,” and presents dazzling new scientific research showing how greatness is in the reach of every individual.

DNA does not make us who we are. “Forget everything you think you know about genes, talent, and intelligence,” he writes. “In recent years, a mountain of scientific evidence has emerged suggesting a completely new paradigm: not talent scarcity, but latent talent abundance.”

Integrating cutting-edge research from a wide swath of disciplines—cognitive science, genetics, biology, child development—Shenk offers a highly optimistic new view of human potential. The problem isn't our inadequate genetic assets, but our inability, so far, to tap into what we already have. IQ testing and widespread acceptance of “innate” abilities have created an unnecessarily pessimistic view of humanity—and fostered much misdirected public policy, especially in education.

The truth is much more exciting. Genes are not a “blueprint” that bless some with greatness and doom most of us to mediocrity or worse. Rather our individual destinies are a product of the complex interplay between genes and outside stimuli-a dynamic that we, as people and as parents, can influence.

This is a revolutionary and optimistic message. We are not prisoners of our DNA. We all have the potential for greatness.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Annie Murphy Paul
It's ambitious indeed to try to overthrow in one go the conventional ideas and images that have accumulated since 1874, when Francis Galton first set the words "nature" and "nurture' against each other. Yet Shenk convinces the reader that such a coup is necessary, and he gets it well under way. He tells engaging stories, lucidly explains complex research and offers fresh insights into the nature of exceptional performance…Just how tall a task Shenk took on is evident in his voluminous endnotes, which go on as long as the main text and are just as interesting. Here the author allows us to watch him working his way through the literature, inquiring, arguing, marveling, as he wrestles a new understanding into being…a deeply interesting and important book.
—The New York Times
Library Journal
Shenk (The Forgetting) attacks genetic determinism and the notion that only a select, biologically gifted few can achieve some form of greatness. Referring frequently to "GxE," a developmental biology model emphasizing dynamic gene-environment interactions (also known as interactionism or developmentalism), he examines how social and cultural factors can contribute to the production of talented scholars, athletes, and artists. He argues that all of us (and our children) should pursue excellence and declares that "spurring individual achievement is…the duty of society." Less idealistic readers, though, will wonder exactly how society is to provide supportive familial, social, and cultural environments for all its members. VERDICT An understandable introduction to developmentalism for readers unfamiliar with or intimidated by David S. Moore's The Dependent Gene or Matt Ridley's Nature via Nurture. Those with a background in biology might be intrigued by the author's focus on human talent and achievement. Fans of Shenk's previous books will also want to read this one. However, readers seeking a scientifically based self-improvement book or parenting guide should search for more prescriptive titles.—Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono
Kirkus Reviews
An empowering view of our possibilities for achievement, and a myth-busting approach to common ideas about the inheritance of brains and talent. Journalist Shenk (The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, 2006, etc.), who has a flair for explaining scientific subjects in everyday language, challenges the simple notion that genes determine whether or not a person is gifted. He divides the book into three parts, the first of which tackles the questions of how and why. Genes, writes the author, may influence but they do not determine. They are involved in a complex interaction with environment, a dynamic that Shenk expresses as GxE (genes multiplied by environment). In this equation, environment includes internal and external stimuli, including other genes, hormones, nutrition, physical and intellectual activity, family, society. Shenk begins by critiquing IQ tests and research on identical twins, two areas that have led to popular misconceptions about genetic determination. He then turns to ultra-achievers, from Mozart to Michael Jordan, to show the role played by such factors as motivation and intense practice, and to sports clusters such as Kenyan runners to reveal the role played by climate, training, politics, economics, the media and other factors. In the second part, Shenk provides guiding principles for individuals who want to develop their maximum potential and for parents who want to encourage their children to become achievers, plus a consideration of how societies can foster the values that motivate achievement. The third-and largest-section of the book is an appendix titled "The Evidence," in which the author discusses the book's origins, lists his initial sources and providesextensive chapter-by-chapter notes that quote from his sources and expand on issues raised in each chapter. By putting this background material in an appendix, Shenk simplifies the text, keeping the narrative highly readable. Upbeat and entertaining. Agent: Sloan Harris/ICM
From the Publisher
"[Shenk] tells engaging stories, lucidly explains complex research and offers fresh insights in the nature of exceptional peformance,,,,such efforts have resulted in a deeply interesting and important book. David Shenk may not be a genius yet, but give him time."-- New York Times Book Review

"Inspired...The Genius in All of Us has quietly blown my mind."--Salon

“…a welcome new book…you’ll find [Shenk] a fluid, easy writer…The Genius in All of Us is a quick, compelling read.”
The Boston Globe

"Empowering...myth-busting...highly readable...entertaining." 
-- KIRKUS REVIEWS  

"Intent on burying the concept of inborn genius, Shenk uses the 128 pages of "The Argument" to drive home how mistaken the notion of being genetically destined at birth to be a Mozart or a Michael Jordan is. For genes aren’t the inalterable essences that environmental effects merely help out; rather, genes and environment interact to realize a person’s potential in a constant and complicated process that Shenk attractively exemplifies through the athletic life of Ted Williams, who began hitting practice at age six and, equally important, never gave it up; also, considered to have magically sharp sight, he tested only high normal upon entering naval aviation—the thing was, he developed himself to, as Ty Cobb said, "see more of the ball than any man alive." En route to the startling revelation that Lamarckism (variation by inheritance, not Darwinian natural selection) has truth in it, after all, Shenk corrects common knowledge about what twin studies and IQ tests really show; clarifies the arguably most misunderstood genetics term, heritable; and scientifically revives faith in not just practice and determination but also parenting and lifestyle as crucial factors, along with genes, in the realization of talents. Since this flies in the face of a century of genetic determinism, Shenk employs the equally engrossing 141 pages of "The Evidence" to cite, quote, paraphrase, and comment upon the sources for virtually every assertion in "The Argument." 
--Booklist, starred review

 
"An inspiring and liberating book. It's a powerful antidote to the genetic determinism rampant in the Age of the Genome, and an instructive guide, grounded in science, to living a more enriching life." 
--STEVEN JOHNSON, author of The Invention of Air, Ghost Map, Everything Bad is Good for You, Mind Wide Open, Emergence, and Interface Culture
 

"This book, both rigorous and accessible, is a close study of the idea of genius, an investigation of popular misconceptions about genetics, and an examination of the American virtue of self-determination.  It is written with assurance, insight, clarity, and wit." -- ANDREW SOLOMON, author of The Noonday Demon (National Book Award Winner, 2001)
 

"A great book. David Shenk handily dispels the myth that one must be born a genius. From consistently whacking the ball out of the park to composing ethereal piano sonatas, Shenk convincingly makes the case for the potential genius that lies in all of us." -- RUDOLPH E. TANZI, PH.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School; Director, Genetics and Aging Research Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital
 

"David Shenk sweeps aside decades of misconceptions about genetics -- and shows that by overstating the importance of genes, we've understated the potential of ourselves. This is a persuasive and inspiring book that will make you think anew about your own life and our shared future." -- DANIEL H. PINK, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind
 

"In clear, forceful language, backed up by a boatload of science, David Shenk delivers a message that should be read by every parent, educator, and policy-maker who cares about the future of our children. The Genius in All of Us convincingly debunks the "genes are destiny" argument when it comes to human talent, and will force you to rethink everything from IQ tests and twins studies to child-rearing practices. Shenk's book turns Baby Mozart on his head, and will give pause--a hopeful, empowering pause--to parents who wish to nurture excellence in their children."     
-- STEPHEN S. HALL, author of Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience

"David Shenk freshens and transforms a familiar subject to reveal all the interacting forces and factors that make us who we are. Development is a tricky business and Shenk understands this. By focusing his considerable writing talents on this terribly important topic, he has provided parents, policymakers, and educators with a book that will help them cut through the noise and make sense of every child's development."
-- MARK. S. BLUMBERG, Ph.D., F. Wendell Miller Professor of Psychology, University of Iowa; editor-in-chief, Behavioral Neuroscience; and author, Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us about Development and Evolution
 

"The importance of David Shenk's book is that he has made accessible to a wide audience the advances in the understanding of how each person develops. I congratulate him." -- SIR PATRICK BATESON, FRS, Emeritus Professor of Ethology, Cambridge University; former Biological Secretary of the Royal Society (UK); and co-author, Design For A Life: How Behaviour Develops 
 
 

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385532655
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/9/2010
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 269,058
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

DAVID SHENK is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including The Forgetting, Data Smog, and most recently, The Immortal Game. He is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper’s, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

chapter one

Genes 2.0

How Genes Really Work

Contrary to what we’ve been taught, genes do not determine physical and character traits on their own. Rather, they interact with the environment in a dynamic, ongoing process that produces and continually refines an individual.

The sun begins to rise over an old river town, and through a fifth- floor window of University Hospital, a newborn cries out her own birth announcement. Her new, already sleep-deprived parents hold her tightly and simply stare, partly in disbelief that this has actually happened, partly in awe of what lies ahead. As she develops, who will she look like? What will she be like? What will be her strengths, her weaknesses? Will she change the world or just scrape by? Will she run a quick mile, paint a new idea, charm her friends, sing for millions? Will she have any talent for anything?

Only the years will tell. For right now, the parents don’t really need to know the final outcome—they just need to know what sort of difference they can make. How much of their newborn daughter’s personality and abilities are already predetermined? What portion is still up for grabs? What ingredients can they add, and what tactics should they avoid?

The fuzzy mix of hope, expectation, and burden begins . . .

TONY SOPRANO: And to think [I’m] the cause of it.

DR. MELFI: How are you the cause of it?

TONY SOPRANO: It’s in his blood, this miserable fucking existence. My rotten fucking putrid genes have infected my kid’s soul. That’s my gift to my son.

Genes can be scary stuff if you don’t understand them. In 1994, psychologist Richard Herrnstein and policy analyst Charles Murray warned in their bestselling book The Bell Curve that we live in an increasingly stratified world where the “cognitive elite”—those with the best genes—are more and more isolated from the cognitive/genetic underclass. “Genetic partitioning,” they called it. There was no mistaking their message:

The irony is that as America equalizes the [environmental] circumstances of people’s lives, the remaining differences in intelligence are increasingly determined by differences in genes . . . Putting it all together, success and failure in the American economy, and all that goes with it, are increasingly a matter of the genes that people inherit.

Stark and terrifying—and thankfully quite mistaken. The authors had fundamentally misinterpreted a number of studies, becoming convinced that roughly 60 percent of each person’s intelligence comes directly from his or her genes. But genes don’t work that way. “There are no genetic factors that can be studied independently of the environment,” explains McGill University’s Michael Meaney. “And there are no environmental factors that function independently of the genome. [A trait] emerges only from the interaction of gene and environment.”

While Herrnstein and Murray adhered to a particular ideological agenda, they also seem to have been genuinely hobbled in their analysis by a common misunderstanding of how genes work. We’ve all been taught that we inherit complex traits like intelligence straight from our parents’ DNA in the same way we inherit simple traits like eye color. This belief is continually reinforced by the popular media. As an illustration, USA Today recently explained heredity in this way:

Think of your own genetic makeup as the hand of cards you were dealt at conception. With each conception in a family comes a new shuffling of the deck and a new hand. That’s partly why little Bobby sleeps through the night as a baby, always behaves and seems to love math, while brother Billy is colicky, never listens and already is the head of a gang in kindergarten.

Genes dictate. Genes instruct. Genes determine. For more than a century, this has been the widely accepted explanation of how each of us becomes us. In his famous pea-plant experiments of the 1850s and ’60s, Gregor Mendel demonstrated that basic traits like seed shape and flower color were reliably passed from one generation to the next through dominant and recessive “heritable factors” (Mendel’s phrase before the word “gene” was introduced). After eight years and twenty- eight thousand plants, Mendel had proved the existence of genes—and seemed to prove that genes alone determined the essence of who we are. Such was the unequivocal interpretation of early-twentieth- century geneticists.

That notion is with us still. “Genes set the stage,” affirms USA Today. The environment has an impact on all of our lives, to be sure, but genes come first; they set specific lower and upper limits of each person’s potential abilities. Where did your brother get that amazing singing voice? How did you get so tall? Why can’t I dance? How is she so quick with numbers?

“It’s in the genes,” we say.

That’s what The Bell Curve authors thought, too. None of these writers realized that over the last two decades Mendel’s ideas have been thoroughly upgraded—so much so that one large group of scientists now suggests that we need to wipe the slate clean and construct an entirely new understanding of genes.

This new vanguard is a loose-knit group of geneticists, neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and others, some of whom call themselves developmental systems theorists. I call them interactionists because of their emphasis on the dynamic interaction between genes and the environment. Not all of the interactionists’ views have yet been fully accepted, and they freely acknowledge their ongoing struggle to articulate the full implications of their findings. But it already seems very clear that these implications are far-reaching and paradigm-shifting.

To understand interactionism, you must first try to forget everything you think you know about heredity. “The popular conception of the gene as a simple causal agent is not valid,” declare geneticists Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb. “The gene cannot be seen as an autonomous unit—as a particular stretch of DNA which always produces the same effect. Whether or not a length of DNA produces anything, what it produces, and where and when it produces it may depend on other DNA sequences and on the environment.”

Though Mendel couldn’t detect it with his perfectly calibrated pea- plant hybrids, genes are not like robot actors who always say the same lines in the exact same way. It turns out that they interact with their surroundings and can say different things depending on whom they are talking to.

This obliterates the long-standing metaphor of genes as blueprints with elaborate predesigned instructions for eye color, thumb size, mathematical quickness, musical sensitivity, etc. Now we can come up with a more accurate metaphor. Rather than finished blueprints, genes— all twenty-two thousand of them1—are more like volume knobs and switches. Think of a giant control board inside every cell of your body.

Many of those knobs and switches can be turned up/down/on/off at any time—by another gene or by any minuscule environmental input. This flipping and turning takes place constantly. It begins the moment a child is conceived and doesn’t stop until she takes her last breath. Rather than giving us hardwired instructions on how a trait must be expressed, this process of gene-environment interaction drives a unique developmental path for every unique individual.

The new interactionists call it “GxE” for short. It has become central to the understanding of all genetics. Recognition of GxE means that we now realize that genes powerfully influence the formation of all traits, from eye color to intelligence, but rarely dictate precisely what those traits will be. From the moment of conception, genes constantly respond to, and interact with, a wide range of internal and external stimuli—nutrition, hormones, sensory input, physical and intellectual activity, and other genes—to produce a unique, custom-tailored human machine for each person’s unique circumstance. Genes matter, and genetic differences will result in trait differences, but in the final analysis, each of us is a dynamic system, a creature of development.

This new dynamic model of GxE (genes multiplied by environment) is very different from the old static model of G+E (genes plus environment). Under the old paradigm, genes came first and set the stage. They dealt each of us our first hand of cards, and only afterward could we add in environmental influences.

The new model begins with interaction. There is no genetic foundation that gets laid before the environment enters in; rather, genes express themselves strictly in accordance with their environment. Everything that we are, from the first moment of conception, is a result of this process. We do not inherit traits directly from our genes. Instead, we develop traits through the dynamic process of gene- environment interaction. In the GxE world, genetic differences still matter enormously. But, on their own, they don’t determine who we are.

In fact, you did not even inherit your blue eyes or brown hair from your parents’ genes. Not directly.

This may sound crazy at first, because of how thoroughly we’ve been indoctrinated with Mendelian genetics. The reality turns out to be much more complicated—even for pea plants. Many scientists have understood this much more complicated truth for years but have had trouble explaining it to the general public. It is indeed a lot harder to explain than simple genetic determinism.

To understand genes more fully, we first need to take a step back and explain what they actually do:

Genes direct the production of proteins.

Each of our cells contains a complete double strand of DNA, which in turn contains thousands of individual genes. Each gene initiates the process of assembling amino acids into proteins. Proteins are large, specialized molecules that help create cells, transport vital elements, and produce necessary chemical reactions. There are many different protein types, and they provide the building blocks of everything from muscle fiber to eyeball collagen to hemoglobin. We are, each one of us, the sum of our proteins.

Genes contain the instructions for the formation of those proteins, and they direct the protein-building process.

But . . . genes are not the only things influencing protein construction. It turns out that the genetic instructions themselves are influenced by other inputs. Genes are constantly activated and deactivated by environmental stimuli, nutrition, hormones, nerve impulses, and other genes.

This explains how every brain cell and hair cell and heart cell in your body can contain all of your DNA but still perform very specialized functions. It also explains how a tiny bit of genetic diversity goes a very long way: human beings are distinct from one another not just because of our relatively few genetic differences, but also because every moment of our ongoing lives actively influences our own genetic expression.

Think of GxE as baking a cake, suggests Cambridge University biologist Patrick Bateson. A hundred cooks may start out with nearly the same ingredients but will in the end produce very different cakes. While the slight difference in ingredients guarantees that differences will exist, it doesn’t dictate what those differences will be. The actual end-result differences arise out of the process. “Development is chemistry,” says Bateson, “and the end product cannot simply be reduced to its ingredients.”

Similarly, the mere presence of a certain gene does not automatically produce a specific type or number of proteins. First, every gene has to be activated—switched on, or “expressed”—in order to initiate protein construction.

Further, geneticists have recently discovered that some genes—we don’t yet know how many—are versatile. In some cases, the exact same gene can produce different proteins depending on how and when it is activated.

All of this means that, on their own, most genes cannot be counted on to directly produce specific traits. They are active participants in the developmental process and are built for flexibility. Anyone seeking to describe them as passive instruction manuals is actually minimizing the beauty and power of the genetic design.

So why do I have brown eyes like my mom and red hair like my dad?

In practical terms, there are many elementary physical traits like eye, hair, and skin color where the process is near Mendelian—where certain genes produce predictable outcomes most of the time. But looks can be deceiving; a simple Mendel-like result doesn’t mean that there wasn’t gene-environment interaction. “Even in the case of eye color,” says Patrick Bateson, “the notion that the relevant gene is the [only] cause is misconceived, because [of] all the other genetic and environmental ingredients.” Indeed, Victor McKusick, the Johns Hopkins geneticist widely regarded as the father of clinical medical genetics, reminds us that in some instances “two blue-eyed parents can produce children with brown eyes.” Recessive genes cannot explain such an event; gene-environment interaction can.

When it comes to more complex traits like physical coordination, personality, and verbal intelligence, gene-environment interaction inevitably moves the process even further away from simple Mendelian patterns.

What about single genetic mutations that predictably cause diseases such as Huntington’s disease?

Single-gene diseases do exist and account for roughly 5 percent of the total disease burden in developed countries. But it’s important not to let such diseases give the wrong impression about how healthy genes work. “A disconnected wire can cause a car to break down,” explains Patrick Bateson. “But this does not mean that the wire by itself is responsible for making the car move.” Similarly, a genetic defect causing a series of problems does not mean that the healthy version of that gene is single-handedly responsible for normal function.

Helping the public understand gene-environment interaction is a particular burden, because it is so enormously complex. It will never have the same easy, snap-your-fingers resonance that our old (misleading) understanding of genes had for us. Given that, the interactionists are lucky to have Patrick Bateson on their side. A former biological secretary to the Royal Society of London and one of the world’s leading public educators about heredity, Bateson also carries a powerful symbolic message with his surname. It was his grandfather’s famous cousin, William Bateson, who, a century ago, first coined the word “genetics” and helped popularize the earlier, simpler notion of genes as self-contained information packets that directly produce traits. Now the third-generation Bateson is helping to significantly update that public understanding.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

THE ARGUMENT
Introduction: The Kid
 
Part One: The Myth of Gifts
 
CHAPTER ONE
Genes 2.0—How Genes Really Work
Contrary to what we’ve been taught, genes do not determine physical and character traits on their own. Rather, they interact with the environment in a dynamic, ongoing process that produces and continually refines an individual.
 
CHAPTER TWO
Intelligence Is a Process, Not a Thing
Intelligence is not an innate aptitude, hardwired at conception or in the womb, but a collection of developing skills driven by the interaction between genes and environment. No one is born with a predetermined amount of intelligence. Intelligence (and IQ scores) can be improved. Few adults come close to their true intellectual potential.
 
CHAPTER THREE
The End of “Giftedness” (and the True Source of Talent)
Like intelligence, talents are not innate gifts, but the result of a slow, invisible accretion of skills developed from the moment of conception. Everyone is born with differences, and some with unique advantages for certain tasks. But no one is genetically designed into greatness and few are biologically restricted from attaining it.
 
CHAPTER FOUR
The Similarities and Dissimilarities of Twins
Identical twins often do have striking similarities, but for reasons far beyond their genetic profiles. They can also have surprising (and often overlooked) differences. Twins are fascinating products of the interaction between genes and environment; this has been missed as “heritability” studies have been wildly misinterpreted. In reality, twin studies do not reveal any percentage of direct genetic influence and tell us absolutely nothing about individual potential.
 
CHAPTER FIVE
Prodigies and Late Bloomers
Child prodigies and superlative adult achievers are often not the same people. Understanding what makes remarkable abilities appear at different phases of a person’s life provides an important insight into what talent really is.
 
CHAPTER SIX
Can White Men Jump? Ethnicity, Genes, Culture, and Success
Clusters of ethnic and geographical athletic success prompt suspicions of hidden genetic advantages. The real advantages are far more nuanced—and less hidden.
 
Part Two: Cultivating Greatness
 
CHAPTER SEVEN
How to Be a Genius (or Merely Great)
The old nature/nurture paradigm suggests that control over our lives is divided between genes (nature) and our own decisions (nurture). In fact, we have far more control over our genes—and far less control over our environment—than we think.
 
CHAPTER EIGHT
How to Ruin (or Inspire) a Kid
Parenting does matter. There is much parents can do to encourage their kids to become achievers, and there are some important mistakes to avoid.
 
CHAPTER NINE
How to Foster a Culture of Excellence
It must not be left to genes and parents to foster greatness; spurring individual achievement is also the dud of society. Every culture must strive to foster values that bring out the best in its people.
 
CHAPTER TEN
Genes 2.1—How to Improve Your Genes
We have long understood that lifestyle cannot alter heredity. But it turns out that it can . . .
 
Epilogue: Ted Williams Field
 
THE EVIDENCE
 
Sources and Notes, Clarifications and Amplifications
 
Bibliography Acknowledgments

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

Q: Your book is called The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong. That's a big claim. Everything and how so?
A: It is a bold statement, and it reflects how poorly the public has been served when it comes to understanding the relationship between biology and ability. The clichés we've been taught about genetic blueprints, IQ, and "giftedness" all come out of crude, early-20th century guesswork. The reality is so much more interesting and complex. Genes do have a powerful influence on everything we do, but they respond to their environments in all sorts of interesting ways. We've now learned a lot more about the developmental mechanisms that enable people to get really good at stuff. Intelligence and talent turn out to be about process, not about whether you were born with certain "gifts."

Q: In The Genius in All of Us you state that the concept of nature versus nurture is over. Scientists, cognitive psychologists, and geneticists are moving towards an idea of 'interactionism.' What does this mean? If the battle of genes versus environment is over, who has won? Which is more important?
A: They both won, because they're both vitally important. But the new science shows us that they do not act separately. Declaring that a person gets X% of his/her intelligence from genes and Y% from the environment is like saying that X% of Shakespeare's greatness can be found in his verbs, and Y% in his adjectives. There is no nature vs. nurture, or nature plus nurture; instead, it's nature interacting with nurture, which is often expressed by scientists as "GxE" (genes times intelligence). This is what "interactionism" refers to. A vanguard of geneticists, neuroscientists, and psychologists have stepped forward in recent years to articulate the importance of the dynamic interaction between genes and the environment.

Q: You describe genes and environment as a sound board. How so?
A: In the past, we've been taught that each distinct gene contains a certain dossier of information, which in turn determines a certain trait; if you have the blue-eyed gene, you get blue eyes. Period.

It turns out, though, that the information contained inside genes is only part of the story; another critical part is how often genes get "expressed," or turned on, by other genes and by outside forces. It's therefore helpful to think of your genome as a giant mixing board with thousands of knobs and switches. Genes are always getting turned on/off/up/down by hormones, nutrients, etc. People actually affect their own genome's behavior with their actions.

Q: How do these new findings affect the concept of the "The Bell Curve"-that we live in an increasingly stratified world where the "cognitive elite," those with the best genes, are more and more isolated from the cognitive/genetic underclass? Is that idea now completely obsolete?
A: Yes, it is obsolete. The idea that there is a genetic super-class that has a corner on high-IQ genes is nonsense. This comes out of a profound misunderstanding of how genes work and how intelligence works, and also from a misreading of so-called "heritability" studies. I am not saying that genes don't affect intelligence. Genes affect everything. But by and large I think the evidence shows that people with low intelligence are missing out on key developmental advantages.

Q: Lewis Terman invented the IQ test at Stanford University in 1916. He declared it the ideal tool to determine a person's native intelligence. Are IQ tests accurate? And, what are the benefits and fallout of the IQ test?
A: IQ tests accurately rank academic achievement. That's quite different from identifying innate intelligence, which doesn't really exist. Tufts intelligence expert Robert Sternberg explains that "intelligence represents a set of competencies in development." In other words, intelligence isn't fixed. Intelligence isn't general. Intelligence is not a thing. Instead, intelligence is a dynamic, diffuse, and ongoing process.

The IQ test has valid uses. It can help teachers and principals understand how well students are doing and what they're missing. But the widespread belief that it defines what each of us are capable of (and limited to) is disabling for individuals and society. People simply cannot reach their full potential if they honestly believe that they are so severely restricted.

Q: IQ tests focus on intelligence, but what about other skills and talent? In sports or music? Is anyone capable of playing basketball like Michael Jordan or playing the piano like Bach?
A: I'm 5'9" with weak ankles and no muscles to speak of. This morning, after re-reading my own book, I smashed Jordan in a game of one-on-one.

(Ok, so maybe I was dreaming that one.)

Everyone is different. We all have genetic differences, and we all have environmentally-driven developmental differences from the first moments after conception. With all of these differences come advantages and disadvantages that will obviously affect what we're capable of.

The message in this book is not that every person has exactly the same potential, but that, generally speaking, human beings have enormous potential waiting to be tapped. Maximizing that potential is up to all of us, and part of the process is not accepting any notion of built-in mediocrity.

Q: The last chapter of The Genius in All of Us deals with epigenetics. What are epigenetics? How do epigenetics affect our future children, before they are even conceived, and our grandchildren?
A: This is very tough to summarize without giving you a lot of background. But, the basic idea is that the epigenenome-the packing material that lies just "outside the genome" itself, plays a major role in genetic expression. And while genes themselves do not change from parent to child, the packaging material does change. What we eat and how we behave affects this material, and, in turn, how our genes are expressed. We're still at the very beginning of learning about epigenetics, but it looks like its plays a major role in just about everything we do and are.

Q: How do we go about finding the genius in all of us? What steps we can take to unlock latent talent?
A: Find the thing you love to do, and work and work and work at it. Don't be discouraged by failure; realize that high-achievers thrive on failure as a motivating mechanism and as instruction guide on how to get better.

Q: What research went into The Genius in All of Us? Why did you decide to break the book into two sections, the argument and the evidence?
A: I'm getting a headache just thinking of all the material I waded through. I had to make sense of not just a century of genetics, but also the history of intelligence science, talent and expertise studies, and a ton of biographies.

Once I realized the giant scope of the book, I had to decide how to show the reader the breadth of the science without numbing them silly. I decided to essentially write two books side by side: a fully-narrative, easy-to-read book that conveys the scientific overview but doesn't overwhelm the reader; and a dynamic, detailed, hyperlinked evidence section which gives the curious or skeptical reader a whole second meal to dive into.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • 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.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 12, 2011

    A+

    I picked up this book at the library on one of those 'employee picks' displays and I read through it in about a day. It is remarkable. And I think a diverse base will find it just as good. For anyone interested in the link between our genetics and our brain, this is Intro 101. It is so good that I bought it after checking it out of the library and I also bought it for friends. It is perfect for anyone with a curiosity toward learning and fabulous for new parents.

    -29, Musician

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 20, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)